Winning Awards with Donna O'Toole

EPISODE 7: Going for Gold with Neil Fachie MBE, British Paralympian, Performance Business Coach and Best-selling Author.

September 23, 2020 Donna O'Toole
Winning Awards with Donna O'Toole
EPISODE 7: Going for Gold with Neil Fachie MBE, British Paralympian, Performance Business Coach and Best-selling Author.
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Winning Awards with Donna O'Toole
EPISODE 7: Going for Gold with Neil Fachie MBE, British Paralympian, Performance Business Coach and Best-selling Author.
Sep 23, 2020
Donna O'Toole

Donna is joined by Gold Medal winning team GB Paralympian Neil Fachie MBE. Neil shares his incredible story from learning of his condition and the trials and tribulations to get to London 2012 and achieve his dreams. And as a full-time athlete and now co-founder of a business performance coaching company Neil reflects on the similarities between sport and business.

Neil Fachie, who is a visually impaired athlete,  has represented his country in two sports. In 2008. He raced for Paralympics GB at the Beijing Games on the athletics track competing in the 100 and 200 metres. In 2009, he joined British cycling where his sporting career flourished. Neil has won 26 medals at major championships to date, 19 of which are gold. This included gold and silver at the London 2012 Paralympic Games in front of a home crowd. While he's still a full-time athlete, Neil co-founded a performance business coaching company LNF Coaching, and has become the author of a number one best selling book, Earn Your Stripes.

Donna O'Toole is CEO of August, she has had the pleasure of supporting entrepreneurs, business leaders and teams to win the most prestigious awards in the world. Seeing first-hand how receiving awards and recognition has motivated teams, solved problems, supercharged brands and raised their profiles, helping businesses to grow and do even more good things for their employees, their industry and their community.

Show Notes Transcript

Donna is joined by Gold Medal winning team GB Paralympian Neil Fachie MBE. Neil shares his incredible story from learning of his condition and the trials and tribulations to get to London 2012 and achieve his dreams. And as a full-time athlete and now co-founder of a business performance coaching company Neil reflects on the similarities between sport and business.

Neil Fachie, who is a visually impaired athlete,  has represented his country in two sports. In 2008. He raced for Paralympics GB at the Beijing Games on the athletics track competing in the 100 and 200 metres. In 2009, he joined British cycling where his sporting career flourished. Neil has won 26 medals at major championships to date, 19 of which are gold. This included gold and silver at the London 2012 Paralympic Games in front of a home crowd. While he's still a full-time athlete, Neil co-founded a performance business coaching company LNF Coaching, and has become the author of a number one best selling book, Earn Your Stripes.

Donna O'Toole is CEO of August, she has had the pleasure of supporting entrepreneurs, business leaders and teams to win the most prestigious awards in the world. Seeing first-hand how receiving awards and recognition has motivated teams, solved problems, supercharged brands and raised their profiles, helping businesses to grow and do even more good things for their employees, their industry and their community.

Donna O'Toole :

Hi, I'm Donna O'Toole and you're listening to my exclusive winning awards podcast. Over the years, I've had the pleasure of supporting entrepreneurs, business leaders and teams to win the most prestigious awards in the world. I've seen firsthand how receiving awards and recognition has motivated teams, solved problems, supercharge brands and raise profiles, helping businesses to grow and do even more good things for their employees, their industry and their community. In this podcast, I'll be sharing valuable awards, insights, tips, and inspirational stories to make sure that you get the recognition that you deserve, so that you can go on and achieve your dreams. So what are you waiting for? It's time to start winning. Hello, and welcome to another episode of winning awards. Today, I'm very privileged to have with me Neil Fachie, who is a visually impaired athlete, who has represented his country in two sports. In 2008. He raced for Paralympics GB at the Beijing games on the athletics track competing in the 100 and 200 metres. In 2009, he joined British cycling where his sporting career flourished. Neil has won 26 medals at major championships to date, 19 of which are gold. This included gold and silver at the London 2012 Paralympic Games in front of a home crowd. While he's still a full time athlete, Neil has now founded a performance business coaching company, and has become the author of a number one best selling book, Earn Your Stripes, gold medal insights for business and life. Wow, what a set of accomplishments. So thank you, and welcome, Neil.

Neil Fachie :

Yeah, thank you for inviting me along. I'm really looking forward to sharing some of my stories with your listeners.

Donna O'Toole :

Thank you Neil, it's brilliant to have you on. And I know that, wow, you're just hugely accomplished. And what I'd love to do today is talk to you about how you've got to where you are today, how you've overcome these, these challenges that are very real for you. And actually what that means for now, and what's happening in this, this era of COVID, and all the rest of it. So we just have a really nice chat, and help everyone to get to know you. And also to get to know how winning awards has made a difference in your life. And so I've read your book Neil. And it's absolutely fascinating and really interesting to read your story is a captivating account of your life. But what's really nice about it is those really actionable takeaways that we can actually use ourselves whatever business we're in, or even just in life, to actually improve things for ourselves right now. So in the book, you tell the story of when you first found out that you had a sight impairment, can you tell us that story? I'd love to hear that.

