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.
R.C. was the oldest of the athletes I interviewed and had the deepest history of dealing with CFS. Many of the threads in his story were common to the others. But, no two stories for getting CFS or for overcoming the disease were the same.
R.C. left home to attend college and live in the dorm at age 19. He was a fulltime student and cycling too. His cycling mileage was not that high compared to others. He estimated weekly mileage at around 200 and a moderate amount of intensity. He was riding well, starting to get noticed, and studies were going well too.
Dorm life, however, was not conducive to good rest. He found it nearly impossible to get good rest and he found it frustrating. In addition to rest being tough to come by, the college culture was ripe for spreading mononucleosis.
In September of his sophomore year at college, he got sick. The first problem he found was through a blood test that determined his liver enzymes were out of tolerance. In October he got Chicken Pox and in December it was mononucleosis. He quit school and moved in with his girlfriend to recover.
After a round of prednisone and getting his liver enzymes back to normal, he went back to school part-time in the spring. He also started riding and racing again. He didn’t feel that great, but was riding really well. He was a little worried about getting sick again.
His junior year he was going full speed, feeling confident on the bike and with his fitness. That winter he was selected to the U.S. Olympic Training Center resident collegiate program. The summer between his junior and senior year he raced a lot and was flying on the bike.
He was training with a coach that didn’t do big mileage, R.C. estimates only about 250 miles per week, but every workout included very high intensity. He was responding to the training with great results. He was selected for the 1980 Olympic Long Team; however, that was the year the U.S. did not send a team to the Olympics.
The spring of the following year he was back home, going to school and riding great. He was riding fantastically with light training volume. Communication from the Olympic Training Center continued and his hopes of being on the National Team were coming to fruition. At the same time, he began feeling bad. Riding well, but feeling bad.
He said, “School pressures, relationship stress, worry and performance anxiety did me in. I started feeling really bad. But oddly, I could still ride well. It wasn’t until I felt terrible, that I quit riding.”
A doctor misdiagnosed him with blood pressure problems. He worked for an entire year to rest and get healthy again.
He moved to the east coast to go to school and began riding again. It wasn’t long before he was riding very well and winning races. He moved back to the west and continued to get great results on the bike, while attending a new college. Though he was riding well, he didn’t get recognition from the Olympic Training Center and no selection chance for the next Olympic team.
He continued to ride and race well. A full eight years after his freshman year of college, he was flying on the bike again; but he started to feel that old sickness creep back.
Growing tired, he lost his power and speed on the bike. He felt sick. He said, “I felt the way you feel when you’re just about to get the flu or a cold. No energy, weak, tired and just sick. But the feeling lingers and just won’t go away…for weeks and weeks on end.”
After a battery of tests from a general practitioner, he was finally diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The doctor put him on an antiviral medication, Zovorix. He began to feel better, but it would be two years before he felt good on the bike again.
He rode consistently well for seven years, and then began to feel unstable again. Looking back at that time, he says that a stressful relationship was the root of his emotional stress. He tried Zovorix again, but this time there were no positive results.
Another four years of struggling to get healthy produced limited results. After extensive testing to eliminate a battery of illnesses, he was diagnosed with CFS for a second time. An immunologist suggested he work to rebuild his immune system with healthy foods and acupuncture.
It took two years for him to get healthy again.
In reflection, he commented that when outside stresses began to pile up on him, he didn’t change his riding. He didn’t reduce intensity or volume and that was a mistake. Relationship issues were major stressors for him; however, because he was riding well, he didn’t feel like he needed to change anything about the bike.
The bike was a place to find peace and pleasure when other things were not got going well. He knows now, that keeping the same volume and intensity on the bike when life stresses pile up is a mistake.
He also knows that riding the bike in extremely windy, wet and cold conditions further stresses his body. In the past, no weather condition would keep him off the bike. Now he knows staying off the bike on some days will keep him healthy for the long haul.