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Cyclist who sacrificed his Olympic dream for 'beer and women' 40 years ago hopes to compete for team GB

At his largest Steve Johnson weighed 21 stone and was downing up to 20 beers a night

An aspiring Olympic cyclist who didn't ride his bike for 40 years after he discovered 'beer and women' is now hoping to compete for team GB again. 

After Steve Johnson, now 62, had a heavy crash racing as a teenager he gave up on the sport and began eating daily fry ups and takeaways and drinking up to 20 pints a night.

Following a health scare three years ago he gave up drinking and moved to a plant based diet before tentatively getting back on the bike after nearly four decades out of the saddle.

He now rides over 300 miles a week and competes with British Masters Cycling Racing, which provides competitive cycling events for people aged 40 and over, and is aiming to take part in a veterans world championships taking place in Australia next year.

Steve's passion for cycling began as a teenager when was taken under the wing of cyclist Tommy Godwin, after visiting the iconic rider's shop in Birmingham.

In his prime, Steve competed in road races, time trials and track tracing and was named West Midland club Saracen RC’s ‘best all-rounder’ two years running in 1975 and 1976.

The Liverpool Echo report that Godwin thought Steve could one day ride in the Olympics but, after a serious crash on the track that dream was shattered.

After the accident aged just 18 he 'fell out of love' with this sport and began working as a labourer. 

His weight ballooned as he began a daily routine of huge fry ups, takeaways and trips to the pub where he would see off 20 pints a night. 

Before long his weight had shot up to around 21 stone. 

Steve, who now lives in Wigan, said: “My lifestyle became going to work with no breakfast, having a full English at 10 or 11am, followed by a chippy lunch.

“At 3pm I’d go to the pub and drink as much as I could get down me before my wife picked me up at 7pm, then it’d be a Chinese or curry for tea.

“At the pub I could drink 20 pints easily, it was like I never got drunk or even hungover, my body could just take it so I kept going.”

Steve, who is married with stepchildren and grandchildren, was known as ‘Big Ste’ to his pals.

He even bought a customised number plate for £500 reading ‘B16 STE’, which he later sold for £10,000.

In December 2018 during a routine trip to hospital Steve was told he was now classed as 'obese' which he described as a 'horrifying' moment.

His wife Susanna was unable to even buy any trousers that were big enough to fit him. 

He said: “I worked it out and realised I was more than three foot around the waist, it was quite shocking.”

The hospital visit turned out to be the shock to the system he needed however and within the space of just two years he lost an impressive 10 stone. 

His waist size shrunk from a staggering 46 inches to 30 inches and his body fat percentage, once at 47 per cent, is now better than average at well below 20 per cent.

He now cycles at least 300 miles a week and has set his sights on competing for Team GB at the veteran’s world championships in Australia next year.

Steve continued: “I gave it all up just like that.

“Doctors said it wasn’t a good idea and that I should take things slowly but I wanted to change so badly that I didn’t listen.

“I had started thinking about my life, I have grandkids and I was worried I wouldn’t get to see them grow up.

“I was borderline diabetic and my cholesterol was through the roof. Enough was enough.

“I lost out on my dream of competing for Great Britain as a kid, I gave it up when I got older and discovered beer and women.

“Now I’ve sorted my weight out and have fallen back in love with the sport of cycling it would mean the world for me to represent my country, it’s my dream again all these years later.”

Steve went on a 99 per cent plant-based diet, ditching meat entirely, instead opting for salads and meat alternatives like jackfruit and Quorn, as well as stopping drinking.

He joined a gym and began doing cardio work to shift the pounds and build up his fitness before buying a bike in summer 2019.

He said: “It was weird to be back on a bike again, I hadn’t been on one in over 40 years, but it didn’t take me long to fall back in love with the sport.

“I just got better and better, it was great.”

Steve has enjoyed a number of races with Liverpool Phoenix Cycling Club and has already signed up to compete in 21 British Masters Cycling Racing events later this year.

Last year he rode all the way from Land’s End to Manchester but his ultimate goal is to make it to the veteran’s world championships in Australia in 2022.

He said: “I’m determined to get there, it won’t be easy but I think I can do it.

“It would be a dream come true. I can’t wait to give it a go.”

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Rendel Harris | 3 years ago
1 like

His wife Susanna was unable to even buy any trousers that were big enough to fit him. 

He said: “I worked it out and realised I was more than three foot around the waist, it was quite shocking.”

Think the old maths needs a check there - 36-inch trousers are readily available and the NHS says you should lose weight if your waist is over 37".

OldRidgeback | 3 years ago
1 like

There are a lot of us 'mature' riders quite keen on competition. I'm glad this guy has refound his cycling mojo and I hope he enjoys racing. It's good to hear stories like this. People like him can be inspirational for other people who are overweight and unfit and want to do something about improving their health and have fun along the way as well. 

iandusud | 3 years ago

Well done Steve. It can be done if the will to do it is there. As for the ability to race competitively I think this story demonstrates that it's something that is in the genes - you don't loose it. 

muhasib replied to iandusud | 3 years ago

Well he did lose 16 inches off the waist size of his jeans!

Mungecrundle | 3 years ago

Just now, beer and women is my dream!

Rick_Rude replied to Mungecrundle | 3 years ago

I'd settle for being able to do a one-handed wheelie down the high street. The women would come easy after that. 

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