Flora, is a teenager trying to make it as an elite cyclist. Here, she speaks, alongside her parents Richard and Rosslyn, about the experience of navigating high level sport as a Christian family.
The image is of a model
The pathway to making it in elite sport is as demanding as the racing itself: it offers a serious challenge to the ambitious young sportsperson. In cycling, the convoy of team cars following in the dust behind the peloton is representative of the impossibility of arriving at this level without support, quite often in the form of parents or guardians. The reality of elite sport is that most don’t make it, some crash out, and many give up the chase before they reach the top level.
What’s it’s like to be a family in the world of elite cyclists? What are the best and worst bits?
Richard: Watching Flora at the Paris-Roubaix (a very famous, difficult cycling race) was a highlight. But it’s not been simple to get here, the first lockdown coincided with a period of disappointment for Flora when she didn’t make an academy squad, she’s worked hard to make it to the senior level.
Rosslyn: It’s great to see Flora in a professional team set up, the level of support is far greater than we could offer at race days. But getting used to her being away and supporting from a distance is hard. She’s looking to move to Belgium next year, so it will take some adjusting to get used to that.
Flora: I’ve surprised myself at senior level, it hasn’t been too much of a shock to the system, I love being part of a team set up where my job is to race to support other riders. On the other hand, I’ve been doing A-Levels alongside racing, I love cycling because it takes me away from that stress sometimes, but I must remember that I’m not a full-time pro yet!
As a family you’re part of a network of other parents of those on elite pathways. How have you found being part of a group of others?
Flora: We look at the Bible and have discussion, often centred around struggles we share. For all of us, there’s pressure around performance, selection, balancing study, training, church, and social life. It’s helpful to apply God’s word in those situations, and to have that accountability with each other as we share life together. Cycling is my passion but studying God’s word shows me that it shouldn’t be my obsession.
Richard: It’s unique to get on a Zoom call to pray with other parents in the same position, we all understand what it’s like to be the closest observer as our children celebrate successes, but also deal with disappointment through not making a squad, or injury, or anxiety around performance. It’s a regular reminder of what matters, there’s a sense of gentle accountability as we reflect on these challenges. We can’t care for each other like a church family but we all want Christian maturity for our children as they grow up, even whilst they chase sporting dreams and thrive as they do what they love – that’s a rare but precious thing for a young person.
Why would you encourage other parents to get involved in helping others together?
Richard: Winning matters but not as much I often think it does as a competitive person. It’s challenging to work through that with Christian perspective, especially as you’re one stage removed: you’re not the competitor. I need to be a supportive parent without going too far and becoming the overbearing, irritating Dad!
It’s also been encouraging to hear Flora use terminology she hasn’t picked up from us or church - that has come through the calls she has. It’s great to know she’s working through what it looks like to be a Christian in sport with others. We trust that Christians in Sport take sport seriously, but without compromising when it comes to faith.
Rosslyn: Initially as a parent I felt like an outsider, standing alongside other parents as Flora raced on yet another Sunday afternoon. I wish I’d been more proactive and prayerful about grasping that opportunity for mission because it’s a rich mission field. I’d encourage other parents to go for it, to be bold as they live amongst other parents supporting their children.
Flora: I always think back to one of my first meetings with others when I learnt that sport can be worship, that you can conduct yourself in a way that brings glory to God and shines a light to others. Sport heightens all emotions and shows character, it’s an opportunity for me to be a disciple of Christ in an obvious way. It’s daunting but a wonderful opportunity.
As riders race through the feed zone, staff at the side of the road shout encouragement as they hand out bottles containing vital energy for the final kilometres of the race. This is a picture for the Christian life.
Experience shows us that whilst church relationships are primary and essential, Christian sportspeople and their families benefit from spending time together around God’s word, it is fuel and encouragement to face the inevitable challenges present in an uncompromising environment.
The calls/groups are arranged through Christians in Sport and an be found here.
A version of this interview appeared on the Christians in Sport website and is used with permission.