Introducing Fin Graham
Scottish para-cyclist Fin Graham is most certainly a rider to bookmark and is set to have a career filled with the colours of gold and our sport's magnificent rainbow. At the age of just 21, his accomplished palmarès is one that many riders would have dreamt of having at the end of their career, not in their fourth year. In 2017, Fin claimed his first National Para-cycling Road Title and that was only the beginning. From here, he went on to gain another two National titles and two World Cup Golds.
Not only a rider, but an entertainer.. © SWPIX
Coming from Inverness, Fin spent the earlier years of his life mountain biking both recreationally and competing in races. It wasn’t until 2016 when Fin moved his attention to the road and track, with the help of the British Cycling Para-cycling programme. Fin would make his debut at the Para-cycling World Championships in 2019, only just missing out on a podium. It has been quite the rise for Graham, who was born with Congenital Talipes Equino Varus- often referred to as bilateral clubfeet, leaving him with no calf muscle and restricted movement in his ankles.
"(It's about) just making the best of what you've got and trying to make it a good outcome."
Fin would go to Edinburgh twice every week to have tapes, which would encourage his feet to have the preferred position for surgery. Having had successful surgery to both feet at 13 weeks of age, Fin has turned himself into a remarkable athlete.
After a chaotic 2020 season filled with cancellations and race postponements, Fin had little opportunity to add to his palmarès. With 2021 looking like the light at the end of the tunnel for many races and racers, Fin now hopes this year can be the best one yet. I chatted to Fin about his ambitions and goals for 2021, alongside his aspirations of going to Tokyo in the summer for his first Paralympic Games. We also discussed his own journey through the sport with the help of British Cycling, plus how cycling could be adapted to increase the inclusivity of para-cyclists. I wish Fin all the best for the 2021 season and hopefully we’ll be watching him in the summer competing in the Paralympics.
Your story is different to most. Where did your cycling journey begin?
When I was a toddler I went along to Glentress (my local mountain bike trial centre) with my parents, before I could even ride I was messing about and watching my dad ride. Then the minute I was able enough, I was on my trike pedalling about the car park. When I was 4, I got my first bike and was able to go on the trails with my Mum and Dad! Straight from the gun, I always wanted to go faster and do what they could do! When my brother started to ride it turned into a competition as it naturally does as to who was the best in the family, which made it so much fun and makes it so much easier to enjoy, when the rest of your family love the sport as much as you!
We all still have that friendly competition now, but Mum and Dad are getting a lot older ;)
At what point did you decide to race rather than participate in the sport just for leisure?
Ever since I did my first mountain bike race when I was 7, I was hooked. I was never getting any good results, but just loved to race my bike and be involved in the sport! I won my first race aged 9, which was an unreal moment for me, but I still was just racing for enjoyment.
This then progressed to racing around Scotland at a national level, but getting my head kicked. However, I kept going back for more and more. It wasn't until I got onto the foundation programme with British Cycling that I started to care more about my results, but I am still making sure that I am having as much fun now as I did when I started racing!
You've been at the British Cycling Academy for a few years now, when did this journey with BC begin and how have you found life within the GB pathway?
Although I grew up riding and racing mountain bikes, at the end of 2016 I went to a talent ID day with British Cycling in Derby. During the course of the day we performed several power tests. I had never done anything like this before, so had no idea what I was doing. Thankfully, they were impressed with my performance and from that I joined the Foundation programme at the beginning of 2017.
It became clear at this point that my future was going to be on the track and road, so a change of disciple was needed, but the coaches from Scottish and British Cycling were so helpful in guiding me down this new path! It’s not like the standard BC pathway, where you work your way through the Junior, under-23 and senior pathway. Within the Para-cycling side of BC, you can be any age within the foundation programme, so everybody is different ages and have a range of impairments. I was part of the Foundation programme for 2 years, before making the step to a full time rider based in Manchester.
Since living in Manchester, I’ve been able to rely on the staff within British Cycling so much to help me out with whatever I need, but also the other riders. Yes, there are people that are twice my age, but they have got a lot of experience that I can learn from and because everybody has come from different paths to get to the programme, you can pick up things from everybody- which I find such a useful experience!
Fast and flat out! Nothing beats a bit of gutter action. © David Martin
Over the past few years you've had a lot of impressive results, including National titles and World Cup wins. What have been the standout results for you?
For me, my best moment in my career definitely has to be my two World Cup wins in Canada, back in 2019! As TTs are not my speciality, I was 100% not expecting the result and would have been very happy with a top 5! As I finished I heard I had gone the fastest so far, but had no idea how anyone else was going. Sat in the hotseat watching the rest of the riders come across the line and realising I had won was unbelievable... I was speechless! I couldn't believe it and it was made even better that it was a GB 1-2, so I got to share the podium with my teammate, on which we belted out the national anthem!
The road race followed two days after, which I was confident about due to the result in the TT. I managed to get away solo from the bunch and win, which was amazing. To not only win the race, but to win the race solo! This then led- of course- to another bad rendition of the national anthem that I belted out on the podium!
Taking his first World Cup Road win back in 2019. ©David Martin
So far in your career, have you had to overcome any particular barriers or injuries? If so, what were they and how has this made you stronger?
