"And that is, the dope can be addictive…"

Hi. My name is Robot, and I am an alcoholic. Fortunately, for me, I’ve been able to stay sober for the past seventeen years, much of that time with the help of a bicycle and the myriad benefits that particular piece of machinery bestows upon its frequent users.

I bring up my alcoholism to make a point about doping that I think escapes most who would judge a young rider harshly for straying down the garden path of EPO, CERA, Ozone, transfusions and testosterone trickery.

And that is, the dope can be addictive…” Read more at Red Kite Prayer.

Tyler Hamilton, Victim Or Villain?

Ed Hood interviews Tyler Hamilton – my roommate during a try-out with Montgomery-Bell – for PEZ. It’s the first I’ve heard from the “Engima” since he basically went into hiding after his second positive, and the interview is fascinating and accompanied by great photos. Love him or hate him, I hope that Tyler’s battle with depression is one that he wins, because it’s in those darkest moments that one can pass irretrievably into the abyss. If you could only ask Luca Gelfi or Christophe Dupouey, they’d say the same, I’m sure.

I’m reproducing the intro to the interview here, along with the first question and two photos. Click through to Pez for the full text and the complete portfolio of magnificent images. And remember, as I wrote in August, mental illness haunts pro sports – and athletes are humans, too, with limited coping mechanisms and breaking points and only a finite capacity to suffer, even if you perceive that limit to be infinitely greater than your own. Because of the complexity of the calculus that athletes must make when deciding whether or not to dope, it is nearly impossible for punters and laymen and even recreational racing cyclists who’ve never practiced sport as a profession to truly understand the intersection between villain, victimization, criminal innocent and naive man-child, yet so many have no qualms about screaming in black and white “Dopers Suck!” and “Go back to your cave and die!” But most athletes caught doping didn’t start practicing sport in order to become modern-day lepers and outcasts, drug traffickers or even, in the case of David Millar, reformed, poster-boy Phoenixes who own professional cycling teams. So someone like Hamilton … if he blew his brains out like Claveyrolat, or died alone, partially clothed in a pool of his own piss and shit and a light dusting of cocaine like Pantani … well, I’d bet that some of you would suddenly not feel so good about having screamed “Dopers Suck!” at the 2008 USPro Champion, either virtually or in person alongside opportunists like Brandon Dwight.

Opening the piece, Hood writes,”Now that the initial furore has died down following the shocking news of Tyler Hamilton’s positive doping test, PEZ thought we should hear what the man himself has to say. It took us a long time and a lot of patience, but eventually he came back to us with the answers to our questions.

Back from a two year suspension for failing a drugs test after a Vuelta time trial win – a further ‘positive’ from his winning ride in the Olympic time trial championships was rendered null and void due to improper storage of the ‘B’ sample – it looked like all of his demons were behind him in 2008, as he took the US Pro title and the prestigious Qinghai Lakes stage race in China. And then early this year came the news that had us all shaking our heads; another failed test.

But there was no prolonged denial or outrage from the man who has a Liege-Bastogne-Liege win to his credit; just a ready admission that he had taken a medication for his depressive condition which contained proscribed substances. A journalist should never ask his readers rhetorical questions; but I have to – Tyler Hamilton, sinner or sinned against?

You choose.”

PEZ: When did you first feel the effects of depression?
‘That’s a tough question. Probably when I was a young teenager. Looking back, I would have to say during my mid-teen years is when I first experienced symptoms of depression. It was sort of like being in a bit of a fog at times. I was always a quiet and shy kid and I spent a lot of time questioning myself…’

Continue reading the Tyler Hamilton interview at Pez Cycling News.

Bike Pure – And Why the Athletes Must Speak

I had a great anti-doping heart-to-heart with BikePure earlier this afternoon. I wish I had $1,000,000 so I could donate part of it to support BP and propagate their message…I don’t, but I’m still trying to help by contributing to BP the details of my sordid affair with EPO and doping in general. I hope other cyclists who’ve taken similarly misguided paths will consider working with BikePure to drive the grassroots fight against doping – which has to start with free, open dialogue and a realistic assessment of what the hell has been going on not just in cycling, but in sport in general with regards to the use of performance enhancing drugs and illegal methods of preparation.

