BMX cyclist Ross Cullen will quite rightly tell you that you can’t keep a good man down. The 18-year-old made the decision to take a three-week break from competing after a series of big crashes at the start of the season had threatened to stop him in his tracks. The time off allowed him to focus solely on training, as he recovered both physically and mentally before returning to the start line, and his spectacular comeback recently saw him crowned European Junior BMX champion.
Ross, who made the top 10 shortlist for SportsAid’s One-to-Watch Award in 2015, has enjoyed a highly impressive career to date. Most notably, he has previously won the UCI BMX World Junior Championships on two occasions and was selected as flagbearer for Team GB at the Opening Ceremony of the Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympic Games. Next year he will step up to senior level as he looks to establish himself in the elite men category.
Here, Ross, currently supported by SportsAid through the Elton John Sports Fund, reflects on his recent successes and reveals his long-term ambitions....
How did you feel after returning from the European Championships with a gold medal?
“It was such an amazing feeling to win gold at the European Championships. I felt really good going into the race and had really good practice sessions the days beforehand. I was going into the race very confident. My laps seemed to get better as the day went on and I absolutely loved the track!”
How have you found the year so far? Any stand-out moments?
“I have had a good season but I also struggled with three big crashes that meant I had to miss a few European competitions and go into a few races not at my full ability. I took a three-week break from racing mid-season and focused on training and getting myself back up to 100% fitness, both mentally and physically, and it all seems to be paying off! My stand-out race is probably the European Championships as I rode consistently well all day and felt super strong.”
When will you be taking the step into the senior ranks?
“Next year will be my first year in elite men and I am very excited to progress to senior level. I am going to train as hard as I ever have over winter to have a strong season next year and to have a good start to my elite career!”
Are there particular inspirations or sporting heroes you’ve looked up to over the years?
“In BMX I always looked up to Liam Phillips. I found it surreal when I used to train at Manchester with the team and be around him. He was always so professional and a top role model for me to look up to. Outside of BMX it would probably be Usain Bolt. I loved how dominant and consistent he was. He’s also another amazing role model in sport in general.”
What have been the key achievements, aside from your recent European title, in your career to date?
“I have won the World Championships twice - at 11 boys and 14 boys - which were real boosters in my racing career. I have won the British Championships six times and I have made seven World Championship finals to date. The coolest achievement for me so far was being selected as the flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 2018. It’s a memory that will stay with me forever!”
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome in your career so far? And what is your main long-term ambition?
“My main long-term ambition is to win an Olympic medal and also to become a better athlete and person generally. I’m constantly learning on and off the bike, day in and day out, which I love. The biggest challenge I have overcome in my career was probably this year when I had three big crashes in a row and I felt nothing was going well for me. It was a barrier I was able to overcome by not only getting physically fit again but mentally fit. All the hard work is paying off.”
Which experiences have you learnt the most from up to now? How much did you take away from competing at the Youth Olympic Games?
“The Youth Olympic games was the best experience I’ve had so far in my career. I learnt so much and I took so much away from the Games to make me a better athlete! I loved representing my country and holding the GB flag high in the Opening Ceremony. It’s just spurred me on even more to reach a summer Games in the near future!”
You've been supported by SportsAid for six years now. What difference has this made to you?
“SportsAid has been a massive help in my career so far. It’s not only the financial help but the support they offer to make you a better athlete too. I have loved working with SportsAid over the past six years and hopefully many more to come!”
Which other commitments do you have to balance alongside BMX?
“I have been working over the past two years. I had a job at Halfords for a year and also a decorating job for some time too. So I was working two jobs alongside training! It was tough but I am a very determined athlete and I have goals I am chasing. I still work whenever I can, doing decorating jobs or helping family and friends out! As I’m not a fully-funded athlete all the money I can get helps.”
Lastly, how important has the support of your family and coaching team been to you in pursuing your sporting ambitions?
“My family are the most supportive I could ask for! I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. The countless runs to training and races all over the world as I was growing up and all the general support they gave me was amazing. My coaches are great and we work hard all year round to progress. I couldn’t ask for a better team around me!”
What will you do to #SupportTheNext generation of British sporting heroes? SportsAid needs your help to ensure talented athletes like Ross can continue receiving the backing they rely on. You can make a regular donation to the charity and have a significant impact on the country’s sporting future.