Children are biggest part of my retirement, says cycling legend Sir Chris Hoy

Sir Chris Hoy with his Flying Fergus books. Picture: Ben Duffy/PA.
Sir Chris Hoy with his Flying Fergus books. Picture: Ben Duffy/PA.

Cycling legend Sir Chris Hoy talks about new goals and how his perspective has changed since becoming a father. Hannah Stephenson reports.

For many years, Sir Chris Hoy - six-time Olympic Gold medallist and 11-time world champion - was driven by winning the next gold medal in the sport he loves. That all changed with the birth of his son, Callum, back in 2014. Callum was born 11 weeks prematurely, weighing just 2lb 2oz.

“It definitely changed my perspective. Regardless of whether you have a premature child or not, when you have children your perspective changes on everything. Things that you used to get stressed about are so irrelevant,” the cycling legend says now.

“As long as your family and kids are healthy and happy, everything else fits in around it. You used to spend time worrying how fast you could ride a bike around a track. That seems really trivial now. Winning gold medals was the most important thing in my life - and now it’s not.

“Having watched Callum grow from this tiny little thing to this strong four-year-old who’s running about, riding bikes, having fun, you are especially grateful for what you’ve got.”

When the going is good for stars making a graceful exit

Edinburgh-born Hoy, 42, and his wife Sarra, a lawyer, now have two children - Callum and 18-month-old Chloe. But he will never forget those early days after his son’s birth.

“It was a very difficult time,” he says. “Sarra was a bit unwell. She went for a check-up, they kept her in and then said, ‘We’re going to have to deliver the baby’. She was barely even showing a bump at that point, so it was pretty scary.”

“It’s a nice end to the story for us, he adds. “But not every family gets to come home with the baby.” It’s clear that family has filled the void that is so often left when athletes and sportspeople retire from active competition, although Hoy has remained as busy as ever since his retirement in 2013.

He set up his bike company HOY Bikes, collaborated with charity partners and businesses and also started racing cars, entering the Le Mans 24-hour endurance race in 2016.

“When you retire, you no longer define yourself by what you do,” he reflects. “You’re not a champion any more. You have the memories and that’s amazing, but there’s definitely a period of adjustment.

“The advice I got from people I spoke to about retirement - both sportsmen and women - was to find something you’re really passionate about and get involved in it.

“The first two years were ridiculously busy, on top of becoming a dad, but I guess it’s finding things you have passion for, along with perspective. For me, having kids has been the biggest part of my retirement.”

He has now written his 10th and final book in the Flying Fergus series - The Photo Finish - about the fantastical adventures of a cycling-mad nine-year-old boy, who can fly through time and space if he pedals fast enough.

“We go on tours meeting schoolkids and the whole process has been brilliant,” says Hoy. He says it’s important that his stories have a moral. He clearly believes hard work pays off.

“The main message I try to get across in the books is the importance of hard work. It’s not all about winning the race or having success. The process of what you do, the journey you go on, and the fun you can have just doing something you love doing is a reward in itself.

“You don’t have to be promised some pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. A lot of the message is about teamwork, about making do, about hard work.”

Hoy, who grew up reading Roald Dahl and was inspired to cycle after seeing the film E.T., says that books are now a big part of his own family life at home near Manchester.

“With all the high-tech stuff there is for entertaining kids, there’s nothing like sitting down after bath-time with your son or daughter and reading a story before they go to bed,” he says.

Flying Fergus: The Photo Finish is published by Piccadilly Press, priced £4.99. Available now.