Collaboration Forum Series 5: Building a brighter future (Week-1)

Collaboration Series 5 Week 1
Collaboration Forum Series 5: Building a brighter future (Week-1)

The future of your success – one win at a time 

How do you overcome the challenges that life puts in your way? Be inspired by world-record-holding endurance cyclist James Golding. He has survived cancer, depression and a collision with a truck and now plans to become the first British athlete to win the world’s toughest bike race – the Race Across America.

James’s story will touch on vision, commitment, teamwork, failure, success and reflection and will challenge us to redefine our boundaries and ambition. Watch the recording of first forum of our new series and be inspired to build a brighter future with one win at a time.


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Meet Our Inspiring Speaker

James Golding

James Golding, Endurance Cyclist and World Record Holder

“THE ONLY TIME YOU’RE FAILING IS WHEN YOU STOP TRYING” Meet James Golding – In 2021 he plans to become the first British athlete to win the world’s toughest bike race, the Race Across America (RAAM). Whilst some might say that’s a bold statement, audacious perhaps, his confidence is born from experience, vision, commitment, teamwork and most of all reflection. Since he was first diagnosed with cancer ten years ago he has come to believe anything is possible and that – one step at a time – we are all capable of achieving anything we put our minds to. With James, we will look at the life lessons you can apply for success in any field you wish.


Cancer to cycling: how James Golding came back from the brink

What happens when you nearly die at the age of 28 from cancer? James Golding shared his compelling story of learning to walk again and finding his world-beating best riding thousands of miles on a bike.

From bad to worse?

On 11 November 2008, James Golding walked into accident and emergency at a hospital in Coventry. He’d been suffering from back pain for months, but neither his chiropractor nor his doctor could find anything wrong. Just two days later, after a series of tests, an 11cm tumour was found wedged between his spine, kidney and bowel. It was cancer.

For a 28-year-old, in the prime of his life, it was a knockout blow at a difficult time. Since leaving school, James had trained to become a plasterer, before developing a successful career in estate agency. He bought a house, owned nice cars, and developed a comfortable lifestyle. But the property crash and recession of 2008 had taken the wind out of his sails.

As his diagnosis hit home, James spent most of the next six months in hospital. In the beginning, doctors were reluctant to operate, but after two rounds of chemotherapy, they didn’t want to do a third. He was developing fluid on his ankles and needed a blood transfusion. Shortly after that, he lost the ability to walk, and was running out of time.

On 24 February 2009, he became critical, and a team of doctors spent six hours in the operating theatre trying to save his life. James was close to death: if he hadn’t been young and fit, staff said later they would have put him in the corner and made him comfortable. They gave him a five per cent chance of survival.

What followed was a slow and agonising period of recovery. James learnt to walk again, to eat again, and to live his life again – and that’s the point when everything changed.

Coming back to life

James didn’t want the life he’d had before.

He’d come back from the brink, and nights out with people that weren’t real friends, brought hangovers and more questions than answers. At that point, after moving back in with his mum and gran, he found a bike in the garage and went out for a ride around a nearby reservoir. The feeling of the wind in his face, and his legs slowly turning the pedals, released a sense of freedom he hadn’t felt for a long time.

On the bike, he felt alive and able to control his destiny, which had almost been taken from him forever. He wanted to do something with that feeling, to give back to the people who had helped him stay alive. First, it was for Macmillan, and then others followed suit, as his feats of endurance became bigger and bigger. His story on the bike started because he wanted to help others and it has become his life, his second chance.

Since James has recovered from cancer, which he did again in 2011 when it returned, he has also been hit by a truck and faced the mental torment of what he experienced. These extremely adverse events have created individual that is driven to see what is possible. But he’s also someone aware of what it takes to break down these goals, to fail, and to go on and achieve them.

He describes learning to walk as a child is one of the greatest things that humans ever achieve, let alone doing it again at the age of 28. That mindset of taking small but continual steps has helped him succeed: to set a world record for the furthest distance ridden on a bike in seven days; compete in Race Across the West back in 2019; and qualify for his ultimate aim, the 3,000-mile Race Across America.

What gives you this drive for success?

I’m not sure it’s a drive for success; it’s an unwillingness to quit. Success is a funny thing. What is it? How long does success live with us? How long are we happy with what we’ve achieved? However, quitting is literally forever. Quitting doesn’t go away.

