Obsessed – Sean McKenna

“Fallen Out Of Love”

I’ve been racing since under 16 and I’ve seen endless amounts of people come and go in the sport. Some of these riders were more talented at the time than the other kids their age that have now gone on to become professional riders. Unfortunately, they stop competing in the sport they once loved for a variety of reason but the one reason that seems to be most commonly encountered is what they label in the industry as ‘cracked’. This extreme term is used to describe someone who has simply fallen out of love with the sport and are sick of it.

Why someone falls out of love with their chosen sport is very personal and could be for a whole host of reasons; a pushy parent, not getting the results they expect or a new found hobby of nights out and chasing the opposite sex. Usually they never lose their love for the sport but their love is just put on hold and often they come back to it in future years. All you have to do is look at Cycling Irelands membership numbers. The membership rates from u12 to junior drop drastically. Then in the age groups over 40 the numbers increase again.


An Unhealthy Relationship

Personally, I think most people give up on cycling because they build up an unhealthy relationship with it. However, cycling does require an unhealthy relationship in order to succeed. We obsess over our training, diet, bike set up, sock length, results etc. It’s how you manage this obsession that dictates how healthy our relationship with cycling is.

The kids I’ve seen come and go in the sport all seemed to have a common level of obsession with the sport. They were overly critical about every aspect of the sport. They always had the best equipment, coaches, they trained like pros, skipped school, some even dropped out of school, all just to pursue their dream to become a professional cyclist. These kids had decided what they wanted for the rest of their lives at the age of 16 or younger, to become a professional cyclist. Looking back on it, I don’t know how they slept at night with the pressure they were putting themselves under.


8 years of obsession

These kids take a professional approach towards cycling, sometimes from the age of 12 and most pack in the sport before they reach their 20’s. That’s 8 years of obsession. In fairness most professional careers don’t last that long. The intense training and lifestyle means most people can’t remain at that level of the sport for a considerable amount of time.

My approach to the sport was slightly different to other kids. I loved the sport just as much as they did but I just wasn’t as good as them. I think I got dropped in every underage race I entered. For some strange reason I still loved the sport but yet I didn’t have the same obsession. As much as I really wanted it, I never really saw a future in cycling for me at professional level so I followed the path most other kids take and I went onto third level education. I balanced cycling with college. Don’t ask me how or why but I started progressing very quickly in the sport. I started winning races, getting selected for national teams, stuff I thought I’d ever achieve when I was getting dropped in u16 races as a kid. Something just clicked. The balance was perfect for me, when I was getting sick of cycling I studied and visa versa so I never got too obsessed with either of them. Each was an escape from the other; it was the perfect symbiotic relationship.


A Taste Of This Obsession

I’m now riding my bike full time with An Post CRC for the first time in my life. When I finished college during the summer, I got a taste of this obsession that the kids I raced with must have experienced. I thought now that I was full time I had to obsess about all things cycling. I obsessed about training, racing, my diet etc. Within 2 months I had exhausted myself physically and mentally. That’s when I found out I wasn’t too good at obsessing on just one thing. I always rode my bike best when I took a relaxed approach towards it and when I’m off the bike and finished training for the day to obsess about other things. That’s the approach I’ll be taking going forward.

I’m not making my approach to sport out to the best approach in the world, it’s far from it. Plenty of kids make it to the professional ranks by solely focusing on their sport and giving it 100%. I’ve got huge respect for them and their approach but it just never appealed to me and I don’t think it would have worked for me either. My approach is just a different option that kids in this day and age should be considering. Most people probably assume to progress in the sport it has to be a priority and everything else has to suffer; school,college,work etc. I just want to highlight there is another approach that might be a better for some people.


A Degree To Fall Back On

Colleges for example have state of the art facilities to train and support aspiring athletes meaning they are perfect environments for progressing in sport, while gaining an education. Sports such as swimming, basketball and American football utilise these facilities perfectly.

Some will argue having a degree to fall back on is the reason to go to college and pursue a cycling career at the same time. It’s not necessarily; there is no reason why someone can’t return to third level education if cycling doesn’t work out for them. If anything at that age they will have a better idea of what they want to peruse as a career and decide on a college course that will help them pursue their dream job.


Obsess About Something Else

To sum up what I’m saying I’ll break it down like this; there are 24hrs in the day. You might spend 4-6hrs on the bike and 8hrs asleep. That leaves 10-12hrs for you to obsess about something else during the rest of your day and it’s no harm to fill your day with something else other than cycling. Maybe if some of the kids I raced with did that, they might still be racing today.

I want to stress that this blog isn’t trying to make out that there is a good or a bad way to move up the ranks in cycling. The point is to show that there are various ways to do so. Obsessing about the sport and blocking out the rest of world isn’t the only way. The paths to professional cycling aren’t set in stone thankfully.



P.S. Check Out Sean’s recent podcast here.

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