Neil Fachie :

Yeah, of course, it's going back a good few years now. But at the age of four, and it's a day I remember quite vividly that was Christmas Day, obviously at the age of four is is a pretty exciting day in itself. And we'd always go round to my grandpa's house, the wider family. And when I was living up in Aberdeen in the northeast of Scotland, obviously in the middle of winter, it gets dark, very early there. And we decided, as kids we're going to go out and play in the back garden. And I was already immensely competitive at that age. So I had to be the first one out so I kind of go to the front door and was running around the side of the house as quick as I could and was just about to celebrate glory of beating my older cousins into the garden when bang, I just ran straight into this pool that was called the washing up in my gran's garden. And it was a sort of moment of confusion as to what had just happened because I hadn't seen anything in front of me. I thought I was just, you know, about to achieve this great glory in my life. And then yeah, obviously I was very upset. I was crying and taken back in by my cousins to my mum and dad and my mum gave me a big hug and made sure everything was fine. And then she turned to my dad and said, Do you think he's got it? And this is probably my first memory really. And my dad turned back and said, Yeah, I think he's got it. And then the age of four when people are discussing whether you have it or not, and you don't know what it is quite scary. But fortunately later that week, I was diagnosed with an a condition known as retinitis pigmentosa, which is a very common condition and it's passed down through families. So I often thank my mom for for passing this on to me. She always takes it with a smile Of course, I'm sure exactly. Yeah. But yeah, she passed it on, but she had to live with it too. So you know, fair's fair. But yeah, it's a degenerative eye condition. And so I faced a very realistic probability. At some point in my life, I will go totally blind and at this stage of my life, my eyesight is much worse than it was at the point I was diagnosed. So it's something I'm constantly adapting to as it changes which is, has been interesting, but I think it's also helped me become much better at problem solving and kind of coping in a world that maybe isn't really designed for those without sight. So, you know, I think there are positives that come with it.

Donna O'Toole :

Wow. But what a change your life, then once you knew that, and then, you know, had to learn to live with that. So I'm guessing that had quite an impact on your school life, your your sort of social life growing up as a young man.

Neil Fachie :

Yeah. So initially at school, it wasn't a problem at all, really, or my sight was still good enough. And it was only really a low level light that I was struggling. But as I got older, and it got gradually worse than I started having to sit near the front of the class to see the board, and then I started getting to get larger print text, in all these things to start making a bit more noticeable as being a bit different, which at that age, you just want to fit in with everyone else. So it became a bit of a challenge. And I think I start from that era, or my mom was from that era of people that didn't share weakness. So she never told anyone about her eye condition. And think

Donna O'Toole :

Did you know about her eye condition. Did you know that you had the same then

Neil Fachie :

yeah, once I was diagnosed, she, she let me know that. That's how I got it, essentially. And her mum as well, my gran also had to condition and by that point, she had lost a lot of sight. So I was kind of aware of the fact there were people in our family anyway, who couldn't see so well. But yeah, it was nothing we ever really spoke about. And I was aware that no one knew about my mom's eyesight. And she would never tell anyone, she just kind of got by. And I guess that rubbed off on me as well. So I constantly tried to hide it. And as I got a bit older into my kind of teens, adolescent years, I started having to get a taxi to and from school in the middle of the winter when it was dark. And, you know, I made sure that didn't pick me up from school until everyone else was long gone, because I didn't want to be seen as being different in any way. So I kind of hid it, but that impacted on my social life as well. Because people would be asking, you know, do you want to come out and hang out after school and, and I just say no, and make up an excuse as to why I couldn't. And my social circle just sort of gradually shrunk. And it wasn't really till later to like if I realised that actually being open and talking about things, it was quite empowering, having a disability and having something unique about you. But at that age, it's something that's very hard to deal with.

Donna O'Toole :

It's tough enough, isn't it? being a teenager, and kids can be cruel, we know that. But you know, yeah, absolutely. And and what a great role model now that you are to be able to show to other young people who, as you say, if it's something that's not, you know, there's something that's a challenge that there's I'm sure going to be lots of kids facing nowadays as well. So did that have any kind of impact on your ambitions in life? Or where you thought you might get to at that time? Did you were you one of these kids that wanted to be an astronaut or anything like that? Or did you not really have an idea at that time?

Neil Fachie :

Yeah, it's a very interesting question. I certainly had, didn't really have ambitions of being a top sportsman, I don't think I mean, I'd started out in, in athletics from the age of 10. And it was something I love doing. But reality is from about the age of about 13 to 17. That kind of age where puberty kicks in, and some kids get bigger and some take longer. I was quite late developing, and I essentially lost every single race I did. So you know, I did it for fun, but the social aspect was something I loved and just that ability to challenge myself. And it certainly wasn't a career in sport that I ever envisaged. So the way things have panned out, it's definitely been interesting, I guess, I was always pushing myself within school that I was quite, quite academic. And again, I wasn't doing the socialising after school and doing the things that I guess, detract from schoolwork. So it was kind of a nice break for me the evening I would do my homework and it wasn't meant to and then I would go and train you and I was quite good. So I just had these ambitions of just always trying to do the best I could exams then hopefully one day earning lots of money. I guess I didn't really know what I wanted to do. As I say, certainly, I never envisaged you know, competing at the Paralympics, nor did I even really know what the Paralympics were to be honest when I was that age.

