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.
G.D. was similar to the cyclists in the story in that he was going to school and performing very well in the sport of triathlon. His success came earlier than the others, he was under 18 when he began to recognize his talent for sport. He too performed well enough to get an invitation to the OTC.
He started high level training for triathlon at age 15 and was badly injured by the time he was 18. The injury was multiple stress fractures caused, in his estimation, by training inappropriately for someone his age. Too much too soon. He read a Triathlete magazine column about Lance Armstrong's training and tried to replicate it.
The success, however, was coming concurrent with the injuries. He had won a Junior National title at age 17, along with other races, and planned on being a pro at age 19. When he was 20 years old, he set numerous course records across the Midwest, racing nearly every weekend all summer.
Traveling to races, scoring podium spots and going to school made for an incredible lifestyle. Perhaps an intoxicating lifestyle.
The excitement and lifestyle so intoxicating that he did not recognize he was sick enough to be hospitalized while driving to a race. Rather, he planned to be on the podium at the race. His physical symptoms of unfathomable fatigue and boils on his body became so worrisome that instead of driving to the race venue, he drove himself to the hospital emergency room. He spent the night in the hospital and was in bed for a week before being strong enough to do a return drive home.
Like the others we've met, he was, and is, an achievement-oriented person. He is gifted in sport and outside of sport. Achieving success in sport and outside of sport was the motivation that gave him permission, self-permission, to drive himself hard. He worked hard at anything that drew his passion and somewhat enjoyed juggling many spinning plates at the same time.
He says that he believes three things contributed to his Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The first was consistent stress for years, not months, wore him to a nub. There was no time off of that stress at all.
For the training, he believes that it was the high intensity, and volume of high intensity training, that did him in. In his estimation, the long workouts can contribute to overall fatigue, but it was the intensity that pushed him over the edge.
The third item that contributed to his illness was spending time with a really cute girl that was a rampant pot smoker and perhaps gave him a virus. He has heard that most everyone carries Epstein Barr Virus, but only certain people manifest the symptoms. In either case, given by the cute girl or laying dormant, he was attacked by a virus.
His attempts to get healthy meant going through multiple cycles of rest, ramp-up, crash, repeat. He did this multiple times until he began to get a handle on the triggers for his illness. He said, "I've never gotten back to a point where I feel indestructible, but I feel like I have a pretty good handle on things now. Mostly, I just re adjusted my expectations of what was possible for me."
He, as well as a couple of the others, commented that the hardest part of dealing with the illness is trying to convey the symptoms to athletes that have not had the disease.
The main residual issue is fear. He was not the only one to use that four-letter word.
He said, "So much of the endurance mindset is about blasting through fatigue and pushing on no matter what. It is truly debilitating to learn your own limits through such a painful lesson. I personally believe this is the most painful part of CFS.
It is important to understand the difference between "reps to success" and "reps to failure."
After you get sick, it is crucial to get a grip mentally as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, in my personal experience, this process can take years. I do believe that it is incredibly important to talk to other people so you don't feel alone. Especially other athletes."
Every athlete commented to me that avoiding the old traps is a life-long challenge.