You’ve had an enviably long career as a highly decorated cyclist, but can you pick out a particular highlight?
That moment when I crossed the finish line in the road race at the London Paralympics. In the months running up to London it was almost the first question people asked me, both friends and the press – ‘How are your preparations going?’ The pressure mounted, my race was late on in a Games that had captivated a nation and after losing the time trial, I doubted if I could do it. I wanted the stamp, the gold postbox and the gold medal.
It was an incredible atmosphere. To have so many people there and many who have played such a significant part in my life, it was a moment I will hold on to forever.
What was it like to be a key part of Team GB’s cycling successes at London 2012?
Many of the members are friends as well as team mates. Seeing their success causes goose bumps. With my race being one of the last and having trained alongside some of them, it gives you confidence in your form.
There was also frustration, watching my good friend Darren Kenny break the world record in the ride off for the bronze in the 3km pursuit, knowing he was the best rider on the day but politics had got in the way. It was very frustrating.
If you could wind the clock back and speak to yourself when you began bike racing in ’95, would you be surprised at your career and achievements?
If someone had told me I would have achieved this, I would have laughed. I really had no expectations when I started. It began because someone suggested I should have a go at racing when I was on a CTC holiday in Italy. I always wanted to be first up the hill, first down the hill and first on the flat but I never thought about racing. I started dreaming about winning races in ’98 but didn’t appreciate the sacrifices that had to be made. It wasn’t until ’04 that I was in a position to make those sacrifices and really focus on winning.
It’s been an incredible career where I have witnessed many changes. I was around when UK Sport began and Lottery funding was achieved. It has culminated in great success, having a snowball effect across the sports.
You’re now training for Rio 2014. How is that going and do you have specific ambitions to achieve there?
I’ve always been a big mile rider, loving long rides in the hills and enjoying my surroundings with a café stop often somewhere along the way. I have changed my approach over the last year, including doing more intense work, which I’m responding well to. We are playing with lots of things behind the scenes, mixing things up and it is making for exciting times. I think occasionally I’ve got stuck in my old ways and not taken new ideas on board. My body is responding really well to the changes. As for ambitions – I love winning.
Training for Rio is my biggest focus for the next two and half years and without the support of key sponsors such as UK Sport and Farnell element14, I wouldn’t be able to fund my training. Any equipment or financial support I can attract to support me will make this challenge easier. I am keen to give back to my supporters – whether through raising brand awareness, being a motivational speaker, or being a part of a companies CSR strategy – skills I have gained through Farnell element 14 and speaking in both the public and private sector.
What does cycling mean to you as someone with Cerebral Palsy?
While I love cycling, I am conscious that I may have an impact upon perceptions around Cerebral Palsy and disabilities more broadly, through demonstrating that I can be a successful and achieve my dreams.
When I hear from a child or an adult with a disability who has brought a trike and taken it up, it’s humbling. When I look back to my childhood the only role model I had with Cerebral Palsy was Christie Brown. A lot has changed since then and to be a small part of it is very special.
You’re currently looking to become more closely involved with the bike industry and are searching for a bike technology partner or sponsor – can you tell us a bit about that?
It’s fantastic to be a part of the growing interest in cycling. I took part in a Sustrans event on cycle paths and the Great Yorkshire Bike Ride. Both events encourage participation in the sport for all, which is something I am a strong advocate for. I would love to work with the bike industry to make the sport more accessible to all.
It’s wonderful to see elite racing teams like Cofidis and BMC having Paralympic athletes within their teams and recognising the marketing potential for this. It would be wonderful to race for a recognised team, using the best equipment to help me continue winning and showcasing it at a mega-event.
You’ve mentioned Farnell element14 which is local to you and a long-time main sponsor of The Great Yorkshire Bike Ride (GYBR)? What’s the relationship?
The partnership has transformed many different aspects of my life, both in terms of persuing my love and to me as a person. For my achievements in sport to be recognised by such a large company was rare three years ago. Not many companies saw the achievements of disabled athletes as significant, in contrast to able-bodied athletes. The partnership has been ground breaking. It’s unique in how it’s developed and the support we give one another. This has elevated my confidence, given me a voice and raised the expectations I have of myself. The partnership has also offered financial support for projects. One was altitude training, something I would like to develop further.