One of the most common misconceptions I hear and get asked about my ultra-marathon cycling and epilepsy, is around its potential to cause me to have a seizure. It's not only something that doesn't affect my epilepsy, it's something from my own experience, that has actively helped it. I have been previously told that mental stress, could contribute to lowering my seizure threshold, i.e. increasing the likelihood that I could have a seizure, even if the risk is still very small. Sport, in particular the solitude and endorphins I get from my distance cycling, not only makes me healthier physically, but also makes me happier.
While at university, I was told during an incident of having a double fractured pinky finger, that once I had started riding again, when it had healed, I was as my friend put it, "less irritable" and "seemed happier". Although they didn't want to tell me at the time when I was off my bike, it certainly made sense, that I would be healthier and happier when I was training and riding. In a way, my bike riding seems to have served as an TLE epilepsy medication in its own right. To my knowledge I've never had an epileptic seizure while training by myself, away from any stress whatsoever of riding with groups and with nothing but my riding and music to focus on.
But given my love of sport and dislike for having to take medication for my epilepsy in the first place, you'd understand, that I took an interest in the BBC report by Mark Daly yesterday, which if true, shows disgusting abuse of medical conditions to cover up performance enhancing drug abuse at the hands of Alberto Salazar.
The jury is still out conclusively on what the situation is with the Nike Oregon project coach and some of his athletes. But it did spike my curiosity around something which has previously happened to me, that was rectified by my doctors, but that made me think certain drugs, could also dehance physical performance.
While my medication, first and foremost controls my epilepsy, it has also previously had to be adjusted to a lower dose, because it seemed quite simply, as if my body couldn't deal with the dose. I remember vividly, after lying down, I moved into a sitting position and began seeing stars, experiencing brief blurred vision as well. During that time I was also noticeably clumsy, not within any normal level I had ever experienced, where I would bump into things far more than normal and was more tiered. As a result, when I went to go and see my consultant to explain the situation, they halved my dose of one of my two medications, and the side effects, have ever since then, stopped completely.
I know of so many incidences where not just with epilepsy, a condition's medications could make someone more tiered, fatigue more quickly, or even just be so sleepy, they couldn't compete in any physical activity at all. But what angers me more than feeling that even half my dose of epilepsy medication which was making me feel unwell previously, might mean I would need to train even harder, or work through a bigger mental or physical barrier than someone without a medical condition, is the idea of cheats creating fictional ones so performance enhancing doping could be undertaken.
I've spoken before about my distain towards Lance Armstrong on this blog, and that regardless of how famous, or infamous he is, I always hope he keeps well away from the Race Across America and is never allowed to compete in the ride. But given the more recent report about drug doping in the athletics world, it feels as if something more drastic needs to be done.
At present, if an athlete in any sport needs a TUE (Therapeutic Use Exemption form), to allow them to take a drug, like if it were in my case, for my epilepsy, they would need a doctors report that they have a medical issue in the first place before they can obtain a TUE form.
I love sport and all that it can stand for when it's clean, but the idea that fictional medical conditions could be created for the use of cheating, makes me sick to my stomach. Even more than regular doping itself in fact, for the simple reason that it shows such total disrespect to people genuinely suffering with medical conditions.
Mark Daly's report, also explored athlete's medical passports too, but the point was made during the film that if someone who is ill, requires a drug which is performance enhancing, then shouldn't they just rest up and not compete in the first place? Sometimes the threat of a punishment, can be used as a preventative measure and it's my belief that anyone caught doping, should be given a ban from competitive sport, even if it goes into the pro-am category, for life. But it also occurs to me that rather than athletes in any sport using their own doctors to diagnose a condition which requires a drug, that could even slightly enhance performance, then they should go straight to WADA's doctors instead?
The medical community and the charities that raise awareness for them, should be outraged by any potential for the condition they work with, to be used falsely, to cheat in sport. I should also say, that as someone who could, potentially, be handicapped by my own medication when I compete, but who would continue to fight through it anyway if it was, that I would like to see people who abuse the system and medical conditions in this particular way, behind bars.
Why could we have to fight even harder, when there could be those who don't have to fight as hard, that get to make their ride even easier?