This blog is additional information on an athlete that got Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or CFS. There will be four individual athlete blogs and a two-part column. Part I can be found here. Part II will be available May 4th.
The similarities between H.A. and R.C. include going to college in a tough study program and also being a very gifted cyclist. She was producing top-shelf results and was invited to be a resident at the Olympic Training Center (OTC). While at the OTC, she got pneumonia. Unfortunately, she was misdiagnosed and continued to train at a high level for two weeks, digging a deeper hole, before a proper diagnosis was given.
After treating the pneumonia, she tried for the next eight months to train, but she was just tired all the time. She described the same tired and low-level sickness feeling that R.C. described. As hard as she tried to train, she just got worse.
She got pneumonia again.
She started napping and napping turned into sleeping some 18 to 20 hours per day, literally. She didn’t remember what it felt like to not feel tired. She started to wonder, “What if this is what the rest of my life will look like?”
Unlike R.C., who had some rocky relationship issues, she had a very stable relationship with her husband and he helped her tremendously. He wanted her to heal and get better. She said he was a critical component to her getting healthy again. When others might have doubted she had any real illness at all, he knew she was sick and she would get better. He commented, “When you get better…”
She visited an immunologist and he told her to get on the bike every day and ride just a little and at low intensity. Not more than an hour in the beginning. He believed that this low-level of exercise gave her an endorphin hit and helped rebuild her immune system. On some days she had to drag herself onto the trainer for an easy 30-minute session, but the low intensity rides did seem to help.
Doctors wanted to put her on anti-depressants, but she refused.
She also worked with an internal medicine specialist that told her CFS tends to last for five years, in his opinion. He said she could begin training again for competitive racing, but the training structure had to be very loose. If a tough session was scheduled and she felt bad, she skipped it. She had to train according to how she felt. Fast on the days that she felt good, take it easy on days she didn’t feel good.
She did get back to the highest level of cycling again, but one frustration was her performance was unpredictable. In one stage race, she was dropped from the main group on the first day. On the second day of the same race she was on the podium.
In reflection, she says she believes that it is hard for competitive athletes to be honest about how they really feel. They can tolerate such high levels of pain and discomfort in order to race at top levels, that this tolerance blessing for training and racing is also a curse. Ignoring or minimizing how you really feel can lead you down a dark road.
Her husband’s support and others believing in her was critical to regaining her health. She carefully monitors the intensity of a common cold and immediately reduces training. She does a better job of resting and taking care of herself.
She was once on an extremely low-fat diet, that is no longer the case. She eats primarily fruits, vegetables and lean meats. She also uses multivitamins and antioxidants to help her keep healthy.