“Don’t forget to enjoy it!” This is the phrase which seems to come up in any conversation I have with anyone outside of the British Cycling bubble since being named in the ParalympicsGB team. A slice of good will pie served up from friends, family and the strangers I meet everyday. A way of reminding me its not all about the performance, because whats the point in working that hard if you can’t enjoy the moment. Its so easy to work your socks off and get caught up in the moment and for it to all be over before you know it only to look back and think I didn’t get a chance to take it all in. I’m not sure how many people who will read this have ever ridden a 4km pursuit around a velodrome however I’m not sure enjoyable is the word that I would use to describe it.
I know it’s a figure of speech and everyone who has wished me well and given me their personal little nugget of golden advice really means what they say however they misunderstand what Rio will be for me. The harsh facts are, I’m an athlete paid to deliver gold medal performances, and if British Cycling didn’t think I was capable of that then I wouldn’t be going to the games. I’m not there to enjoy myself it’s as simple as that, I’m there to work and have the best day of work I’ve ever had. Many of us go to work everyday not to enjoy it, but as a means to an end, something better, a Friday night, the weekend, a holiday, retirement! Few people around the world work out what their dream job is and then enjoy every aspect of that job. I love most of my job, it’s great most of the time, but it’s not what people think it is. Today I’m staying in a super plush golf resort lodge, having food cooked for me, I’m with teammates and I get to spend 4 hours riding my bike in the sun around the Welsh country side! Even if you hated riding a bike it would be hard not to enjoy it. However there have been plenty of days this year where my job hasn’t been so amazing. I spent most of winter riding in rain and sleet for up to 6 hours a day, or sitting on a turbo trainer pushing my heart rate to it’s very limits time and time again. I stand on the scales everyday and look at a number that should be lower than it is even though I’m particular with what I eat. I can’t even remember the last time a took Caroline my wife out for a meal or did something she wanted to do at the weekends. I haven’t had alcoholic drink since christmas day 2015. I get my skin folds (body fat) taken and they are never what a hope they will be. Those parts of my job are hard to enjoy, it’s a bit like heading to the dentist for a route canal, it’s never going to be an enjoyable experience no matter how nice the dentist is. But like everyone else on the weekly nine to five groundhog day you just crack on and get it done.
The only example I have to compare what I’m about to go through at these Paralympic Games will be like lead climbing hard routes. During the process you are shit scared, wishing you weren’t up there and somewhere else safe, easy and less out there. However the minute you pull over the top of the route you are so elated that the share euphoria of emotions override the feelings you had several minutes earlier when you thought you were cheating a certain death and would have done anything not to be on that rock face. I think the Games are going to be a bit like that for me. During could be horrible, to be judged by hundreds of thousands maybe millions of people, to really put yourself out there and try and pull a performance out of yourself that you know or hope is somewhere in there deep inside you. I’ve worked hard for three years just to be given the chance to have a go on the world stage which is the goal I set myself when I started cycling. I enjoyed being told that I had made the cut, couldn’t have been happier, all that hard work put in had paid off. In that moment I went from achieving a three year dream to setting another as soon as the words “you’re in” came out of our managers mouth. A medal, I want to win a gold medal, was the new goal. That split second of enjoyment in hearing my name being read out everything we had worked for, now was the time to relax and take it all in and it was wiped out almost instantly by my own mind, my own personality, me! How cruel could I possibly be to myself? All this time I’ve worked and Caroline has worked to hear my name and those words and within an instant I’ve wiped the slate clean and moved on. Caroline was taken back by my behaviour but has since understood my reasons behind it.
I’ve realised that deep down I don’t really care about what happens in Rio, or with cycling, or even climbing. What I’m passionate about is learning new skills and seeing how far I can push myself before I find my limits and what I can achieve in my life time. There is so much to do in life, so many things to try. Life goes on regardless of medals being won, world records being broken or simply having a bad day at work! What I want to achieve is to get the very best out of myself. I’ll enjoy the experience of the Paralympic’s, maybe not during the racing or sitting around waiting to race, maybe not even for a period afterwards. But I know at some point I’ll look back and I’ll enjoy the memories of what I achieved, who I’ve met and the friends I’ve made if I have a medal to look at or not. I’ll be proud of the work I put in to get there which only a very few people can understand. Thank you to all of you who have told me to enjoy it, take it all in. I’ll do my best, but I can’t promise to enjoy it in the moment.
Thanks to BioCare and Dirty Dog for all the support.