Elite cyclist and Paralympian gold medalist Steve Bate talks to Sense

Steve Bate’s Paralympic dream became a reality yesterday, when he and pilot Adam Duggleby won gold in the men’s B 4,000m individual pursuit track cycling event.

Before setting off for Rio, Steve spoke to Ian Carpenter – Sense’s National Sports Manager who helps deliver accessible sports programmes and activities – about scaling mountains, training sessions, abstaining from alcohol and how it’s important to dream big!

Before you became an elite cyclist, you established yourself as a climber and became the first blind climber to solo El Capitan, why did you change direction and take up cycling?

It was the opportunity to go to a Paralympic Games that made me change direction. I really felt what I achieved on El Cap was going to be hard to top in a climbing sense. I’ve always enjoyed learning new skills and the opportunity to have the full support of British Cycling to see what I could achieve was too good to turn down. I’m still very passionate about climbing however it’s not something I can do at the moment because of my commitment to British Cycling, but I’ll be getting vertical after Rio for sure!

At what point did you realise that you had a talent for cycling?

I don’t think I have a talent for anything to be honest. I’ve had to work extremely hard to get where I did in climbing and it’s no different with cycling. I’m lucky to be in the position that I can train full time which means your progression is much faster than others. During my talent identification day with British Cycling, I was below the mark. But one the of coaches John Hewitt saw how much I was willing to suffer on the bike and I guess that was enough to get invited back. He certainly didn’t think, “Oh this guy looks good on a bike….”

Describe your average day?

I wake up around 7.30am and get up for breakfast. Depending on what I have on the training plan I’ll be out on the bike between 10 and 11. If it’s a double day it will only be up to three hours of riding before lunch then a session on the turbo in the afternoon which is generally pretty horrible.

Or, if it’s only one session, I might be out for up to six hours on the road. The other option would be we have a track session at the velodrome which is often in the afternoon so I’ll jump on the train to Manchester in the morning for an afternoon session. I eat dinner around 7-8pm, and that’s my day. Probably a bit of stretching in the evening or jump in the hot tub to recover. Normally lights are out at 10.30pm and I get ready to do it all again, very rock and roll.

How does retinitis pigmentosa impact on your day to day life?

I try not to let it impact on my life. But I often lose things, or if I forget where I’ve put something and it will take me ages to search for it. I walk into stuff or trip over things on the floor if items are left lying around.

I often wonder what it would be like to be able to see everything like my friends, but then I’ve had some amazing experiences because of my eye condition, so it’s something that I’m happy with.

When I struggle in the dark I just have to go slower than most people and take my time. It’s not that bad if you have the right mind set. Like everyone, I guess I have good days and bad ones, but far more good than bad.

What adaptations or support do you have to help you train, travel and compete?

I don’t really use adaptions and on the bike I have Adam my pilot. He does all the hard work I just chill out on the back and tell him he’s not trying hard enough! Off the bike he’s there to help me if I need anything but he normally takes the mickey out of me, which is a good thing as it makes me feel normal and not like I’ve got something wrong with me. We get on well so it’s pretty funny; he is really helpful most of the time.

Tell us more about Rio –this is your first Paralympic Games, what are you most excited about?

Yes it’s my first Games and it sounds crazy but I’m most excited about it being finished! A lot of people don’t understand how much hard work goes into getting in the sort of shape you need to be to compete at this level. I’ll be 39 at the Games and I’m looking forward to having a break afterwards and spending some time with my wife Caroline and our friends.

I can’t remember the last time we went out for a meal together, or did something fun at the weekend, it just doesn’t happen when you are an elite cyclist. I haven’t had an alcoholic drink since last Christmas so a beer would be nice. Don’t get me wrong, I love it but I’ve hardly had any time off in the past three years so I’m ready for a break.

Representing my country will be a massive honour so I’m looking forward to being on the start line in that Great Britain kit.

What is the most challenging part of being an athlete?

The fact you are an athlete for 24 hours a day. I never realised how hard it would be off the bike. The training in some ways is the easy part. What you eat and the recovery you need to get the best out of yourself is really challenging. Most people do a nine-to-five job and go home, some people take their work home but this is a different level, everything I do I have to think, “Is this helping me get better or go faster?” You can’t go out with friends, even eating out is difficult because you need to watch what you eat and that’s often out of your control when you go out.

Do you think the Paralympics should exist separately from the Olympics? Or should there be Paralympic events in the Olympics?

I like the fact it’s separate as it can be a massive shock to people to see what the Paralympic athletes can do. The fact it follows the Olympics I think gets people in the mood and interested in what we do, you just have to look back at the success of the London Games. That’s when we became the superhumans which is pretty cool.

Sport England figures show that more disabled people are taking part in sport now than ever before – why do you think that is?

I think disabled people are less willing to be wrapped in cotton wool now and are willing to push themselves. I’m no expert but I think people are willing to try things and see what happens instead of being told they can’t do things. There is probably a lot more support for disabled people now as well and hopefully that will only get bigger and bigger. There are also plenty of volunteers out there that do an amazing job giving up their time and skill sets to help out which is incredible and they hardly get a mention, so a big shout out to them!

Sense runs a range of sport and physical activities for people with sight and hearing impairments – in your opinion, what are the benefits of taking part in physical activity?

There’s plenty of evidence proving that you are happier, healthier and will live longer with some exercise in your life. The feeling you get from exercise, regardless of if that’s at elite level or trying something for the first time, is like nothing else. There’s a massive sense of achievement and it raises your self-confidence. It’s great for your mind and body.

What are your ambitions after Rio – and further into the future?

I’m looking forward to spending time with Caroline and doing some things that she wants to do instead of me having to train. Also, catching up with friends and families back up in Scotland who I haven’t seen for two years since I moved south to be closer to British Cycling.

I’ll continue to ride my bike while I’m still enjoying it, whether or not that’s at elite level I’m not sure. My contract with British Cycling runs out in October so I’ll have to wait and see what happens.

I’m also looking forward to climbing and having that feeling of being up high on a rock face again. I’m actually heading back to South America in November with Caroline and a couple of friends for a month of adventure bike touring on my fat bike. I’m also trying to make an adventure film about it which is something that also interests me. So there’s plenty to do but I’d really like to make the British Cycling Team to go back to South Africa for the Road World Championships to try and win a World Championship title on the road next year. I’m not sure, I have another four year Paralympic cycle in me but never say never.

What advice would you give to young people with sight or hearing impairments to help them to follow their dreams?

Dream big. No, dream massive! You are much more capable than you could ever imagine, so if you are setting a goal believe in yourself and make it outrageously big. It’s just hard work, it’s as simple as that.

If you really want to achieve something you will put everything else to one side and commit every ounce of energy you have to making that dream happen. You don’t need talent, you need the mental strength to work harder and smarter than everyone else around you. I can’t promise you will achieve your dream but I can promise you it will be harder than you ever could imagine but achieving that dream will make all that effort worthwhile and no one can take it away from you! Climbing El Cap was the hardest thing I had ever done, both mentally and physically, but sitting on the summit six days after I started was something I will never forget, it was magical.

What is your mantra?

“There’s only one thing worse than being blind. Having sight but no vision!” – Helen Keller


You can keep up with Steve’s Paralympic journey by following him on Twitter @kiwistevebate

Visit www.sense.org.uk/active to find out more about Sense’s sports and activities programmes for people who are deafblind, and those with complex needs.

Ian Carpenter

Author: Ian Carpenter

Ian is the National Sports Manager for Sense. He is part of a team who run accessible sports and activities programmes for people who are deafblind, and those with complex needs.

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