Donna O'Toole :

No, of course and I'm sure be the same for lots of I mean, I've got teenage two teenage girls and you know, they're always being asked what they want to be, you know, the rest of it and one of them really, really knows and the other one really, really doesn't know, you know, so it is really challenging when you're young and you're a great example as well as actually you don't have to know right from the beginning because life will take you on a journey and you will find your way and your place and you will get there. So it's interesting actually. So I always says one of my sayings is that it to give yourself the best chance of becoming a winner. You need to get in the right race in the first place. Okay, and you need to stay in your lane, because otherwise you're getting in the wrong place. And we all sometimes have a go at something And then it turns out, we're not so great at that. And we don't really get the result that we wanted. And maybe our strengths would be better recognised somewhere else. But for some people that feels like a failure, and that feels like actually, we haven't done so well, maybe we're not good enough, maybe we will never get to that place where we want to be. So what's your experience been of getting yourself into the right race and for you it's quite literal, actually? And, and has there been a time where you haven't succeeded? And you've had to kind of stop we think, start again and get to that place?

Neil Fachie :

Yeah, I mean, there's been a few occasions and I think that's probably the case for many, but particularly in a long sporting career where you almost have to reinvent over and over again. But I mean, there's a few real obvious examples, first and foremost, was going to university and, and studying physics, which, you know, I, again, you're speaking about your, your daughters, and one not knowing what they want to do. And you know, that the night before I took my UCAS form to apply to university, I still didn't know what I wanted to do. And I just happened to have enjoyed physics that week at school. So I ended up studying a degree in physics, you know, it's just just ridiculous, but you have to almost try these different things to find out what works for you. And yeah, I didn't particularly enjoy that. And, you know, fortunately, I got through my degree and then sport presented itself to me and what had been my hobby athletics. Suddenly, I was very competitive. And I became aware of what the Paralympics were and decided to get my eyes tested, because someone suggested I might be eligible. Which, interestingly, I never deemed my eyesight bad enough to be considered a disabled athlete, just purely, I'd grown up with it all the time. And I don't know what full sight is, because I never experienced it, really. But yeah, it turned out I know, I was eligible to be a Paralympian and, and suddenly, there was this opportunity for me in athletics that became my career for a couple of years. And as you mentioned, at the start competing in Beijing, in 2008, was this incredible moment for me when I became a Paralympian and it was just this is absolute why I thought, at the time, the pinnacle where, you know, it was such a struggle for me to even qualify for those games, I was pretty much the last person on the plane, you know, just got in there by the skin of my teeth but I made it to the Beijing games. And yeah, I thought that was, was it it was that the high point of my life and it was instantly falling in love for the Paralympics, the moment I arrived in Beijing. And I guess this is where I knew that sport was what I was meant to do. Where it was just something I always talk about walking into the athlete village for the first time, which is this enclosed area for all the athletes at the games where you have people from all across the globe, literally almost every country on earth. And in the Paralympics, they've all got different disabilities, and are dealing with different disabilities in different ways. And it's just the most immensely diverse place. There's nowhere like on earth every four or five years in the current circumstances where you come together and just see this incredible thing. And so I just fell in love with that. And that was the fact that the the London Games were just four years away as well. And because I fell in love with the Paralympics, I thought, you know, this has been amazing, but what would it be like to be a home games as a home athlete? I mean, how many people get that opportunity in their life? That's, you know, such a minute lucky group. So yeah,

Donna O'Toole :

absolutely.

Neil Fachie :

That was suddenly my big my big dream, my big target. And for the first time in my life, I had this real goal in my head that I need to make it to London and be part of that. That would be the defining moment I felt in my life. And so, you know, I felt incredibly motivated. And I was just going to keep going with athletics. Although I was not at the top of my game, I finished ninth in both my events and Beijing top eight making the final so I was doing well, you know, at an international level, but obviously not close to winning medals. So I knew I needed to improve. But I came home ready to go. And two weeks later, I got a phone call from my manager at UK athletics, which I thought was kind of discussed plans for going forwards for the next four years how we were going to get to London and be better than I was now. But that phone call, they said to me, we don't think you've got the potential to make it to London, and your contract has been terminated with immediate effect. And at that point, that was it. The dream was just done.

Donna O'Toole :

That must have been devastating.

Neil Fachie :

