Cycling Wed

Cycling Wed: Doping in amateur sports: Isolated craziness or an allegory for an inflamed society?

As a cyclist, I’m often asked why authorities will not stop investigating Lance. It’s over and done with. It’s all in the past. What’s more, if they took his Tour titles away whom would they give them to? Most of his rivals have either admitted doping or been busted. Let’s be in the moment and look forward with optimism.

This is what a lot of people say.

That’s one way of looking at it.

But then there are the David Anthony’s of the world. His story makes you think about dishonesty in sport in another way.

In what world would you ever think that a Category 3 (low-level amateur) cyclist would test positive for EPO (erythropoietin) after a touring event—no, it wasn’t even a race? The painful-to-read Velonews story chronicles the story of a man who hung way too much of his self-esteem on the cycling peg. He succumbed to the part of the brain that likes being lied to.

Anybody who has ever had a good day on a bike has felt it. It’s an amazing feeling. You turn the pedals with ease while your competitors grimace. A word comes to mind—intoxicating. I remember the day after I got a cortisone shot. I felt invincible, never tired. It was so good. You could get used to that sensation.

Only it wasn’t real, nor lasting.

Besides self-validation, do you know what Cat 3 cyclists race for on Saturday? Socks, or water bottles, or in the richest cases, 25 dollars. EPO? Human growth hormone?

I know what you are thinking: crazy cyclists. They will do anything–even cheat. They are not a representative sample. Well then…what about high school kids who inject steroids? Or smart kids who boost their smarts with ADHD meds? Or rich folks who fudge tax returns?

These stories of cheating and illusion-seeking paint a gloomy picture. Sport is supposed to be real. David Anthony fell prey to the illusions he saw on TV. He watched Tour champions spin circles, while their competitors pedaled squares. Then he tasted the sweetness of success and he wanted more.

Why is it always more? When do we have enough? When is the body thin enough, fast enough, or smart enough? When is our house big enough? Our cars fancy enough?

Another word–excess.

Which poofs yet another word into my brain–inflammation.

Let me tell you a story on the other pole from Mr. Anthony’s. She was a middle-aged AF patient who told me that she had no stress. She had enough money; she loved her husband and family; she was happy with herself and she even slept well. It must have been the look on my face, because she reiterated, “really, I am perfectly happy…I don’t want for anything.” I about fell off my chair. The computer screen flickered when I dictated this into the mic.

As a doctor who bears witness to the effects of inflammation wrought by the chasing of excess, I’ve come to be impressed with those unusual individuals who have found balance. These healthy souls stand out in the crowd. They are okay with non-EPO speed on the bike, or non-ADHD prose on their blog; or just a good salary. Maybe it’s simply the skewed view of a heart rhythm doctor, but sometimes I wonder whether the societal ebb in contentment and rise in heart problems are more than just associated in time.

Back to Mr Anthony and the illusion that is cheating.

At least this story ends on an optimistic note. Mr. Anthony wisely chose the low inflammation out. He told the truth and accepted responsibility for his action. He simply could not live with the chronic inflammation. The acute pain was more tolerable than living with the lie.

Mr. Anthony told his story in the hope that it might help others. He wants us to learn–from the greatest tool that we have: our mistakes.

Good on him.


2 replies on “Cycling Wed: Doping in amateur sports: Isolated craziness or an allegory for an inflamed society?”

John – THANK YOU for this post. Out of curiosity, I went to the link you give for the story on David Anthony (Velonews story above) – and I couldn’t put the article down until I had finished it (it was so intriguing – and so sad …) – But your question (“Why always more?”) and your perspective (the word “excess”) really hones in on the problem.

“Why always more?” and “excess” relate to a fundamental problem with our health care system (and our economy) – namely that far too much is, “just about the money”. The rich (the “haves”) get richer – the difference between “haves” and “have nots” gets larger (profit motivation for Big Pharma, Insurance companies, and other middlemen) – with result being the inexorable rise of medical care cost without realistic hope of control (even if Republicans and Democrats could agree on what to do – which of course they never will …). What ever happened to the way it used to be when medicines and health care were affordable by nearly all? (and insurance coverage was regularly included in virtually all who were employed – which used to be almost everyone). But I digress …

THANKS again for this post. There are MANY messages embodied by your words of wisdom.

Man John, you hitting your grove this week on posts. The search for speed and endurance is never ending. This story reminds me of a local guy that caved to such pressures. He was a good local racer but could not quite make the jump to the next level. I’ll cut the story there and just mention the name, Joe Papp, as most cyclist probably know it already. And those that dont can Google his name and get all the dirt.

In a sport that is polluted with the dos and the dont’s , it is understandable how it happens.

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