In a recent Velo News article, amateur bike racer David Anthony admits to using performance-enhancing drugs in order to gain a competitive edge:
He says he agreed to grant the interview and tell his story in order to dissuade others from doping.
I wish I could be more inspired by this act of honesty, but really, all I can do is shrug my shoulders.
I am a bicycle racer.
More correctly, I am an amateur bicycle racer.
Most correctly, I am a terrible, truly awful amateur bicycle racer.
I cannot afford a gym membership or a trainer. I ride daily for transportation and am also a cargo-bike enthusiast, both of which are great for LSD (Long, Slow Distance) mileage but lousy for developing speed. I suffer from Crohn's disease and allergy-induced asthma. And I am almost fifty years old.
When I am able to scrape up the time and the bucks to enter a short-track race at my local venue, I do so knowing full well that, if I am able to finish a bike race, I will likely have to pull off at least once in my thirty-minute race to take a huff from my inhaler. I will finish in last place. I do every time.
I could race in the Beginner category -- which I did in my first season -- and I could stay there as long as I please, since racers my age are not required to "cat up". But after one season in Beginner Women and two seasons in Womens' Singlespeed, I had to switch to a geared bike -- and decided to race my age group. I did so with my eyes wide open, knowing that the other women in my category would finish far ahead of me every simgle time. I race in my age group because I'm racing with better riders who challenge me to be better -- if not at getting faster. then at least at getting stronger and sharper about my bike-handling and spatial awareness on the course. And on the rare night that I actually get credit for completing the same number of laps as the woman who finishes just ahead of me, I am exultant. It means that I somehow kept up. It doesn't happen often.
I don't get faster as my season progresses. Ever. I probably never will, as long as the resources of money and time that I can devote to racing are so limited. Even if I had the resources, my age and my body would still work against me. And I don't care. I race anyway, knowing the outcome before I stomp on the pedal at the starting line.
I race because I love the thrill of racing. I love lining up and testing myself, against the other women, and against a short-track course that changes every week and requires me to to adapt quickly. I love riding so hard that I am aware of nothing except the pounding of my heart in my chest.
I understand David Anthony's excitement and love of racing, the rush of adrenaline and the pure joy of nailing a tough corner at top speeds. So I guess I understand why he might consider looking at ways to improve his performance.
Except I don't understand it. I don't understand why an amatuer who began racing in his early 40s would even try to compare himself with trained, pampered pros and imagine himself at their level someday. Could anyone be so intoxicated with his own fantasy that he would resort to doping at the amateur level? In Anthony's case, the answer is: apparently, yes.
My local organization, OBRA (http://www.obra.org), goes to great lengths to remind all of us grownups of the importance of setting a good example for the kids racing in the Junior classes. As a teacher, I already carry this ethos with me. So to see someone like David Anthony work as hard at learning the science of doping as he's worked at the science of cycling, go through the stresses and struggles he descibes, and only then decide to come clean -- well, it just doesn't do a whole lot to impress me. It reads like another sad story of some guy who couldn't handle the reality of his aging process and decided to try and put it off for as long as he could.
We are all getting older. In a society that constantly sends messages that aging is bad and something to be avoided for as long as possible, there will be many more David Anthonys in the world, many more middle-aged amateur athletes who simply cannot accept the reality of aging -- because they've been conditioned to fear it. While I am disappointed, I cannot say I'm at all surprised.