Yeah. And I look back on it now and I see you kind of went through a grieving process, which was really interesting, where at first I didn't really want to believe it. I was also really I was blaming everyone else not not looking at myself at all, but I couldn't see why they didn't see the potential in me why they hadn't got more out of me as an athlete. And then I kind of just sort of slipped into depression as well where, you know, I was, I just didn't want to know anything. I wasn't feeling any emotion from being very angry to suddenly just being numb with no real purpose, no reason to get up in the morning. And, you know is from this immense high of the Paralympics. One month later, I kind of slipped into this lowest point. And I started looking for for jobs and what I was going to do next because I felt like this was a door closed now. But yeah, I started applying for jobs and I couldn't, couldn't get work anywhere. And a physics graduate someone had been to the Paralympic Games, I felt like I had a lot to offer the world. But, you know, no one wanted to take me on. So I ended up down the job centre as well. So by the end of 2008 it was signing on, and I was slightly overweight, I started eating too much. And, you know, just a year that promised so much suddenly ended so low. But fortunately, you know, that spark of London 2012 was still there. And I guess, as I work through that grieving process, was just one morning when I woke up, and suddenly, I remembered like London 2012, and it was flashing in my head. And I thought, you know, you've got to give it one last go, surely, I can't bear to sit at home and watch on TV and not be there. So I just decided I was gonna try every single sport I could. That was in the Paralympics for visually impaired athletes until I found one, I might just be good enough that I'd have a chance of making it onto the field of play or the start line, whatever it might be. And from that day, there was this this new fire within me that I just had to find a way to make it to London. And as a lifelong fan of cycling, I decided that was what I was going to try first had been an immensely successful games for British cycling in 2008, both the Olympics and the Paralympics. So they were very much in the public eye as well. It was very much the place to be and I thought, you know, why not try there first. But I was such a low point. Kind of self esteem wise that I didn't just call up the GB team and say, you know, can I come and have a go I'm a Paralympian. Instead, I thought I need to know if I'm actually any good at it at all. So I just called up the nearest indoor velodrome to me, which was in Manchester, which from Aberdeen was over seven and a half hour train journey away. And I called them up and asked me how do you have a go on the velodrome and, and they said, you can do these things called taster sessions where anyone from the public can come along and give it a go. And I find myself up and the next week, I find myself in Manchester, realising I hadn't told them that I couldn't see very well and decided not to let them know in case they didn't let me have a shot on the bike. And I got on the hire bike and I kept well away from from all the other riders but just wobbled my way around and, and fell in love with it much like I had with athletics, I just loved that sensation of freedom of, you know, speed of just, you know, I could get away from all I could just go as fast as I wanted. And that was was all I really wanted from it. And a really interesting story I was about to leave to head on home, you know, there was no real next step at that stage. But a guy kind of spotted me and saw that I had a bag with Beijing 2008 on the back, because I was still living on former glories at that point. And he called me over and kind of got asked me about the games and told me he'd been to the Olympics in 2000. And he just moved over from the able bodied team, the the Olympic team, to the Paralympic team, as a cyclist. And he was what is known as a pilot, somebody rides on the front of a tandem. And he needed someone who is visually impaired an athlete to ride on the back of the tandem with him. And did I happen to know of anyone who might be any good? And I took all of about half a second to think and say, Well, I'm your guy. And, and things kind of progressed pretty rapidly from that point. So it was a really interesting shift. I guess I've just putting yourself in in the right place. And

Donna O'Toole :

that's the universe delivering, isn't it? You know, you put yourself out there and took the risk. And it was all there waiting. That's an amazing story Neil. Wow. And that changed everything.

Neil Fachie :

Yeah, and I'd love to say it was just a breeze then I became a cyclist and wonn everything. But of course there was a few challenges along the way from that point. But yeah, I did find myself on getting a trial with the team and eventually I moved to Manchester the next year, it was a bit of a gamble as well but I felt like I needed to be around British cycling around the other riders to make the most of it and I just kind of fully committed to it and and yeah, lo and behold, I started winning races and not only did I make it to London, but as you mentioned in the intro, I managed to win Gold and Silver medal as well, which was you know, nothing was ever on the radar. It was just a case I wanted to be there. So suddenly, this dream became just a mind blowing experience. And, you know, two weeks of my life that will stay with me forever.

Donna O'Toole :

Absolutely. And oh, wow, what an experience that's just, you just can't buy that. You know, and and you can't you can't buy that to make it happen and you made it happen. So tell us a bit about how that felt then when you that day when you actually did the race, and you set the record and how that works.

Neil Fachie :