I believe that it is vitally important for athletes who’ve doped and are seeking redemption to tell the truth about what they did, what they gained by doping, and perhaps most importantly, what they may have lost. Doping is something that pays almost immediate dividends, but apart from perhaps the monies spent on actual doping products or medical supervision, it doesn’t reveal its full cost in terms of harming the well-being of the athlete and his sport until much later – and usually only after the wheels have come off. Scientific studies and research, including as the work done by Birekeland KI, Stray-Gundersen J, Hemmersbach P, et al. Effect of rhEPO administration on serum levels of sTfr and cycling performance. Med Sci Sport Exerc 2000; 32:1238-43, have confirmed that EPO can improve athletic performance in as little as four weeks, but there is little data or even informed discussion of the long-term adverse effects of EPO use on the physical and mental health of athletes. Patrick Mignon of France’s CESAMES – the Research Center on Mental Health, Psychotropics, and Societywrites:

If the knowledge of the physiological effects of doping has progressed, this is not the case for that about the long term consequences of doping on the state of health of former athletes, whose physical dependency might be one of the characteristics. This calls for the appropriated apparatuses for observation that could link the careers of athletes to their health history (wounds, consumption of psychoactive substances, recourse to mental health) and quantitative studies (combination of grids for questionnaires, elaboration of questionnaires aimed at targeted groups or at the general population). The analysis of the pharmacological effects of a substance is not enough. To it must be added the sociological analysis of dependency as a dependency on a life style that supposes the involvement in the career of top level athlete. This must be carried out through the analysis of the organization of time and of the relations between an athlete and the actors in charge of them. The analysis of high level sports as a life style thus leads back to a reflection risk behavior, to analyze the question of drugs i sports as both an aspect of this life style and a way of managing the exit from the world of sports…” [Editor’s note: The Research Center on Mental Health, Psychotropics and Society (CESAMES) is a mixed research unit of France’s Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and the University René Descartes Paris 5.]

Though I’ve had some opportunity to speak on the dangers of doping and retell my own story as a warning to others, I hope that over time I will be able to play a more active role in the anti-doping movement, especially with regards to educating young athletes on the full spectrum of risks they face by involving themselves in doping.

More on the Birkeland study:

“BIRKELAND, K. I., J. STRAY-GUNDERSEN, P. HEMMERSBACH, J. HALLEN, E. HAUG, and R. BAHR. Effect of rhEPO administration on serum levels of sTfR and cycling performance. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 32, No. 7, pp. 1238-1243, 2000.

Purpose: We assessed the possibility of using soluble transferrin receptor (sTfR) as an indicator of doping with recombinant erythropoietin (rhEPO).

Methods: A double-blind, placebo-controlled study was conducted with the administration of 5000 U of rhEPO (N = 10) or placebo (N = 10) three times weekly (181-232 U[middle dot]kg-1[middle dot]wk-1) for 4 wk to male athletes. We measured hematocrit and the concentration of hemoglobin, sTfR, ferritin, EPO, and quantified the effects on performance by measuring time to exhaustion and maximal oxygen uptake ( O2max) on a cycle ergometer.

Results: Hematocrit increased from 42.7 /- 1.6% to 50.8 /- 2.0% in the EPO group, and peaked 1 d after treatment was stopped. In the EPO group, there was an increase in sTfR (from 3.1 /- 0.9 to 6.3 /- 2.3 mg[middle dot]L-1, P < 0.001) and in the ratio between sTfR and ferritin (sTfR[middle dot]ferritin-1) (from 3.2 /- 1.6 to 11.8 /- 5.1, P < 0.001). The sTfR increase was significant after 1 wk of treatment and remained so for 1 wk posttreatment. Individual values for sTfR throughout the study period showed that 8 of 10 subjects receiving rhEPO, but none receiving placebo, had sTfR levels that exceeded the 95% confidence interval for all subjects at baseline (= 4.6 mg[middle dot]L-1). O2max increased from 63.6 /- 4.5 mL[middle dot]kg-1[middle dot]min-1 before to 68.1 /- 5.4 mL[middle dot]kg-1[middle dot]min-1 2 d post rhEPO administration (7% increase, P = 0.001) in the EPO group. Hematocrit, sTfR, sTfR[middle dot]ferritin-1, and O2max did not change in the placebo group.”

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In Follow-up to the CN Forum Message…

This is in response to a question left for me at the cyclingnews.com forum. Note that this is not edited for grammar, length, clarity or readability. You’ve been warned!

