Graeme Obree: “Cycling is my way out of my struggles”

Cycling maverick Graeme Obree on his mental health struggles, being gay – and how he went from failing PE to becoming a world champion

Graeme Obree has told The Big Issue that dealing with his mental health issues has made him the person he is today.

In this week’s Big Issue, the World Champion cyclist also discusses his sexuality – and how he failed PE as a kid!

“If I wanted to tell my 16-year-old self about my biggest single achievement, it would be talking to you right now without the need of psychiatric pills. Or wanting to go to the off-licence,” says Obree.

People who are fully content with life don’t get up at 6am and ride up and down a dual carriageway

“I wouldn’t tell my younger self he was gay because then my kids might not be here. ‘Thanks dad, blow us up into thin air!’ I wouldn’t want my younger self to have that explained to him anyway because ignorance was part of my journey.

“What I could tell myself,” he adds, “is that there will be a lot of mental anguish [he struggled for years with severe depression and was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder], and you’ll end up being who you are because of how you deal with that.

Graeme Obree

“People who are fully content with life don’t get up at 6am and ride up and down a dual carriageway. Being discontent means you always want more. I became world champion and found that my sense of fulfilment faded like the centre of a flower.

“But now, these days, I’ve finally learned to live in the moment. I haven’t used anti-depressants for four years. Everything I’ve done to get to this place is to do with how I handled adversity. Everyone knows my struggles in life – cycling is my way out of them.”

DID YOU KNOW…

The Big Issue is a multi award-winning magazine, edited by the British Society of Magazine Editors (BSME) current Editor of the Year.

The record-breaking 52-year-old – whose book, The Obree Way: A Training Manual for Cyclists, has been re-published in a revised and updated version – also reveals the good reason behind his childhood dislike of PE.

“I hated PE,” he says in this week’s Letter To My Younger Self. “Of the 60 or 70 people who the school put through the exam, I was the only male who failed Physical Education. Maybe the only one ever who went from failing PE to becoming a sporting world champion.

I spent my weekends doing about 250 miles up mountains in the Highlands

“I was so exhausted doing my sport I had no energy for PE. I spent my weekends doing about 250 miles up mountains in the Highlands on my bike, so I was slumping over my desk come Monday morning.”

  • Read more from Graeme Obree – on his teenage existentialism and the cycling ban – in this week’s Big Issue, on sale now