The Commonwealth Challenge: An Interview with Sean Newall

“My car went through the 25,000 mile mark in 4 years. I cycled that in one. And I am ready for more.”

It’s just less than 500 days to go until Glasgow 2014 so I just about managed to get Sean Newall off his bike in the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome for long enough to find out about his upcoming challenge.

You may think that Sean is training for the Commonwealth Games – yes, but he is not competing.  He is training for “The Commonwealth Challenge”; a challenge he came up with when the four year marker for the games began.

Sean Newall

“The idea of the commonwealth challenge was to replicate the Queens Baton Relay (QBR) without sitting on a plane for a year. There was an opportunity there to take on a challenge and make it more interesting.”

The QBR is a relay between the commonwealth nations and it left Scotland last week and will return for 40 days in 2014.

In 2010, Sean started the challenge by cycling 25,500 miles around the world in 360 days; working out at 1 mile per day for every commonwealth nation. He still has the second part of the challenge to go which is to follow the relay and to finish cycling through all of the commonwealth countries.

The games have belonged to Scotland since Sean’s first stop in Delhi where the flag was handed over. However, “four years ago there was no interest in the Commonwealth Games; the Olympics were in the way. Nobody understood what I was doing.”

Glasgow 2014 was cast aside for the Olympics by everyone except Sean, who was forced to take a break.

Amateur cyclists circled us on the track as we were chatting and Sean assured me this was standard practice – the public have been using these new facilities already, so much so that there is competition to get on the track. London 2012 appears to have left people inspired.

“You can see Parkhead across the road, but if you are into football, you can’t just go there for a kick about. In here you can come and cycle on the same track as Chris Hoy. Glasgow 2014 has learned lessons from London, but there is still the question, will it [Chris Hoy Velodrome] continue to be maintained afterwards and how?”

“Even back then [2010] I saw the challenge as a way to get people involved, I wasn’t sure how to go about it so I tried to get people to join me for five miles.  Cyclists joined me in Poland, Bangladesh, India, Australia, New Zealand and America for five miles at a time – it was a great way to meet people and it’s was easy for them to understand. A bike is relatable.”

“Some countries were better than others at relating what I was doing to the Commonwealth Games; India was good because they had just had theirs, Bangladesh too. But places like Canada didn’t have the same connection. One thing I did notice was that we are all very similar in the Commonwealth.”

“I have always seen it as a huge thing for Glasgow. The Commonwealth is much more important to me [than the Olympics] because it is obviously it is all here. The hype of the games is building up.”

Amazingly, Sean hasn’t always been one for cycling but isn’t one for giving up:

“One day I was driving to work and my car broke down so I gave up the car and started cycling to work. I always see my world cycle as a commute that got out of hand – that’s where cycling always started.”

“Even if I can’t get people to join me, I will continue and complete half of the next challenge on my own. If I complete Africa I will have managed half the commonwealth all by physical power.”

“It is an opportunity to take part in a once in a lifetime adventure and to challenge yourself. It’s probably for some people something that they have always wanted to do but have always had an excuse. No time or no money. It’s also an opportunity to do something big for your country that has never been done before.”

If Sean can get enough people involved he plans to condense it down to a three week period. Most people can’t take a year out of their life to cycle around the world.

“It is more exciting than sitting on a plane for a year [which is what is happening with the Queens Baton Relay] and would show that Scotland is putting in more effort; it sticks with the legacy idea because it is physical activity and encourages people.”

So what comes next?

“I hope we get the Youth Olympics in 2018, our bid is strong. I would like to see this. I would also like to see Glasgow being a bigger city on the world stage though because the amount of people I met round the world who only connected Glasgow with stabbings was incredible. I always laughed at that. I want Glasgow to lose this reputation.”

Representing Scotland in a bike ride around the world is maybe the way to do that.


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