TammyThomas

Ethics In Sports

The Resilient Cyclist

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Disclaimer:

I will tell you an emotionally true story in a skillful way. I will make it worth your while, and while my memory is imperfect, I haven’t invented memories. I haven’t invented facts. If I compress timelines, combine characters or conflate events, I will tell you. I have tried to recreate events, locales, and conversations from my memories of them. In order to maintain their anonymity in some instances, I have changed the names of individuals and places. I may have changed some identifying characteristics and details such as physical properties, occupations, places of residence, and others. The other people in my book might tell the story differently; this is my own, true version.

 

OVERVIEW

Every 107 seconds, a woman under the age of thirty is sexually assaulted. In 1995, I became part of that statistic. My insatiable desire to win led me into a sexually abusive relationship with my cycling coach whose uncompromising demands for total physical compliance ruined my dreams of becoming an Olympic champion. My attacker—my coach—did not spend one day in jail.

For me, winning meant fame, glory, and sometimes, a small amount of money. I was the epitome of what it means to be a sportswoman. Strong, with an unrelenting spirit, competitive, disciplined, self-sacrificing, and mentally tough.

After a subpar performance at my first national cycling championships, my coach did the unthinkable and injected me with anabolic steroids (AS) without my consent. I became addicted to these substances, and throughout my post-cycling life, I have continued to pay the price for my decision to dope. The ongoing side effects of AS abuse are little understood by sportsmen and women who might make the same kinds of damaging choices I made. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), whatever the short-term benefits in terms of speed and strength, long- term abuse of AS can directly cause “hypomanic or manic symptoms, sometimes associated with aggression and violence and depressive symptoms and suicide.” The statistics are frightening: suicide is significantly more common among deceased former AS users than among other types of substance users, and former users are much more likely to report treatment sought for psychiatric symptoms.

For women, the physical effects of steroid abuse can be horrifying, including enlarged sexual organs, male pattern baldness and increased body hair. I know what being trapped in an unfamiliar body can feel like, and I hated myself for it. Then, there are the consequential effects of AS on the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems, skin, and liver. I live every day with the consequences of my own AS abuse and my dependency on substances that have left me with chronic fatigue and a raft of mental and physical health problems.

Research demonstrates that sexual abuse in sports results in significant depression, psychosomatic illnesses, substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide. I am one of the 68% of sexually abused people who never report their attacker, which is why 98% of rapists—like mine—never spend a day in jail.

These shocking statistics have a huge impact on the mental health of survivors. The same characteristic traits I possessed as a sportswoman also allowed me to engage in a rigorous academic regime during law school, but I eventually buckled under pressure and fell into a downward mental health spiral. Following a felony perjury conviction for my role in one of the biggest doping scandals in U.S. history, my future legal career was over before it started, and I thought my life was over, too. I had no desire to live, and I found myself involuntarily committed to an insane asylum. When these same feelings surfaced years later, I refused to go back into that world for crisis assistance, but I did agree to subject myself to a thirty-one-day program at a drug rehab facility even though I was not an addict.

I was a statistic, now I’m a survivor. In recent years, the conundrums of doping and sexual abuse in sports have become popular topics within the media around the globe. From innocent victims to blatant cheaters, the world continues to place them under a microscope.

Through healing, I have overcome what once seemed impossible so that I can help other young women avoid the mistakes I made and to never become a statistic. It is in this spirit that my memoir, The Resilient Cyclist, is written.