Yeah, I mean, going to London, and we actually, we went as the probably the second favourites because our teammates, Funny enough, were the ones who'd won the World Championships that year. So we were very much going as medal contenders. So again, my my mindset was very different to when I walked in Beijing and was just awestruck by the games, whereas this time I was going there actually as a contender. So I mean, obviously London was was mind blowing. The interesting thing with the Paralympics is it's always a couple of weeks after the Olympic Games. So during that time, when we're doing our final preparations, the Olympics are on TV. And obviously, the hype around the London Olympics was immense. And I just kind of thought, you know, if we get half of that, at the Paralympics is going to be incredible. And then we start hearing the stories of the fact that all the venues were sold out. And it was just mind blowing. And then the opening ceremony happened where I wasn't able to go because we were just racing A couple of days later. And it's quite a fatiguing thing to be stood on your feet one evening for four hours on end. And obviously it's not conducive with high performance the next day. So as a team, we decided just to watch from from our apartments in the athletes village, but at that point, straight away, I realise like, wow, this is big, this is serious and the nation is is actually behind us and the Paralympics, were no longer that kind of traditional sob story of these people who have come through a struggle, and now we're doing this but it was, all these people are immense athletes and watch this incredible race. I thought it was just so exciting to see. So for myself, on race day turning up at the velodrome with a full crowd. And that instant, you're walking up onto the track, ready to race, you know, you're so focused on what you need to do. And then your names are announced, and this just awe inspiring roar, suddenly, it just almost snaps you out of it and I can't help but grin at that point. You know, it's just like, wow, this is this is the moment. But then obviously, you have to quickly snap back into focus, you've got a job to do. And it was Yeah, that event. The first event we had was the one kilometre time trial which is four laps of the track around the velodrome and it's just one bike on track at a time. And it's a time trial base, the fastest time wins. So we started our race. And what's really interesting when you're racing, you kind of zoned into just what you're doing. And you don't really take in what's going on around you. So I don't really remember hearing the crowd at all for those first three laps really, of the race. But that final lap is always the point where your legs are really burning, it's that last push to the finish line where you're just fighting that kind of lactic acid build up and the fatigue. At that point, I just became aware of this huge roar suddenly, and I just felt like it gave me just that something extra. And we came around across the finish line and all went really silent for a split second. And then I just heard the announcer say new world record. And this huge roar is like that point, just this huge release of you know, we've we've done this. And I don't really remember the celebrations but I look back at the video sense and let's just say I milked it for all it's worth, you know, I'm yeah, I'm a very introverted person generally, but that moment just was like acork popping out and yeah, it was it was incredible. So you know, I just one of those moments where you've got this whole huge crowd who are behind you backing you and it's obviously pressure comes with it, but it was just immense. And yeah, for the next two weeks, we were essentially living the life of rock stars where we make appearances out in London in the Olympic Park and we literally had to have security around us and walking us from place to place because it was we're just getting mobbed by people and you know usually as a Paralympic athlete, you're competing in front of maybe a couple of hundred people at most so it was just absolutely surreal and yeah just just amazing for for disability sport as well to really showcase what it was all about. And I think it changed a lot of perceptions both in the UK and globally as well. To be part of it is amazing.

Donna O'Toole :

I am you give me goosebumps telling me the story it's so amazing I just can't imagine that must have felt so surreal like you know when they say everything goes in slow motion. I can just imagine how that oh how incredible

Neil Fachie :

Yeah, it's very hard to put into words to be honest that that kind of Oh, yeah, but just yeah, that moment standing on top of the podium is

Donna O'Toole :

How many times have you watched it back?

Neil Fachie :

Honestly, not many, people are always surprised. But for years I didn't. And the one time I started watching it back was when I was writing my book because I wanted to make sure what I remembered was actually what happened. And that was probably the first time I'd really watched it back. And that was sort of six years on. So it's quite a strange one. I just never never had done it.

Donna O'Toole :

Also, you probably the most critical person of yourself aren't you like most of us you watch event go, Oh, I should have done this. I should've done that.

Neil Fachie :

Because there's a lot if you look at that video, if we were to look now we think, oh, what were we thinking about? So

Donna O'Toole :

you smashed it? Oh, fantastic. Thank you. That's just that's such a wonderful story, and so good to hear. Thank you. Okay, so I want to talk to you about actually another sportsman's quote that I use quite often. So I run in awards accelerator programme, and that helps businesses, entrepreneurs, leaders, etc, to, to raise their own profile through winning awards and getting recognition for their business teams and employees and things. And one of the quotes that I refer to in that, and I love referring to Mo, actually is from Mo Farah, and because he says, You don't dream of winning, you train for it. And with so much success under your belt, I think other people could potentially thing, well, that comes easy to you, you know, this is something that you just managed to do. But you've clearly trained for it. And it's something that in awards, we know, when you work with awards, like I do that actually, you can really train and train your teams and train your business and, and make business developments that will actually get you to your Pinnacle awards. If you know what you're doing. And you follow a methodology, and you get the techniques, right, and you actually improve your business along the way, and you get to the awards. So from a kind of training perspective, obviously, you've you've now taken your elite sports training, and you've put that into a business programme as well. So can you tell us a bit now about how you've made that transition and and the book, etc.

Neil Fachie :

Yeah, so, I mean, you make an incredibly good point there about, you're going from, it's not like an A luck basis, but how you approach approach winning, whether it be awards, whether it be races, it's very much about knowing your, your end goal. And that's something that I definitely look at, as well, when I've taken the methodologies we use in sport and taking them to business clients, high performing teams in order to get the best out of themselves. And it's very much around these so many crossovers between sport and business where, you know, it's very competitive, in our world that's constantly improving and evolving, where it's such a struggle to get your head above the crowd and become number one, number two, number three, wherever it might be, you know, just to become one of the big time players, it's such a struggle. Erm, but similar to business, as well as the technologies coming in, where we're constantly evolving the way we train, the way you do business. And you're trying to find that edge about how you get ahead of the other nations in our case, and it's so interesting, this our competitive environment. And that's something I absolutely love. And I think that's why I wanted to take that into business as well. And yeah, you're right that, you know, when we look at training, to win a Paralympic gold medal, that it's this huge process we go through, and it's very scientific, to be honest. And I imagine it's very similar to, to winning awards, just you first set out what your end goal is what that big achievement is, right? We want to win this race, we want to win this award, then breaking it down to Well, how do we go about doing that? And it's creating this very structured roadmap of, Okay, we've got four years here. We've got some races in between where we want to do well, but we need to get to this point in four years, how good do we think we have to be to win that race. And we actually set a time that we think in four years time, this will be the time we probably need in order to win our race. And we look at where we are now and think Well, how do we get from from A to B essentially, we feel like we're already our limit, the best we can be, but we still need to improve X amount to win in four years time. How on earth are we going to do that? And it's a very daunting thing. But if you can work it back all the way with intricate planning of can take it almost back to day by day. Well, tomorrow, what do I need to do in order to be achieving that in four years? All I need to do is this training session that works on this one particular area and it's not that daunting at all. Really, it's something that's very much within me. Erm but you know, you have to take that that big step and we sit down as a wider team with experts, my coaches, strength and conditioning coaches, physios, nutritionists, psychologists and look at all the different areas and you know, take on that extra advice of where can we make improvements, what are the things we can do and just by the way that we continually improve every single day just a little bit. And eventually that adds up to this huge improvement and, and hopefully a gold at the end of it. And I think that must be very similar to the awards game as well. Yeah,