I guess the summary is that I don’t have any ill will towards Floyd; I think he’s riding like crap (relative to they form he had when he “won” the TdF) because he is mentally fried and only becoming worse mentally b/c he’s living a lie (in not having admitted what he was found guilty of); I think that he can be redeemed STILL…even after having taken all of us for fools; but I doubt that he has the courage to do it and I think he’ll continue in anonymity until he finally quits. I’d welcome the chance to have a frank conversation with him and would let him say to my face whatever he wants to say, though I would encourage him to come clean and admit to what he’s been found guilty of…

I’m no religious zealot or anything like that, but I believe that there is redemption and healing to be found in admitting the truth – even if it portrays you horribly – and asking for forgiveness. Maybe that way he could forgive himself (even if it’s just to forgive himself for getting caught) and move on with his life.

The guy could be an amazing role model … the American public would elevate him to the status of a media god I think, were he to confess and keep riding … but I don’t think he has the courage to… If he’s not guilty, which I find hard to imagine, I’m profoundly sorry for him, but if he is guilty…denying it forever is only going to eat away at what’s left of his humanity.

Heck, I’d form a foundation with the guy and join up with him in promoting clean sport through town hall meetings and small-town bike races and what not (as opposed to town hall meetings that promoted his innocence and asked for money for his fund)…but I don’t think it will happen. The fact that he spent more words in his book trying to discredit and degrade me, and not mention my name, rather than just referring to me by name (look it up) indicates some animosity…no?

Whatever engine he has on the bike, it’s not firing on all cylinders because the mental control unit…the human ECU…is f’ed up. When I come back to the sport full-time, it won’t be as a rider and it will be with much still to atone to, but I’ll have admitted all of my transgressions and realized that any value I have to the sport and to humanity will come from facing the truth and helping others to understand why what happened is so terrible, and why we can’t – as a sport, society, culture, country – wink wink away all of the sports doping that continues. For every guy who is able to make millions because dope helped him perform better, there must be dozens who end-up as hollow shells of their former selves, like this one below:

I’ve started coaching again, but now will work primarily with young riders who want to go pro or who are at least are willing to dedicate themselves to near full-time training (or training with school). I have one client who, in less than a month of collaboration, I helped recover from a season that seemingly left her wanting to quit cycling. Working together on a daily basis and showing her the power of the mind and its role in our success, I helped her come within a lap of winning a national championships. She’d completely shifted her thinking and way of conceptualizing the sport and her role in it. While she didn’t get the stars and stripes, she still finished top-10 and, perhaps more importantly, learned what it is to believe in her natural abilities and harness them fully in pursuit of (natural, non-doped) sporting excellence.

All good stuff, and hopefully the building blocks for a life (mine) that can one day be fully rededicated to cycling…a sport that I love very much.

Prisoners Of Depression – Mental Illness in Pro Sports

“Mental illness still carries a powerful stigma in pro sports, but there are signs that teams are finally facing the problem and trying to help troubled athletes.

He came roaring down the mountain at nearly 85 miles an hour, a blur in an aerodynamic Lycra suit. Headfirst on a sled barely bigger than a cafeteria tray, Jim Shea was inches from rock-hard ice, handling serpentine turns without the benefit of either brakes or a steering wheel. The running joke is that Shea’s exhilarating sport, skeleton, got its name for a good reason: One imprecise maneuver and he could be turned into a bag of broken bones. It was the winter of 1999, and when Shea rounded the final curve on his last heat .57 of a second ahead of the next-fastest guy, he was suddenly a world champion.

When coaches and teammates mobbed him on that cold afternoon in Altenberg, Germany, it was as clear as the mountain air that Shea, after thousands of hours spent training and traveling, had reached the pinnacle of his sport. His spot on the U.S. 2002 Winter Olympic team was all but guaranteed. And Shea felt … nothing. “It was total emptiness, like I didn’t even care,” he recalls. “The joy of winning? I could have broken a world record and won the lottery on the same day and not been happy about it.”

