Spotlight On... Cycling

Fin Graham

It’s a Paralympic summer, but don’t just watch the sports - try them!  

Parasport's Spotlight On… series offers a quick glimpse into the world of a Paralympic sport – the thoughts, feelings, emotions and behind the scenes details that may be hidden to the outside world.  

In the next part of the series, we spoke to Fin Graham, a track and road cyclist who grew up in Scotland and is now based in Manchester.

Cycling has been part of every Paralympics since 1984 and Great Britain are the most successful nation in terms of medals, with 41 golds ahead of Tokyo 2020.

Fin is taking part in this year’s Games in Japan and before he jetted off, he told us about his journey into the sport and why he loves nothing more than getting out on the bike.

Tell us about how you got into cycling and your progression to where you are today.

“I grew up in the Scottish borders and my parents both cycled a bit, so from a young age we’d go down to the local mountain bike trails at Glentress. Before my brother Rory and I could ride, we were getting carried around in a backpack by my mum while my dad was riding, and vice-versa. We were hooked from a very young age.

“I did my first race when I was about seven. I really enjoyed the adrenaline you get from racing and growing up riding with my brother, the competitive aspect was always there.

“We moved to the north of Scotland when I was about eight and continued to ride for enjoyment, then as I moved into high school I started thinking about racing a bit more seriously. I started doing the Scottish cross-country series – at this time, I was competing in able-bodied races as I hadn’t even thought about para-cycling. I was getting my head kicked in most weeks but I was having so much fun doing it! I was never getting any good results – I won my first race when I was nine or ten and the feeling from that was so good. I wanted it again but I wasn’t racing to win, I was doing it as I was enjoying it and loving seeing different places.

“I started getting involved in endurance races as well and when I was 16, I did the Strathpeffer 24-hour mountain bike race. Strathpeffer was where we moved to when I was eight so every winter you’d see the race come through and it became a really big goal of mine. I don’t remember half of it and around 17 hours of it is in darkness – about four or five in the morning I started to struggle. Fortunately there was a marshal point with a pack of wine gums, so I smashed through them and it gave me the sugar boost I needed to complete it!

“Rio [2016] was the first time I’d properly watched the Paralympics. I’d watched the London games but at that time you don’t really think you’re qualifiable for it. I came back from being in America with some friends and emailed British Cycling to see if I was eligible, and they invited me to a power-testing day.

“I did that in October 2016, was re-tested in early 2017 and was invited on to the foundation programme. I found out I was classifiable for para-cycling and set my goal on becoming a Paralympian. I spent two years on the foundation programme and in September 2018, I became a full-time rider based in Manchester. I was so happy as that’s what I’d been working towards my whole life. Training in the velodrome and having the GB kit given to you was such a special feeling. Since then, it’s been all in trying to earn selection for Tokyo.”

Why cycling over other sports?

“I’m a big sports fan generally – I played a lot of football growing up and went skiing in the winter. My dad did a lot of competitive canoe slalom and I paddled a bit when I was younger but I didn’t like getting cold and wet – even though that’s what ends up happening riding a bike in the UK!

“When your mum, dad and brother all do it, it’s a really nice social thing. I got a few of my friends into it and it’s a great social thing to do with your friends whenever.”

What’s the one thing you now know, that you wish you’d known before getting started in the sport?

“It’s hard to say, as I started so young I didn’t know anything else! Still now, I’m learning bits I didn’t know and you are always learning something new in cycling. You always look to other people to see how they are riding and finding little bits to try and make yourself better.

“Always looking for ways to improve is vital and when I was younger, I wasn’t always able to go to that point of exhaustion. Now, being older, I find myself being able to push myself that bit extra to get the most of myself and from a session. When it’s a bit of fun, it’s easy to stop when it starts to hurt.

“Learning is half the fun of it and it’s nice to change ways to ride to make yourself better and the sport more fun.”

What’s been your favourite memory in the sport so far?

“Getting on to the British Cycling programme full time, and since then it would have to be winning my first World Cup gold medal in Canada back in August 2019.

“I ended up winning the TT and the road race, which was a massive surprise, and I was over the moon. It made the trip worthwhile – it was an absolute trek. I flew to Montreal then had a 13-hour coach ride north to the middle of nowhere!

“You set yourself little goals and when you achieve them, it’s such a relief. It’s so nice looking back at it and thinking ‘how good was that?’. Hopefully that was the first of many good results.”

What's the best thing about cycling?

“Again, just the whole social side. When the weather’s nice and you’re riding with your mates, nothing really beats it. Riding in the sun, stopping at cafes and having a laugh with your mates beats good results in racing. It takes you back to why you started cycling. Sometimes when you are so caught up in the racing side of it, it’s easy to forget that.

“There were so many amazing mountain bike routes growing up in the Highlands, we were spoilt for choice. During the first lockdown, when the Games were postponed, I struggled for a little bit as there was nothing to train for. But the weather was quality and I would just get out on the mountain bike just to enjoy it rather than being goal-focused. Having that mental break really helped.”

What’s something only a cyclist would know or appreciate?

“The only thing that comes to mind is that before I started racing, I never thought about shaving my legs! It sounds proper mad but freshly clean sheets and shaved legs when you go to sleep… nothing beats it, it’s quality. Fresh legs, fresh bed sheets – it all helps!”

What would you say to someone considering trying cycling?

“Just get involved! There are so many different types of cycling to get into – if you don’t like one, there’ll be another for you. There are so many disciplines and clubs who will welcome you in. I’ve made so many good friends through cycling and it’s such good fun. If racing isn’t for you, there are local club rides who go out at a steady pace and do it for the fun of it. And if you do want to get into the racing, your club will help you do that. They will point you in the direction you want to go in.”

Gain an insight into the world of other Paralympic sports by visiting our Spotlight On… series hub page here.

Want to give cycling a try? Check out our club finder!

Photo courtesy of SWPix/Fin Graham