Donna O'Toole :

yeah, absolutely. And it's about Yeah, reverse engineering, you know what you want to achieve. And I think, for us, often people come say l, but we want to win this particular award. And actually, it's two weeks before the awards deadline, there is no time to prepare anything, and certainly not prepare anything within their business or change anything in their business to help them get to that goal, possibly time to actually preparing nomination, that's about it. But actually, we find that when you work with people on an awards strategy, or a roadmap towards certain awards, and actually what you're doing is incrementally helping them improve the business along the way. And then by the time you get to the award, they've got everything, they've ticked all the boxes, and they've got everything that they need to do. And this is something that I'm so I, I came across this theory in your book, and it's something I hadn't seen before. I think it was a Chris Hoy, actually, I've seen talking about it, which was the theory of the aggregation of marginal gains, I love that I think that's brilliant, I absolutely love it, I have steal it. So so this is what you're talking about really is making those marginal improvements. So tell us a bit about how you do that.

Neil Fachie :

So when I joined British cycling in 2009, this was very much the the buzz phrase that was going around, something that used to those Beijing games, where they've had great success in 2008. And it's, it's that idea that just making lots of small improvements and various different areas, when all brought together can actually add up to a significant improvement that could increase performance. And what I found really interesting, I'd come from a sporting world training myself where my focus was really just on the training sessions. And then I didn't really kind of put anything else into it, where the aggregation of marginal gains approach was more look at every area of your your lifestyle of what you're doing between those training sessions, about the equipment you're using, and kind of fine tuning every thing you can. And it's amazing what sort of improvements you can make. So there's a few examples we used. In the London Games themselves, I mean, often at the Olympic and Paralympic village, the furnitures, fairly basic, and the beds are quite uncomfortable. And obviously, sleep is so important to athletes, and you've got all these athletes who are ready to perform at the absolute biggest occasion of their life, sleeping in these terrible beds and getting a bad night's sleep, which just doesn't make sense. But you just kind of deal with it, because that's the way it's done. But then for London, we thought as a team, well, how can we ensure a better night's sleep and we ended up getting these they were called travel mattresses truth was they were massive and impossible to port around. And we actually had one of the members of staff, unfortunately, kind of come to your room pack it up take it away for you and to get into the village. But we slept on these mattresses at home for a couple of weeks beforehand, then our holding camp versus our training camp before we got into the village. And then at the village itself. So you got very accustomed to these beds, and then ensure that we got the best night's sleep possible when we were actually in the village. And these sort of small things that you just don't consider. And I think that can be applied to businesses as well that we really kind of focus on those things that we're doing every day and don't necessarily just think outside the box of how can we make our working environment better and more productive for us. You know, how can we make our our employees you know, better equipped through diet, through sleep, through exercise, all these things that we just don't think about? Yes, it's a really interesting theory. And there's a lot of really big wins to be made. Just Just by looking slightly outside the box.

Donna O'Toole :

Yeah and I think we have I certainly seeing that happen more and more in business. Now. Actually, I think there's a much better approach. So you see, with things like we're looking at the employee experience, we're looking at the customer experience, we're looking at how they're linked together, looking at, you know, happy employees make happy customers. So how can we make a little bit of a change to our employees to make the customers feel better? And then they'll come back? Well, you know, so the, all these things make a difference, actually, this year. With COVID, I think it's been actually step change. It's not marginal gains anymore, it's step change. You know, we've got businesses going from everyone has to be in the office all the time. To no one has to be in the office at all and it turns out we can still manage.

Neil Fachie :

Yeah, so it's been incredible. And, you know, as you say, it's kind of forced people to think outside the box, which is really interesting. So it's a real point of evolution, I think. So it's really exciting to see that I it's something I've been kind of campaigning for a long time is this idea. We don't all have to be together all the time. And we can use technology. So I'm really glad that we're Yeah, albeit with the situation

Donna O'Toole :

maybe I think, you know, if there's If there's good things to come out of challenging situations, I think most people would agree that that's going to be a good thing is the flexibility and the trust, it all comes down to trust isn't at the end of the day, where we're now offering each other, but also the collaboration and sharing of knowledge and skills and supporting each other. And perhaps we as business people are getting a bit more into that sporting mindset, I don't know, you know, of being part of a team of wider business team, as opposed to just your small individual team, you know, and what we need. So one thing that I want to talk to you about Neil, is because it's very exciting is that you are you have an MBE, which is not everybody can say they have. And so can you tell us a bit about that experience when you received your MBE and what that felt like?

