Sam's the Man

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I quite fancy myself as a bit of an adrenalin junkie and over the past twelve months, I’ve successfully managed to get behind the controls of a plane with ACS Flight Training out at Scone and launch myself off the Garry Bridge with Highland Fling Bungee. However, I don’t think I have the courage to do what local lad Sam Herd does.

Sam is a downhill mountain biker – meaning he literally jumps on his bike at the top of steep hills and rough tracks and tries to get to the bottom as quickly as possible. He has travelled the world tackling some of the most difficult terrain and it all started for him right here in Perthshire.

“I think where I live really was the main thing that got me into the sport,” the 22-year-old said, “I stay out near Abernethy near a forest in the middle of nowhere. There are a few nice tracks there and from a young age my brother and I would just head out there on our bikes.”

Copying and trying to out-do his elder brother quickly led to Sam becoming more and more confident on his bike and by age twelve he started to compete in downhill mountain biking. He worked his way through the Scottish and British levels over the next few years and began to realise he had a natural ability behind the handlebars, and clearly balls of steel daring to go faster where most of us would break hard! I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world, going to some incredible places and riding my bike down some of the best tracks there is.

“I was sixteen when I took on my first European race over in Switzerland, so I had only been competing nationally for a few years. When I started racing at twelve-years-old it quickly became my dream to be able to do this as a sport and compete at the highest level, so to get to this stage in such a short period of time was a big achievement.

“A year later, I competed in my first World Cup event and that’s the level I’ve been at ever since. I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world, going to some incredible places and riding my bike down some of the best tracks there is and it’s been absolutely brilliant.

“The events tend to be mainly Europe-based but sometimes I’ll compete in the USA, Canada, South Africa and Australia. It’s a pretty hectic season which runs from April to September and during that period I’ll try and squeeze in some British and Scottish events too!”

And it’s in April that Sam heads into another World Cup season which kicks off in Croatia. It’s the first time that he’s managed to qualify for the series of races without the assistance of British Cycling which is a mark of the improvements he made during the 2017 season.

“There are two ways in which you can qualify for the World Cup events,” he explained.

“Either you go through the British Cycling route where they select you, or you manage to amass enough points so you can qualify off your own back without needing to be selected. In 2017, I decided to compete in some smaller events in order to build my points up and in 2018 I’ve successfully qualified to compete in the World Cups based on that which is a first for me.”

Sam Herd - Downhill mountain biking dustSam heads off to Malaga next month for a pre-season training camp which he has to fund by himself, with the help of his parents too. That’s the reality for many in the sport who make tremendous sacrifices financially in order to compete. He has to come up with his own funding to travel the world circuit, meaning it’s an expensive career to pursue!

It’s something which has led Sam to consider his future in the sport and he is already making contingency plans in case he can’t find his way onto a professional team in the next few years.

“I’d love to keep going for many years and start to make decent money but the reality is only the top twenty in the world will realistically make the kind of money you need to make a proper living out of it.

“With that in mind I’ve started doing a sports science degree online which is ideal for me. It means I can fit it around my training and the racing which is perfect. I’m thinking that I can combine my competitive mountain biking experience with the degree and make a living that way.”

Sam has been backed by Live Active Leisure’s Talented Athlete scheme since 2013, meaning when he’s at home in Perthshire he can access LAL’s gyms and facilities to keep fit during the off-season. It’s something that he feels has helped him to improve as a rider and is invaluable to him financially too! I’m at Bell’s two or three times a week when I’m home and it’s such an amazing thing to be on the Talented Athlete scheme.

“I’m at Bell’s two or three times a week when I’m home and it’s such an amazing thing to be on the Talented Athlete scheme. If I had to pay for a gym membership it would be another cost on top of everything else, so to be able to access the facilities for free is absolutely brilliant.

“I love the gym at Bell’s and I’d choose it over any other place in Perth. It plays a really important part in my training schedule and if I’m not out on my bike on some of the local tracks then I’m preparing myself there!”

His preparations for the 2018 season are starting to shift up a gear now and he has just two months until he heads out to Croatia for the World Cup opener. Sam had a solid 2017 but he has already set himself some objectives for the year ahead and having been competing for a decade now, he’s hoping to really start making his mark on the world stage.

“I’m 22 now so that’s been ten years since I started out in national competitions, which I think is crazy! I absolutely love the sport and I’m always looking to improve and to push myself to the next level.

“In the World Cups, they’ve recently made a change which means only the top 60 make it through at each event to the finals day. My main objective this year is to make sure I get myself in and around that mark at the different events throughout the year and if I can do that consistently then it will be a successful season for me!”


Find out more about Live Active Leisure's Talented Athlete scheme from our Small City Sports article or by visitng the Live Active website.

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