How this Visually Impaired Kiwi Male Became a Double Paralympic Champion at the Age of 40

Steve Bate, visually impaired cycling
Photo credit: Joolze Dymond

My name is Steve Bate MBE (Member of the British Empire). I’m a Para-Cyclist for British Cycling and ParalympicsGB, I race on the back of a tandem bicycle with my sight pilot, Adam Duggleby. This is because I have a visual impairment and it’s not safe for me to race on my own.

I was born and raised in Auckland, New Zealand, then moved to the life in the U.K at the age of 22, and I have lived here since 2000. I’m currently based just outside Manchester, which is the home of British Cycling. My interests include most things outdoors, however at the moment activities tend to gravitate around cycling and in particular riding my Sonder Vir Fortis Fat Bike. But i’m a fan of climbing, slack lining, snowboarding, surfing, walking, making short films about adventures and messing around with my dog, Murphy.

How and why did you get into your sports?

I first got into climbing because I was fascinated with winter climbing gear, like axe’s and crampons. The gear looked so hardcore I wanted to get involved. I guess from a young lad Sir Edmond Hilary was an influence, obviously the first man to climb Everest with Sherpa Tenzing, being a bee keeper from New Zealand I guess taught me it didn’t matter where you came from, you can achieve anything you work hard for.

Professional cycling came to me much later in life, I was 35 when I started trying to cut it as a pro para-cyclist. This only came about after I was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative eye condition, meaning I will go blind at some point. The chance to go to a Paralympic’s was too big of a draw card for me, so I stopped climbing and focused on cycling. I was fortunate to be spotted by British Cycling early on so I had their support since the beginning of my career, which has been amazing. There is no way I could have achieved what I have in cycling with out BC. I’ve always enjoyed mountain sports like climbing, hill walking or trekking, snowboarding, etc., but now I find it hard fitting everything in around a full time athlete lifestyle.

Para-Climber Steve Bate

What have been the best and the most difficult parts of your sports?

I think the best thing I have ever achieved is solo climbing El Capitan in the Yosemite Valley, California in 2013. It’s the best thing because I was the first visually impaired person to do this, which was pretty amazing. After this, I focused on the Rio 2016 Paralympic’s as a cyclist, where Adam and I won two gold medals and a bronze. We broke the world record for the 4km individual pursuit, and that was pretty special and something that I will always be very proud of.

As a young lad growing up, I always wanted to know if I was put on the biggest stage in the world, could I deliver a world class performance? In Rio, i got to answer that very question. The most difficult thing is your own mind most of the time, questioning yourself, are you going to be good enough when it matters. Even people at the top level still have massive doubts about there own ability. I guess, the way I manage keeping going when everything around me seems to be falling apart is: I think about the competition I race against, I think of my team mates, I think of Adam my pilot, and think that if I’m not doing this stuff, they all are so they will be better than me when in really counts. So no matter how bad I feel, how tired I am, this simple thoughts keep things in perspective.

At the end of the day, it’s just racing, it’s not life or death, in the big picture, what I do doesn’t really matter. I’m not saving lives, I’m not changing the world, so you just have to keep your feet on the ground, do your best and be grateful for what you have.

How do you finance your sport?

I’m fortunate to be paid for being an athlete, I’m never going to have millions, but that’s okay by me. I have some fantastic sponsors who help me out with kit or equipment to do the things I love. Alpkit, Sonder Bikes, Dirty Dog Eyewear have been amazing companies to work with and I hope I do a great job for them.

Steve Bate
Photo credit: Joolze Dymond

How do you eat and sleep?

I don’t follow any specific diet. However, I watch what I eat and I’m pretty careful around food especially when it’s closer to big competitions.

Travelling in something that you love when you start in sport. Going to other countries is amazing, however, after you spend a third of the year living in hotels, you start to crave your own bed. Getting on a plane when I was young was super exciting, now I see it as going to work and it’s a part of my job that is something I don’t enjoy that much. I’m not scared of flying, I just don’t enjoy the process and how it makes you feel. I try and sleep at least 8 hours a night, something’s more if i’m in the middle of a heavy training block. If I can sneak an hour during the day around those hard sessions I’ll get my head down, but I’m not that good at sleeping during the day time.

I don’t take supplements anymore, I just try and get everything I need from my general diet. I try and keep things simple and eat simple but good food. As an athlete, you start to look at food as fuel.

How do you handle injuries and recovery?

I’ve been pretty lucky with injuries like I haven’t had many at all. Even when I was climbing. But I think it’s what you do to help avoid them. I’d highly recommend doing a lot of core work in the gym, this has had the most benefit to keeping me going at the age of 40!

