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A journey into the incredible career of Neil Fachie

How the Paralympic champion earned his stripes.

by Alessandra Puglisi

Courtesy of Jun licensed under CC BY SA 2.0 via Creative Commons.

On February 17th, the University of Aberdeen Development and Alumni Relations hosted an online talk with Neil Fachie, a Paralympian British multiple gold medallist.

Neil, born in Aberdeen in 1984, was joined by Professor Jan Skakle, personal chair in Physics at the University of Aberdeen, and has spoken about his incredible sports career. Diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at the age of 4, a visual impairment that causes loss of vision, Neil explained that he started struggling to see in low-level light settings at the beginning, but became a more serious issue when he was in secondary school. “You don’t realize you have a disability at times until people point it out to you”, he said.

While he was studying at the University of Aberdeen for a degree in Physics, Neil got the chance to qualify for the 2008 Beijing Paralympics in the 100m and 200m sprints. He described the event as one of the most surprising things that ever happened to him, saying that he was not aiming for a spot at the Olympics at all, and considering athletics mostly a hobby. The opportunity for him came in late 2005 when he tested his eyesight and found out he was eligible for the Paralympics. From then on, things escalated quickly for Neil.

After his graduation in 2006, he fully committed to his sporting career and trained hard, competing all over the UK, until he met the qualifying time to hop on the train to Beijing.

The experience was one of a kind Neil recalled: “I didn’t know how big of an event it was because there wasn’t much coverage at the time. I saw people with all kinds of disabilities, it was mind-blowing. There is so much diversity and people deal with disabilities in so many different ways.”

Unfortunately, he failed to take the podium in 2008 and the British Paralympic committee cut his funding, not believing in his potential to reach London 2012.

After a disheartening period in which Neil tried to figure out to move forward with his life, he decided to try every sport in which visually impaired people could compete. Not confident that he would be picked on, Fachie went to the British Cycle Centre in Manchester for a taster session. Luckily, he saw Team GB training there and volunteered to try with them. The impressive strength Fachie had built up while he was a sprinter was a great instrument that allowed him to thrive in cycling. He started training with the GB Para-Cycling Team and officially entered the team by April 2009.

In tandem cycling Neil Fachie has had an impressive career so far, setting world records in the kilo, sprint and the men’s 1km time trial, achieving fourteen gold medals and five silver medals in Para-Cycling Track World Championships from 2009 until 2020. As a Paralympic athlete, he has won one gold and one silver medal in the 2012 London Games and one silver medal at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio. He has also won four gold medals at the Commonwealth Games between 2014 Glasgow and 2018 Gold Coast, Australia.

Asked about how the on-going pandemic has affected his preparation for Tokyo 2020, Fachie said: “I panicked during the first lockdown when I couldn’t train in the velodrome or with the tandem. I used static bikes and did physical training, but it wasn’t the same thing.” In late summer 2020, he returned to the velodrome, training with GB-Team and using all the safety measures to prepare for the next Paralympics. He said that he wants to race as soon as possible, joking that “Competition is getting tougher and I am not getting younger.”

The idea of sharing his story in a book came to him when he realized that he had developed a number of other skills in his over a decade-long sporting career: “When my focus shifted away from competing, my cycling career started to get better again.”

In April 2020, the book Earn Your Stripes came out, which illustrates Neil’s methodology to rapidly adapt to changing situations in a more productive way, how to thrive under pressure and unlock your full potential.

Today, Neil encourages everyone with a disability to try and achieve their dreams, reassuring that “It is not a weakness to appear different. Once you accept your disability, you start to voluntarily seek help and resources that might make you feel more comfortable with yourself and your disability.”


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