On my 18th birthday, I collapsed on my bathroom floor. I then spent my first week of being 18 in the hospital, during this time I was diagnosed with Severe Systemic Lupus Nephritis, which causes my immune system to attack the organs in my body. Whilst I was in hospital, my parents told me that the doctors were concerned that I might not race again, even though I was eyeing up an upcoming international event at the end of November. Once I got out of hospital, I was off the bike for some time just trying to recover. But as soon as I started to feel better, I decided to get back on the bike.
The first ride back was only 3 miles, but felt a lot more than that! To my surprise, I went to the track international that I was due to start in November that year. Not only was I able to participate, but also able to pick up a silver medal in the team sprint against the current Paralympic Champions!
One of the last races you did was back in 2019, at a Para-race held before the Road World Championships in Harrogate. How did it feel to perform in front of home crowds?
By far the best crowds I've raced in front of! It was an unreal experience kicking off the World Championships in Yorkshire and it is something I will never forget, with crowds lining the road from the start to finish, giving an extra cheer to the GB riders. It made it even better the fact we had the best weather of the week, as well. Even though it wasn't my best result, I made the most of the atmosphere and was high-fiving the crowd down the finish straight!
The race against the clock, a test of any rider's true strength. © David Martin
With the heavy race cancellations in 2020, how much racing have you managed to do over the past 12 months?
It’s been a stinker! The last race I did was the Track World Championships back in January 2020, it has been hard with the lack of racing. However, I have done some Zwift racing, but it just doesn't compare to racing on the track or road. Without Zwift though, it would have been really difficult during lockdown, as we started to have weekly TT competitions amongst the team and it made cycling that bit more enjoyable than just staring at a wall!
If Covid permits, when will your season begin and what are the big goals for 2021?
My season will hopefully begin this month. We have a C1 international race planned in Belgium, called Ronde in Flanders Brugge-Ronse, which is a Classics race- so a new experience for me. Then, the Road World Championships in June, which is a huge target ahead of the Tokyo Paralympic Games selection!
My goals for this season are to win the World Road Championships, which are being held in Cascais, Portugal. Then of course, the biggest goal is to be selected to compete in my first Paralympic Games- which will hopefully still go ahead.
You've represented Great Britain many times at international level. What would it mean, at just 21, to represent your country at the Paralympics?
It would be such an amazing experience to represent GB at the Paralympics, at such a young age. Since I was little, it has always been my dream to ride for my country, so to ride for my country at the Paralympics would be such an honour!
Finn blitzing it in the 2020 World Scratch Championships. © SWPIX
You seem to be a Jack of all Trades, trying your hand at all disciplines. Do you plan to do this for the rest of your career, or specialise as you get older?
I hope so. It keeps the riding more enjoyable and stress-free when you mix it up, doing different disciplines, rather than keeping your training monotonous. That’s why I like to mix it up by throwing some mountain biking and gravel riding into my training. It has shown this season with the likes of Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert and Tom Pidcock coming through the ranks, that seem like they can do it all.
Do you think the cycling community and federations do enough to accommodate and support para-cyclists?
Since I have been involved with Para-cycling, we have been able to race at two of the UCI Track World Cups, in Glasgow and London, along with the Able-Bodied riders, but it isn't officially classed as a World Cup. It’s just on the same weekend as a precursor to the races to come, which has been an amazing experience and the noise of the crowds are mental.
I think that it's definitely going in the right direction, but unfortunately our events are not televised and have a very limited number of spectators, because of this lack of coverage.
However, I am really looking forward to the 2023 World Championships in Glasgow, with all the Cycling disciplines sharing the World Championships in the same week, so it will be very well attended and one I do not want to miss!
What improvements would you make to increase inclusivity within the sport?
I think that there are a lot of potential para-cyclists out there, but they are unaware of the fact that they would qualify, as before I started racing I had no idea I was an eligible rider. I think that if physios, orthotists and consultants were made aware of this possible pathway for potential para-cyclists, they would be able to pass on this information during appointments and consultations, so it could reach potential para-athletes that wouldn't know otherwise.
Fin on his way to taking his second World Cup win, back in 2019. © David Martin
What needs to happen over the next six months to make 2021 your best season yet?
To make it the best season yet, I would love to win the Road World Championships in Portugal and then go on to represent Great Britain at the Paralympics in Tokyo.
We have seen the difference in style between Roglič and Pogačar recently, so when on the podium, would you rather wear a casquette or a baseball cap?
I would have to go with a casquette, as I unfortunately have the wrong head shape for most caps.
There is nothing unfortunate about it Fin... perhaps we are biased, but casquettes are the best!
Individual pursuit or scratch race?
I do enjoy the individual pursuit, but in terms of excitement whilst racing, I would have to go for the scratch race, as there is so much going on throughout and it is also a lot more spectator-friendly.
Finn representing Great Britain at the 2020 Track World Championships in Canada. © SWPIX
Socks under or over leg warmers?
Definitely under, as I wear an orthosis on my right leg, and I would only be able to have socks over on the left side- and that would look even weirder!
Olympic Gold or Rainbow Jersey?
That's a hard one... but I will have to go for Paralympic Gold as it is every four years, which means that four years of hard work and preparation goes into it. But, I do equally love the fact that you have a rainbow jersey to flex if you win the Worlds!
Café rides in the sun with your mates.
If you weren’t a cyclist, what career would you pursue?
It would definitely be something within sport, as I have been obsessed with all sport from a very young age. But, as my Dad used to compete in slalom, it would probably be kayaking.
For more information and/or help with childhood lower limb conditions, visit the Steps Charity's website, where you can donate to help out.