My advice is if you do get an injury, just take some time out to recover and don’t rush back into it. It’s easier said than done, of course, but jumping in to quickly will only set you back longer. And don’t panic, all the training you have done is still there, it hasn’t just gone from your limbs.

Steve Bate

How do you balance normal life with training?

Balancing life around training depends what I’m training for. Before Rio, I didn’t drink for a year, didn’t go out for food and didn’t want to see anyone who had a hint of a cold. That was pretty extreme, but I’ll probably be the same before Tokyo 2020.

Normally, I try and get the balance right, but it’s difficult when you are training hard. I guess people don’t see what I do as a 24-hour job. After I get home from being on the bike or gym, there are a load of things I have to do, like stretching, foam roller, preparing good food, and recover ready for the following session or the following day. Going out and eating, standing in a pub, all takes it out of you and it’s tough to have to miss the fun your friends are having, but they are the choices you have to make. If you want to be the best in the world, some things have to change. I hate it when I hear athletes say, “They have had to sacrifice so much”, we all make choices, sacrifices are made by our wives and families who miss out having us around at birthdays or weddings because we are racing or training.

How do you prepare for events/races?

Music has a big part in my preparation for racing. I like to get the tunes on early and feel good listening to my favourite tracks. Most of the stuff I like around racing is hip hop, something with a good funky beat. I get lost in the music and that takes my mind off all the negative stuff you think of before you race. All the hard work should be done so there shouldn’t be anything to worry about, just doing your best. If your best isn’t good enough on the day, that’s okay, just as long as you gave it everything you had.

Para Cyclist Steve Bate
Photo credit: Joolze Dymond

How do you bring your gear with you?

We get provided a bag of kit so generally it doesn’t matter if you like it or not, you have to use team kit. Our bikes are boxed up for travelling outside of Europe if we are flying. But if the guys can drive to a race they are packed in the van and we fly while the kit is driven. At big races like Rio, as athlete’s you don’t lift a finger, your job is the performance. But smaller races everyone normally mucks in and helps out.

How do you organize things in your bags?

I use packing cubes in my large bag. It’s easier for me to find stuff as I’m visually impaired. I have five or six different coloured cubes, which have different bits of kit. Then I have a rucksack that I take on the flight with me, which has my laptop and all that kind of stuff.

What has been your best sport purchase below $100?

As a climber, probably loose chalk, for your fingers. As a cyclist, god knows, cycling is super expensive, but I guess my Dirty Dog Goose helmet!

Other kit I love is my Alpkit Katabatic Primealoft jacket, which goes everywhere with me. I guess my favourite bit of kit is my Sonder Vir Fortis fat bike, I love riding this machine, it’s so much fun.

Para Cyclist Steve Bate
Photo credit: Joolze Dymond

How does your visual impairment affect your sport?

It’s the reason that I can do my sport at elite level I guess. Most difficult part is I don’t have any peripheral vision so I can’t see very much. I struggle to see things that move quickly because I only have a 7% visual field. In dim light, I am pretty much blind so low light in winter months is pretty challenging. I think having diagnosed with this condition has given me the last piece of a puzzle to really achieve some amazing things. It makes me focus on achieving things because I know there is a timer ticking on my eyesight.

Having a visually impairment means I can’t race a solo bike. I can still ride a solo bike at the moment, but we have no idea how much longer this will last. I couldn’t race a solo but I can get around the village I live in okay, it’s still pretty stressful riding on my own, but I love it. The only thing that makes it easier for me to ride is removing all cars from the road. 🙂 I try and spend as much time as I can riding easy off road trails, away from moving traffic.

What is your best advice people for people who want to follow your footsteps?

I guess the best advice I have for people is don’t dream about standing on podiums, or winning gold medals. Focus on what you need to do to get there! Focus on the process, not the outcome. If you get the process right, the outcome takes care of itself, but don’t get caught up day dreaming about winning, if you do that, you’ve already lost!

For experienced people in the sports, if you are still loving it, great. On the other hand, try something else if you find it hard to get motivated. Don’t end up being bitter. Take sometime out and have a break.

Steve Bate

What will the future bring?

If I knew that, I’d be worth millions! I have no idea but that’s what makes life exciting! Five years ago, I couldn’t have guessed I would be a professional cyclist at the age of 40 and having an MBE and gold medals. In five years time, I could be completely blind? Then a new chapter will start.

I have a solo race, my first one next February in Finland on my fat bike. Rovanemi 150 is a 150km fat bike race in the arctic circle, which is a little taster into that environment as I have some bigger plans in the snow and with my fat bike! But the main focus for the next three years will be Toyko 2020 and trying to stay in tip-top shape to defend my Paralympic titles.

Visit Steve Bate on his website and follow him on Facebook

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