Neil Fachie :

Yeah, I mean, obviously, an incredible honour first and foremost. So when I got that letter through the post, and then realised that was something I was gonna, gonna win was pretty special. Yeah, the the day itself was quite quite remarkable that it's immensely humbling for such a grand occasion. So you know, we had to, go to Buckingham Palace and my, my family head off in one direction, and I'm kind of taken away to to another room with the other people who are about to win the award. And at that point, I start speaking to other individuals and finding out the kind of things they've done. I distinctly remember speaking to a lady who she must have been around 70 70 years old, and she looked a bit lost by it. And I just got to chatting to her. And she told me that she just couldn't really understand why she was at the ceremony, why she'd been awarded this MBE she was receiving as well. And I said, Well, what is it that you do? And she explained that she had been a volunteer for I think it's the best part of 50 years doing, doing all this different incredible work. And I thought, wow, I mean, I rode my bike, in contrast, she is incredible. And she's, she's kind of in awe of me almost and can't understand why she's there. And I guess there was a lot of that. But yeah, I mean, it was just just outrageous to hear. So it was so good to hear some of the stories that other people had. And then there's the obviously the moment itself. And to be honest, the nerves were pretty palpable in the room where there's so many questions being asked, like, what do I do when I'm called forwards and that fear of everyone thinking of what if I'm the one who falls over in front of the queen. And I'd say I was probably more nervous there than I was on the start line in London, it was just that kind of unknown had prep for a race where it's no prep for this occasion. And it got to the point I was called forward. And, you know, I did what I was meant to do and step forward and there was the majesty, the Queen stood in front of me. And then she, she kind of started asking me questions about about my sport, and whether I was going to continue on to Rio and it's quite a brief, brief moment, but I was having, and I write about this in the book as well, this kind of very surreal mind moment where, for some reason, there's this niggling thought in the back of my head that just kept playing. That was what would happen right now, if you were to punch the queen in the face. And this thought was so ridiculous, but I couldn't get rid of it from my head. And I was kind of thinking, yeah, you know, I'm sitting right in front of her. There's probably marksman around the room somewhere that I can't see, you know, what would happen if you were just to just to punch the queen? And she's asking me these questions, and I can't get this thought out of my head. And this this awful moment, but fortunately, I didn't say anything. I didn't punch her either, which is great news. I stepped back and I walked away and everything was fine. And it's kind of looking back now that real high stress moment I realised the kind of ridiculous ness of your mind that just plays tricks on you. And then

Donna O'Toole :

there's something psychological going on there isn't there where it's actually like your greatest fear is coming to the forefront at that moment.

Neil Fachie :

Absolutely. And yeah, it was it was an incredible moment, but that's my lasting memories of this sadly and I've actually been fortunate to meet the Queen on a couple of other occasions. Firstly, I've never had that thought on other times but she is a lovely lady. Yeah, she's it was a really great moment very, not as tense as it should be. But yeah, have I found a way to ruin it in my own head.

Donna O'Toole :

Well, you thoroughly deserve your MBE and and as do as the lady you met, I'm sure and so many more. Actually. There's there's this often interesting actually, because I find with honours, people tend to not have really any understanding of how they come about. So they don't think oh, well, how did they get one, I don't really understand it, they sort of fall from the sky onto people. But actually there is a public nomination process. So if there's someone that you know, who's done some amazing things, you can nominate them, and, and why not? You know, that is a great idea to do that. Okay, so you talk in your book as well about the low points. And you've told us about that today, when you've had to look for jobs and things. So this year has been a tough year for very many, many people, for so many reasons, both personal. And in business. And in sport, I'm sure as well. So, you know, there's a lot of people who have done very well, as well, and who's pivoted or have just, you know, for some reason, have grown their business this year, and they're really highly needed. There's a lot of people who found this year really, really challenging and who knows how much longer it's going to last? And so what would you What can you say to them about how to kind of pick yourself up from that place and move forward?

Neil Fachie :

