Archive | November, 2011

From the pedal to the pen

30 Nov

Graeme Obree goes from record breaking cyclist, to mental-health author

BY Robert McCracken

Graeme Obree has been opening new horizons since he first got on a bike aged 6. The 44 year old continues to do so today but as an author.

The former world champion cyclist has got off the saddle for good, competitively at least. Obree was famous for building bicycles himself from anything he could lay his hands on, and broke the world time trial record on a bike made from washing machine parts. Graeme believes this part of his life is behind him now after the bike he built for a time trial this year was not suitable for his trial;

“I was lucky enough to make a career from a hobby. We all get to the point in our lives where we put these things behind us and go do grown up things”

Not only did Graeme make a career out of a hobby, it made him into a celebrity in some regards. The press were tripping over each other to write about the eccentric Scot building his bicycles from washing machines. Obree is grateful for the fuss the media made over him as surprisingly it earned him a lot of respect within the community. He was thrown into the public eye unexpectedly but very soon was being seen as an innovator and not an eccentric. However, like much of Graeme’s life the ups always bring their downs;

“The more media attention I got the harder it became to find sponsorship. Nobody wanted to be associated with a media figure, because cycling was so rife with substance abuse.”

Despite it being commonplace in the sport at the time, Obree says with great pride that he never used any performance enhancing drugs. A fact which he says makes his achievements even sweeter.

In recent years, since his time in the sport ended his life has been detailed in his autobiography, ‘The Flying Scotsman’ which was also made into a critically successful film. In the autobiography Obree said he had to be as candid and open as possible, and he undeniably was. He writes in great detail about the depression he struggled with for many years and his suicide attempts. Graeme believes this was his greatest achievement to date;

“My film has become almost a mental health awareness film of sorts now and the book too, I hear from so many people who writing to me and approach me at charity events saying “Thanks for being so honest”. I get guys coming to me and telling me about their struggles with depression, anxiety whatever before their wives, husbands or anyone else. The fact that I’m able to help people through my experiences is as big a thrill, if not bigger, than anything I ever got from cycling.”

Graeme speaks very passionately about this, as it is clearly a subject close to his heart. Having been diagnosed with severe bipolar disorder in 1991, and struggling with depression and suicide attempts, he believes he is at the other end now and as a result of the feedback on his autobiography is now writing full time.

“I intend to use the little bit of fame I have for a positive good. I’m working on a book at the moment called “A Survivors Guide” it’s about working hard and the day to day struggle people with depression will face, guarding their equilibrium.”

Writing is his new passion and Graeme believes it is one of the reasons he is coping so well with his past issues now.

“I find myself getting up in the morning and going for a pint of milk and all I think of is what’s going in the next chapter, what’s going to be the next paragraph. Whereas I used to waken up in the morning and decide whether it was worth even getting out my bed.”

Clearly writing has been beneficial for Graeme, and hopefully other people can benefit from this too. Despite his troubled past, Obree has not lost his sense of humour;

“My life has just been totally ironic. I went to school and hated P.E, Metal work and English. Christ, I used to spend whole days building bikes and training for my cycling and now I spend nearly every hour of the day writing my book. “

Graeme Obree was revolutionary in the world of cycling at the time, and he deserves to have as much luck as an author. He says he only has on regret in his career. “I never did a bloody washing machine ad!”