By Richard Lofthouse

Tejvan Pettinger (Lady Margaret Hall, 1995) is an economist, gardener, author and meditator. Oh, and did I mention that he also happens to be the UK National Hill Climb cycling champion of 2013?

Often, when we write about Oxonians here at Oxford Today, the question is not what defines them but how exactly to throw a single piece of rope around so many striking qualities contained in a single person. Tejvan is another one of those.

Formerly Richard Pettinger, Tejvan explains over breakfast at Maison Blanc café on the Woodstock Road that his name was given to him by his guru, the late Sri Chinmoy. ‘Tejvan’ means dynamic self-giving and enthusiasm. Chinmoy Kumar Ghose was an Indian guru who taught meditation in the West after moving to New York City in 1964, who identified a non-doctrinal but broadly Buddhist spiritual path and visited Oxford as recently as 2003.

Pettinger, who grew up in West Yorkshire and attended Bradford grammar school before matriculating at Oxford to study PPE, had no particular religious upbringing.  But he became steadfastly aware, during his final year at Oxford, that 2.4 children, a wife and a Porsche were not going to be the gushing wellsprings of happiness they were held out to be. “I felt at a complete loss,” he recalls. 

Asked by his then tutor, Gillian Peele, what he wanted to do, he replied, “I’d like to become a gardener.” She didn’t think much of that reply, but it’s what he did anyway, working alongside current Lady Margaret Hall head gardener Ben Pritchard for £4.50 an hour, supplementing his income by working as a part time economics tutor.

Cycling was already in the mix — Pettinger rode for the Oxford University Cycling Club (OUCC) — but after an illness he put down his bike. He picked it up again, clearly with vigour, at the relatively late age of 28, in 2005. This coincided with his commitment to meditation, although it was apparently no coincidence.

Drawn to eastern meditation by its capacity to dwell beyond the mind and its arguments, Pettinger found that bike racing produced a physical counterpart – an emptying of the mind. Incidentally, Sri Chinmoy, who died in 2007 but today has several thousand followers, was an advocate of sport as a means of self-transcendence.

As for hill climbing, it seems perfectly suited to Tejvan’s character and beliefs, not to mention his almost skeletal frame, a prerequisite of the activity. First of all, hill climbing is a very pure and very hard sub-discipline of cycling. Traditionally occupying the month of October, sealing the end of the road season and the start of the ‘off-season’, it is a specialist activity in which the warm-up, usually on a static turbo trainer sat comically at the side of the road, will take half an hour. By comparison, the race itself — a timed ascent of a single hill — may last as little as two minutes. Those two minutes, though, can feel like the rest of your life. In Britain it’s even more painful because the hills are typically short but savagely steep. They are not the graded, aerobic set pieces of an Alpine Col, the ascent of which might take an hour.

So it was that after eight years of trying, 2013 was Tejvan’s year of outright victory. His time of 7 minutes 57 seconds, on the notorious ‘Stang’ in North Yorkshire, sealed victory, appropriately won in the midst of a rainstorm on October 26th. Whether or not his pre-warm up meditation helped is not for us to judge. But without doubt winning the title, as an amateur, is to be considered an incredible achievement at a point in British cycling where most of the field for any national level event comprises rookie pros trying to make their name, with a view to becoming the next Sir Bradley Wiggins. To do it at 36 is astounding. 

In a nice coda, Tejvan notes that “what was so special was that Jim Henderson was there to watch me.” Henderson (Magdalen College, 1991) won the same national hill climb championship five times before he stopped racing in 2009 — so we couldn’t resist getting in touch with him, too.

“I first won the National Hill Climb championship in 1998, riding in the colours of Oxford University CC,” he explained to us. “I understand that the only other Oxonian to have won a national title before then was AAE Weir, who won the 25 mile time trial riding a high ordinary (aka Penny Farthing) in 1878. So, Tejvan is in select company!”

If that’s not enough talk of hill climbing for you, why not take a look at Cycling Uphill for some visual stimulation relating to the subject.