The clinical term for this, he later learned, is anhedonia, and Shea relies on weather analogies–“fog,” “dark clouds” and persistent “gloom”–to describe the feeling. Still, at the time, Shea found nothing unusual about his lack of emotion in the face of what was, by any measure, a triumph worthy of unbridled joy. Shea’s grandfather Jack was a speed skating pioneer who won two gold medals at the 1932 Olympics. His father, Jim Sr., competed in the 1964 Games in Nordic combined and cross-country. The men in the Shea family were quiet, tough, bootstrapping types who lived by a Spartan code of stoicism and self-reliance. Emotions were best left bottled up. An uncle’s suicide, for instance, was not on the table for discussion. Since Jim had been in elementary school, he’d known there was something preventing him from experiencing emotional crests, an immovable force that kept him mired in lows longer than any of his friends. “But I figured those were the cards I was dealt,” he says. “For me it was normal.”

A U.S. Olympic Committee psychologist at the training center near San Diego thought otherwise and referred Shea to a local psychiatrist, Michael Lardon, who had worked with dozens of elite athletes. After one session Lardon ran through a checklist of symptoms–persistent sadness, feelings of emptiness, the inability to extract joy from pursuits that should be pleasurable, irregular appetite and sleep patterns, decreased energy–and noted how many applied to Shea. “Jim, listen,” the doctor said, “I think you suffer from depression.” Shea’s reaction was typical of people like him. Me? Depressed? How could that be? I’m an athlete.

It is an invisible incubus that will haunt 19 million Americans this year. One in six people will be affected by it in their lifetimes. It accounts for countless sick days and costs U.S. industry $ 44 billion annually in medical expenses and lost productivity. Depression is an equal-opportunity affliction, not discriminating according to class or social standing. Among the millions affected: Barbara Bush, Halle Berry and Winston Churchill, who called his depression “my black dog,” a companion that seldom left his side.

The list of athletes who suffer from depression, bipolar disorder or social anxiety disorder–three of the most common forms of mental illness–would make for a hell of a table at a charity dinner. Ricky Williams, the NFL’s 2002 rushing leader, suffered such overwhelming social anxiety that he couldn’t bring himself to leave his house to mail a letter. Terry Bradshaw, the star quarterback and irrepressible NFL broadcaster, was once so depressed that he would go to bed crying. On the eve of last January’s Super Bowl, Oakland Raiders center Barret Robbins neglected to take medication to treat his bipolar disorder, went on a Tijuana drinking jag, considered committing suicide and was in a hospital during what should have been the biggest game of his career. Mike Tyson was in the clutches of depression long before he turned into a pitiable sideshow.

And those are among the few who have come to the public’s attention. Innumerable other athletes are familiar with the Via Dolorosa traveled by the PGA golfer who contemplated suicide last summer after failing to make the cut at the Greater Hartford Open. Or the top pick in a recent major league draft whose deep melancholy has forced him to take an indefinite leave from baseball. Or the former NBA All-Star whose decline is widely attributed to alcoholism but who actually suffers from crippling depression. “An amazing number of athletes have these illnesses,” says Lardon. “It’s way more than you’d ever guess. I mean way more…” Read the full article here.

Sports Illustrated Magazine
September 8, 2003
By L. Jon Wertheim

Former champion Australian cyclist Jobie Dajka found dead

The UK Times is reporting the death of another world-class cyclist, Australian Jobie Dajka.

“The Australian cycling community is in shock at the death of former world and Commonwealth champion rider Jobie Dajka.

The 27-year-old, who won gold at the Manchester Commonwealth Games in 2002 and who had recently said he hoped to compete at the London Olympics, was found collapsed in his home in Adelaide, South Australia, by police on Monday evening. His death is not believed to be suspicious.

A promising young cyclist, Dajka won gold at the men’s kieren at the world championships in 2002, and was a member of the Australian gold-medal wining men’s team spirit at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002.

However his career spiralled out of control after he was sent home from a pre-Olympic training camp for lying to a doping inquiry just weeks before the Athens Games in 2004.

He suffered weight and alcohol problems and later admitted he had been depressed. He was also convicted in 2005 of assaulting Australia’s head track coach Martin Barras…

“Because of what happened back in 2004, where he was taken off the team, I don’t think he quite got over that,” Mr Victor told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“That was the dream of his lifetime and everything seemed to have gone downhill from then.”

A former girlfriend of the cyclist told Sydney’s Daily Telegraph newspaper that Dajka’s death was “tragic”. She said he had recently lost his job and blamed the harsh treatment he received after being expelled from the cycling team as contributing to his long-term depression…”

Full story here.