I could sit there and say that in 2014 I didn’t achieve the seven-day world record. But by trying to achieve it, I learned what I needed to change, in order to succeed in 2017. The idea of not achieving a goal is a more powerful driver than winning or succeeding.

When I did break the seven-day world record, people said to me: ‘How does it feel?’ Well, I didn’t feel very different. It probably took me 12 months to be able to understand that we’d actually broken the record.

How do you create consistency when working towards your goals?

A lot of that comes down to communication. I have my goals, but there’s no point me wanting to do those things if I don’t have the backup and support from my team. That comes from sponsors, support crew; that comes from my wife Louise and the kids. How I communicate with those people about the things that I want to achieve is important. Everybody has to be moving in the same direction.

At the end of 2016, I realised through various conversations that I’d been in a really dark place, and things needed to change. To be able to do Race Across America, I needed to be able to break the seven-day world record first. If I couldn’t ride 1,800 miles in a week, there’s no way that I was going to be able to ride 3,000 miles in eight days.

I spoke to an ex-professional cyclist called Dean Downing and asked him to be my coach. I talked to my family and my sponsors and told them what I was thinking. The people around me knew what I was doing. I didn’t scream and shout about it too much. After we achieved the record, we then sat down and explored how we could achieve the goal of getting to Race Across America.

Some of the team agreed straight away; others made suggestions of how we could approach it, and we also sought the advice of people who could help us to work with bigger sponsors. If somebody had a problem or wasn’t happy with the process, we discussed it and changed it. One member of that team is no longer part of the plans. It’s not ideal; I’d like that person to still be part of it. But they just couldn’t agree on our process and what we were aiming to achieve.

It’s about having that buy in from the people around you and communicating with your team and everybody you work with.

How is it different, having a team geared around you, rather than in a business, where people work towards a collective goal?

I don’t think it’s any different. Yes, I’m the guy riding a bike, but I couldn’t achieve what I do if it weren’t for the people looking after me. If you work in an office, the person that empties the bin is part of your team. If they weren’t emptying the bin, you’d be doing it yourself, which means you’re not doing your own job.

I’m the engine, but someone’s filling the fuel tank; Dean’s running the engine and telling me how to work; we’ve got a mechanic, making sure the engine keeps running in the same way; and another member of the team navigating us in the right direction. You can’t have an engine of a car without the wheels, a steering wheel and everything else around it. It’s still one module moving forward. And that’s the same with a business.

Also, if you’ve got people working for you who give you feedback, and you don’t like it, then you shouldn’t be an employer. Ultimately, the whole point of employing these people is because you want their input. I value their opinion; I know how good they are and what they do. And if they say something’s not right, then something’s not right, and we need to try and change it. Feedback is key.

How does your experience translate to business at the moment?

Humans sometimes struggle with change. We went through this huge change a year ago because of the pandemic; and now we’ve just settled into it, we’re going to change it again. But I think the change we have now is actually something we’ve been striving for. I had a conversation with somebody recently who was anxious about being back in the office three days a week. But being able to work from home two days a week, and to pick up their kids up from school, is a good thing.

There’s no reason why we can’t make these changes now.

For example, we were meant to do Race Across America last year, and we had to move into this year, and now to next year. So that’s been a constant change. Two years ago, we moved to Portugal and that was a huge change for the family. Of course, that followed changing my whole career and the way I looked at everything coming out of the other side of cancer.

Really, I’m no different to anybody else. We’re all constantly learning. Everything that we’ve learned, and everything we’ve done in life, we’ve learned to do. We all learn to walk, but I had a refresher course at the age of 28, so I’ve been through that whole process twice.

Look back on what you have achieved and use that to allow you to move forward. It’s about the things that you can do, the changes you can make and the impact you can have on people around you. It might be my story, but it’s not about me.

James Golding opened series five of Protiviti’s collaboration forum, which has been held online on Thursday mornings during the past year. To find out more about the event, which will now run until then end of June 2021, click here. To learn more about James’ story, you can watch this short film he made with Red Bull, and follow his progress here.

Click below to view the entire series


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Peter Richardson
Paul Middleton
Paul Middleton
Managing Director