Monday, March 30, 2009

Response to a Fan

Thanks for taking the time to write, and for sharing your perspective and personal experiences. Your email demands a thoughtful reply, and I am in a difficult two days, but I feel compelled to respond now.

I want to thank you for sharing your own experiences, and trusting me to respect your humanity. Hopefully my thus-far "tragic" story will have a happier ending. I know that I'm not where I want to be right now, I know that my own mistakes and bad decisions have cost me opportunities that most people never even have a chance at, and I know that I let a lot of people down - not least of all my poor mother.

But when someone like you takes the time to write me, it gives me a big boost to keep fighting, and pushing through these stormy times in hopes of finding the same kind of peace, tranquility and harmony I enjoyed on the bike. Cycling was sublime...heck, cycling IS sublime, and far more important to me than victories was the opportunity to travel the world and write about it so that others could share the journey. I loved to win, no doubt, but this battle I'm fighting now to right myself and ameliorate the negative fall-out stemming from my actions is harder than any race or training session. I would give anything to go back in time and not make those mistakes, but since I can't, I try to hold on to the positive memories, but still be honest about what I did that was wrong.

On paper, I'm a pretty smart guy, and even have the chance to get an MBA now that I'm back in grad school. But I often failed to show common sense, as when I turned down the dark road of doping. I was never concerned about the health risks, b/c I believed that could be controlled for, so the anti-doping education at the time totally failed to impact me (the main message then, and now, was "don't dope, because it puts your health at risk"). There has been a slight change now in that USADA is also talking about concepts like ethics and morality, but I still don't think that is the most effective way to dissuade kids - AND ADULTS - from illegal performance enhancement.

What absolutely would have worked in my case, and why my story will hopefully serve as an example to others - a warning - is the fact that doping means that you're in a milieu of dishonesty, cheating, unethical and sociopathic behavior and sometimes criminal activity. It profoundly corrupts your soul, even if actually making your body stronger, and if you fall foul of the testers and are exposed, it's not just a possible suspension from sport and loss of a result that you face - there is the chance to have your life destroyed. Imagine having a goal about which you were passionate outside of sport, and intending to work in a particular field when you retired from biking - but then being forever barred from that employment because of the ethical "cloud" that hangs over you for cheating. Even in the most glorious, self-centered, live-for-the day moments I had on the bike (I'll attach some pictures for you from a few of those sublime moments), I always knew that I'd have to stop racing one day, but was comforted by the fact that I had two very strong professional goals - working in international affairs either for the State Department or the CIA. International affairs are like football for me, and I follow the latest treaty signings and bilateral agreements, military threats and economic developments with the same fervor of some of my fellow Pittsburghers who are fanatics for the Steelers football team. I was lucky enough to have two passions in life: sport and international affairs. And now neither is accessible to me at the professional level because of profoundly bad choices I made without intending to harm myself or others.

To know that you're "genuinely pulling for" my success means a lot - more than you might realize. You say that you're just a random guy from South Carolina (beautiful state, by the way)...well, I'm just a random guy from Pittsburgh (born in Ohio) who was "bike crazy" from an early age and who possessed just enough talent to race professionally at the lowest level of the pro ranks in Europe, and at a higher level in Latin America. And I sympathize with how you must feel having to compete against riders who may be doping - because I was in the similar situation in 2001 but didn't have the courage or moral compass or guidance to follow the right path and stay clean. In my eyes, that makes you someone who I'll look up to...someone with the fortitude and perspective to continue in a sport he loves, even though the playing field isn't always level. And to do it while raising a family and building a career - heck yeah I look up to you!

What stinks about doping, is that, unfortunately, the products work and they can transform an athlete...even a great athlete becomes god-like and that feeling is intoxicating. Use EPO? Figure a 10% improvement in your functional power threshold. Add products that help you reduce body mass (without costing you power) and your watts/kg goes up and you can soar up mountains. Throw in some HGH and you're a dominant sprinter. It's not difficult to understand how all but the strongest (mentally) and most morally-grounded athletes who are tempted with dope often give in. It's been approximately 32 months since I last raced, and not a day goes by when I don't yearn to be back in competition. But when my sanction expired in August of last year, I didn't even take out a license. I think I might this year, in hopes of regaining enough fitness to compete locally later this summer - but any return would be with a hugely-different perspective and with radically different goals.

Congratulations for resisting the temptation to dope, and for helping others (like your kids) to develop the ability to make ethically-sound decisions. We need more of that in the world today and you should take comfort and satisfaction from the fact that you understand the complexity of the doping issue but are committed to clean sport.

I'm glad you contacted me, and I would invite you to correspond regularly - don't hesitate to write if you have more specific questions, philosophical insights, requests for advice, or you just plain want to shoot the breeze. As I said before, I'm crushed with school work and am not as efficient right now as I was on the bike, but I'll always respond eventually. And so that you're aware, I do continue to make myself available to groups, clubs, teams, associations, corporations, educators, etc as a speaker (with an obvious focus on telling my story in the context of a presentation tailored to the audience's topic or area of interest). I only note this because I'm presently in negotiations with two cycling clubs in Canada to address them, and find the activity to be very cathartic and incredibly beneficial to my own recovery...

Be well, thank you so much for your support, and please enjoy the pictures.

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