Steve Bate was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa in late 2011 and officially registered blind. In 2013, he became the first visually impaired person to solo-climb the mighty El Capitan in Yosemite, California. At the Paralympic Games in Rio 2016, he won two gold medals and a bronze alongside his tandem pilot Adam Duggleby.
Q Which parts of England and Wales do you enjoy training in, and why?
I’m based in Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire, so I spend most of my time riding the local roads here. It’s pretty savage terrain around here as it’s so hilly, but I love it. I live at the bottom of Crag Vale, England’s longest continuous climb, so most of the rides I do average about 500 metres of climbing every hour. But the landscape around here is really beautiful, and I love exploring it on different bikes.
Q Can you describe the buzz you get from being outside and in the saddle?
Most of the riding I do is on my own, which I really enjoy. You can go anywhere you want and head out on days with no fixed route or goals. I love riding in all weathers – I guess I’ve got used to spending hours riding in challenging conditions. When it’s your job, and you get paid to do it, you can’t say ‘I can’t ride today because it’s raining or too windy’, you just embrace it for what it is, and remind yourself that there are plenty of people who would love to do what I do. I just love the movement, being free and having my heart beating in my chest and the fresh air in my lungs. It makes me feel alive.
Q Has your training schedule for Tokyo been intense? Can you describe your typical day?
Training now is very scientific, so it depends what race I’m training for, and where I’m at in that cycle of training. I ride my bike seven days a week, and I guess it can average 18 to 30 hours of ride time. Then add two to three hours a week for the gym, and a bit more for mobility stuff. I’m just trying to get healthy before we start the long build-up to the games, and having been through it before, I know I need to be 100% fit and well to cope with the training demands I’ll put on my body over the coming months.
Q You’ve climbed El Capitan in Yosemite and won Paralympic golds – what are the lessons these incredible achievements have taught you?
It’s crazy to think I’ve done both of those things now, as they are worlds apart. I think El Cap taught me if you train really hard for something, and you want it really badly, you can achieve whatever you put your mind to. The Paralympic Games taught me it’s never a straight line from where you are to success, and failure is a big part of success. You will have good days and bad days – it’s about keeping an eye on the end-goal on those bad days and never giving up. Everyone says ‘it’s not how many times you fall, it’s how many times you stand back up.’ That’s how you are measured. Standing back up and trying again is the real success.
Q Was climbing your first love?
Climbing was definitely the first thing that really grabbed a hold of me, which became this obsession. I wasn’t very good at it, but there was just this strange draw to it. It scared me to death most of the time I tried to climb hard routes, and I would quit several times during a climb before I got to the top. But then I would have this amazing feeling of achievement and self worth, so I would just keep doing it. It was like a bad drug, I just wanted more and more, but it was terrifying at the same time. I started climbing under bridges in London, because I was too scared to go to a climbing wall in case everyone laughed at me. I soon got over that, but it wasn’t until I moved to Scotland where it became this crazy obsession. The thing I love most about climbing is it’s all consuming, once you leave the ground, nothing is in your head, it’s like meditation, you’re just moving across a rock face with an empty mind. It’s magic.