Yeah, you know, it is a tough one. It has been a tough year in sport as well. I mean, we, I should be actually in Tokyo at this moment racing in the Paralympic Games. So the point we're recording, but, but that's been postponed, and hopefully will take place next year. So like many others, I've had to kind of really take a step back and think about how I approach things where my four year plan is now kind of gone out the window and become a five year plan for just as one year left. And yes, it's one of these challenges. And I'm quite fortunate faced a few of these in my career where whether they've been defeats or changes in circumstance where you have to take that step back, look at the big picture, and make a change somewhere. And something that I think athletes are naturally good at. This isn't a skill I purposely learned this this something through my sporting career that I now try and take into business as well is the ability to self reflect. And we always do it in sport very naturally, because you're always looking back, whether it's videos, or just thinking back to your races and really analysing it, looking for the things you did well, of course, but particularly those areas where you can make improvements. And these sort of big moments where you face a really big challenge or the point when you can make the biggest change I find. A really interesting one I had was after the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio, where myself and my my tandem partner went in as a men's favourites to win gold, we've gone undefeated for four years, in international sport. So obviously, we were the overwhelming favourites to win. On that day, we came away with a silver we were beaten by an immense performance from the Dutch guys who took the gold. And for me, you know, a silver medal, a Paralympic game sounds incredible, of course. And I do look back on it now with some pride. But at the time, it was, to me just a complete and utter failure, where I felt like I'd let my team down, I'd let my whole nation down. To be honest, I mean, I'd seen an interview done months before was shown on Channel Four that morning, where I talked about how if anyone was going to beat us, they're going to have to, you know, pull out an incredible performance because we were in such a good place. And then lo and behold, that actually happened. So I felt like I told the world that I was favourite to win. And then lost. So that was a real challenge where I had to kind of go away and really reflect and I felt like it was possibly the beginning of the end of my sporting career, you know, I was into my 30s at that point and things were starting maybe to go down that slope or performance just diminishes the older you get. But I took the decision again, to give it one last try and just try tackling things from a different angle. And this is something I've realised now is that certainly in sport, I think whatever you do to be successful in the long term, you constantly have to evolve who you are. So as an athlete, you can't train the same way for over a decade and expect to just keep improving, you have to make an adjustment and change somewhere. Erm otherwise things just become really stale. And that that level of progression just sort of plateaus off to nothing. So I made a lot of changes to the just the way we approach training, what our focusses were and just stripped back and did things, it's a bit of a gamble to try something new. But lo and behold my performance just started going through the roof and 18 months later was the next big event I competed in which was a World Championships which happened to be back in Rio on the velodrome where I lost that gold medal, and then at the Commonwealth Games two weeks later in Gold Coast in Australia with these two big journeys to do. And in that space that two weeks I ended up winning two golds at both events, four golds in total and broke a world record in the process as well. It had all been just because I've just taken that step back, looked at the bigger picture and realise that I needed to kind of just evolve slightly the way I trained. And it's easier said than done. Because when you're in the thick of it, and you feel like you just need to work hard every single day, the time to just step back and just look at the bigger picture. You know, you don't feel like it's always there. But I feel like it's always paid dividends in my career that the learning experiences through these challenging times have always been the greatest. And again, that's something we've done through through COVID as well, where we've, we've got an extra year to play with. So taking a step back and just changing things again, and lo and behold, at this point in time, I can tell you, I'm probably in even better shape than than I was pre lockdowns. So it's um, yeah, it's amazing. Just a little few tweaks, you can make such advanced change

Donna O'Toole :

those marginal gains, isn't it? But also, I think it's that phrase, work smarter, not harder, isn't it? So you know, yeah, making some changes, taking a look, it's really hard to look at yourself objectively like that, though, isn't it? Sometimes everyone else thinks they know what you should be doing. But it's hard to see it, to see the wood for the trees

Neil Fachie :

Yeah, it's definitely a skill as well, I think you do need to almost learn to take, take the time and do it even like five minutes a week just to reflect back on the week you've had and where you could have made improvements. And as I say, this is something we do in sport all the time is every training session, I'm on the way home, I'm thinking about, like, you know, what, what could we improve on? Where could we make these small changes, and you can do that in anything you're doing really, it's just, we don't like to take the time to look back at our failures as we perceive that as negative, but that's where the gains are. So you know, it's something you have to do.

Donna O'Toole :

Yeah, fantastic. And that's a really positive way of looking at it, as well now, and I think a lot of lessons that businesses can take from that. And that you can obviously offer from that from your, from your experience to crossover and take them forward. And hopefully, well you sound like you're in a good place for the next race. So I'll be heading down to the betting shop after this

Neil Fachie :

Now that is pressure. Yeah, unfortunately, it's sport I can't promise anything, but things are looking good. So yeah, feel free.

Donna O'Toole :

Good! No, that's that that is really good news. There's should never be an end to all the winning and the recognition and reward, taking the next steps and going in the next direction and the next opportunities that come along, whatever they may be. So Well, thank you very much Neil I really appreciated your time today. And I can highly recommend Neil's book, which is called Earning Your Stripes and I've read it from cover to cover. And it's a fantastic book. And I yeah, I think if you if you take one thing, just take make small, incremental changes, or, you know, get in touch with Neil and find out how he can make you become an elite performer, in in your industry and then come and win some of the best awards in the world. I think that's, that's the best solution. Sounds good to me. Brilliant. Thank you very much Neil nice to speak to you.

Neil Fachie :

Thank you. It's been an absolute pleasure.

Donna O'Toole :

Thank you for listening to this episode of my winning awards podcast. If you enjoyed it and found it helpful, please share it on Twitter and LinkedIn. And if you have any questions, please head over to craftedbyaugust.com where you can find out more about winning awards and contact me on the website. You can also take our free awards test, which will identify your award strengths and tell you how likely you are to win. I really hope you've been able to take away some ideas today so that you can go ahead and win awards have an even bigger impact on the world and achieve your dreams. Transcribed by https://otter.ai