Being in the public eye, we all think we know Bradley Wiggins. The outspoken cyclist, Tour De France Winner, Olympic Gold Medalist, Sports Personality of the Year 2012 and Knight of the Realm. However, on his recent tour of the UK, his familiar honesty had him laying bare how he really feels about all his success and what comes after retirement in midlife.
An Evening With Bradley Wiggins
I attended the last night of his UK tour with my Dad, an avid cycling fan whose obsession has rubbed off on me, expecting a night of stories of how it felt to become the first ever-British winner of the Tour De France. However, the stories of success weren’t what we expected.
Growing up in Kilburn in a dysfunctional home and on a violent estate, he admits his focus was to get away. He couldn’t cycle off his estate in lycra for fear of being beaten up, had a knife held to his throat at one point and witnessed the infamous murder of his head teacher Philip Lawrence. However after all the hard work to achieve his first Olympic medal, the hours of obsession, pain and hard work, he felt deflated by the piece of metal in his hand thinking “is this it?”.
His Olympic medals are bought onstage in a plastic bag and he openly admits that he has smashed his Sports Personality trophy and knighthood in front of his kids. Whilst he acknowledges all the hard work it took to get him there, he wants his kids to know that what matters is being a good person, and the way you treat those around you.
” I smashed my Sports Personality trophy, I smashed my knighthood in front of my kids and chucked them in the flower bed to make a point to them. I wanted to show them that it’s not the material items that we now polish on the mantelpiece for the rest of our lives to elevate dad in our household as something special.”
“That’s not the success. The success is that I applied myself… to something and the application and to sacrifice so much.”
He spoke candidly about how he didn’t find much joy in his wins, because it was so much hard work. Straight after winning the Tour De France he was off to the 2012 Olympics and focused on the next thing.
It was refreshing to hear this attitude to his success. Whilst he is proud of the hard work it took, and that it meant so much to a lot of people, he would be embarrassed to milk it. He doesn’t want to live off that success, wheeled out for big events or for appearances on Question of Sport.
What Does The Future Hold?
He admitted that he felt lost for a few years after retirement, for a while focusing his energy on becoming a rower just because he felt a need to repeat success and sport was all he knew. But over the last few years he has started to focus outwards, wanting to help the kids that are growing up on the estate he grew up on. He is now volunteering working with kids and starting a degree in Social Work with the Open University to become trained youth worker.
Bradley Wiggins is reinventing himself, not limited by what he did in the first phase of his life. He is focusing on those that he can help not because he was a Olympic cyclist but because of who he is and what he has seen.
“Those horrific things I saw when I was growing up … nothing can shock me now, and I want to use that mental toughness working as a social worker. And when people say, ‘Oh you’re that cyclist’, I’ll say: ‘No, that was a few years ago. I’m a social worker now.’”
He is finding his self worth outside of perceived success. It was a refreshing perspective to life and change. Whilst he said it took a lot of searching to get to the place he is now, he is now happy in his own skin. He went through so much hard work, self-doubt and pain during the years that everyone else would look at as the most successful of his life. But that’s not the reality of how it was for him.
“It’s nice to be remembered but I can’t keep waltzing in with a rock’n’roll haircut and a suede suit on, drunk. I’ve moved on from that person. Everything ends, everything has to end.”