By Harry McLusky
Life as a 16-year-old pupil is difficult enough. Yet, imagine having to balance GCSEs with national level sport. This is something aspiring cyclist and Hamptonian, Finlay Hawker, understands all too well. I had the opportunity to sit down with him and talk about how he is able to find the balance between learning and cycling.
Starting from the beginning of his cycling career, I asked Hawker about what inspired his passion. His father was clearly someone who played a big part in kick-starting this interest, with Hawker reminiscing about “going out on the mountain bike around the local park with him.” Furthermore, his father’s completion of an Ironman Triathlon (consisting of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile cycle and a marathon), also influenced Hawker’s mindset and decision to become a competitive cyclist.
Hawker’s career escalated from there, with a holiday to Cornwall acting as a catalyst for his progress, as this was when he “first realised I was good at cycling.” Shortly afterwards, Hawker made the decision to enter the competitive arena in order to establish his name in British cycling. 2014 was a successful year for the Hamptonian, with six of his entries into local tournaments resulting in a first-place finish. Hawker also reflected on coming eighth in the Nationals at a very young age, having again been encouraged by his father.
Since then, Hawker has been making his presence known in the cycling world. His victory in 2017, in the European Youth Cycling Tour in the Netherlands, introduced him to the sporting spotlight, as he beat 50 of the best European cyclists of his age group at the event.
He joined his first club, Hillingdon Slipstreamers in 2014, located in Hayes in West London, an hours round trip from Hawker’s home. The club opened many doors, offering professional-standard training facilities and coaching. This allowed Hawker to excel in his cycling and enter new competitions in order to continue to compete at the highest level.
His eventual move to Velo Club Londres in 2018, was a tough call to make. The club is even further away from the Hampton area, forcing Hawker to manage his schoolwork in order to balance this with his cycling career.
Having said this, statistics show that Hawker has been unfazed by this change and, despite the obvious restrictions which Covid-19 enforced, his success is one of the few things that hasn’t ground to a halt. During lockdown, he finished ninth out of 100 racers at Redbridge Cycling Centre, reaping rewards for his perseverance and commitment to the sport.
Today, Hawker is part of the British Cycling Talent Development Pathway who support his cycling career and offer him a brilliant opportunity to take his skills to the next level.
As normality returns, we can be hopeful that the youth cycling calendar will resume its usual, crowded schedule. Of course, this will thrust the Hamptonian and his competitors back into the challenging nature of the sport, while the necessary work for GCSEs reaches its climax.
So, how has Hawker managed to cope with this training schedule and schoolwork in the past year, and how will he continue to maintain his high standards in the future?
In our interview, he talked about his workload when on the bike and how much he needs to cycle every week to perform at a national level. At the moment, his training is being set by British Cycling, immediately giving an insight into the demands of these sessions. He commented that, “on a hard week, it will be in the region of 15 to 16 hours training.”
As a less athletic person myself, I was rather taken aback by the casual tone Hawker used to remark upon this. Of course, his strong and humble mentality is largely down to his experience, however, to a general member of the public, these hours seem insurmountable.
Unlike a typical teenager, Hawker is often up at the crack of dawn to train at the weekends, explaining how he cycles “three or four hours on Saturday, and then two to three hours more on Sunday.” In Fifth Year, a typical weekend will involve around two hours of homework, along with the necessary revision for the public exams that are looming.
Perhaps one of the few benefits to being 16 years old is the freedom offered by schools. Hawker’s appreciation for free time to train during the week is evident, as he conveys how he is “lucky to have the afternoon off on Wednesday, so that I can also do a long ride then.” After school rides are often around 90-100km, around Surrey and the infamous Box Hill, which has hosted Olympic-level events in the past.
However, one may question the focus of such a young cyclist, considering the many challenges that school throws at him. Focusing in lessons is a key part to Hawker’s success, and working during spare school hours has allowed him to further pursue his career in cycling. When on the bike, Hawker reflects on how “it is important to get the balance right” and that, he finds that “when I’m cycling, I’m in that mindset. I know exactly what I’m doing.”
Yet, despite the unfathomable pressure of 15 to 16 hours of training a week, Hawker is unperturbed, conveying his ability to switch mentality easily after dismounting and putting his bike away at the end of the day: “As soon as I’ve done my training session and I’ve calmed down, I’m in a completely different mindset; and the mindset is revision for exams.”
Finlay Hawker is just one of the many talented young athletes in Britain right now. Even though, for him “in an ideal world, [he’d] like to become a professional cyclist when [he’s] older,” the sheer dedication, training and stress to achieve this magnificent goal is simply unimaginable for most.
Yet, Hawker’s ability to switch from cycling to learning and then to a social mindset is a fantastic feat in itself. His ability to find a balance between life in and out of school, sets a great example with organisation being the key to success. This is proved by his international victory in the Netherlands, and the ever-growing possibility of a successful future in cycling.
Despite his perseverance, Hawker’s love for the sport is the driving force for his success and competitiveness at the top level. He sums up his own passion for cycling with these words: “I love cycling, not just for the competitive aspects, but for the social aspects as well. And I enjoy pushing myself, so I’d imagine that even if I don’t become a pro, I’d still keep cycling to a decently high level, just for my own motivation.”