By Marc Peruzzi | Photographs Liam Doran
Hello liars, dopers, saboteurs, and cheats. And bonjour to all those who would covertly place a motor in their bottom bracket; top off their hemoglobin like the rest of us press coffee; reach an arm through a Russian wall for a clean urine sample; or even just hop in a car for a three-hour Canadian Ironman nap between start and finish. I have a message for you. The T-shirt is correct. You suck.
All pro sports are dirty, we know that, but it’s hard to not get discouraged by cheating in endurance sports in particular because endurance sports fans tend to be recreational endurance athletes themselves. It’s now engrained within us that superhuman performances are exactly that. Every win is suspect. There are dopers on your Wednesday morning group ride. Too many fallen heroes have left us overly cynical.
And now for some moral uplift: This past week I raced my age group in the three-day version of the Breck Epic—the famed mountain bike stage race that cloverleaves around Breckenridge, Colorado. Day 2 sent the field rollicking down a nearly endless descent of the Colorado Trail, which, at least near Breckenridge, constitutes some of the most joyous backcountry riding in the state. There’s none of that groomed and bermed homogeny to the track. The ancient loam is held in place by polished roots and glacial till. Plus you can haul. After a few thousand vertical feet of barely caressing the brakes, the forest ejaculates you out into turf-cut singletrack in a magnificent sub-alpine meadow reminiscent of Bonanza. Mountain biking paradise.
It was there that I rode upon a singlespeed racer, lying on his back under a boundless sky. I knew that he was going into anaphylactic shock before any of the half dozen who had already come to his aid asked if I had an EpiPen. His breathing was labored, throat and face beginning to swell. With no EpiPen or even a cell phone on me, all I could do was call out the mile marker to a first responder on the line with 911. Other cyclists had left to get medical help from the next aid station. Feeling useless and hollowed out inside, I decided to follow them, hoping to hear a helicopter overhead soon. After 20 minutes a bike medic crossed paths with me. Like many on the course that day, I rode the final hours wondering if the bee-sting victim would live or die.
The cyclist’s name is Russ Folger, and yes, he lived. Before the Colorado Trail descent had left the woods he’d been stung repeatedly in the face and neck near a trickling spring. Wisely, he’d hightailed it downhill to the meadow before being overcome by his body’s own out-of-whack defense system. Somewhere on the descent his EpiPen had tumbled from his jersey pocket. I’ll credit racers Hank Campbell, Brian Fuentes, Paul Rapinz, Blake Maurer, Todd Davis, Anthony Dixon, Sam Chovan, and Russ Griffin with saving his life. Many of them gave up positions on their respective podiums to help. I list all their names here, because, as race promoter Mike McCormack expressed to the crowd that night, people don’t suck, “people are amazing.”
The next morning, Russ Folger was at the starting line to say thank you to the first responders and to all those concerned—everyone. Exhausted from the drugs he’d received overnight, his airway was now clear, but still his voice choked. All 350-plus racers cheered him. There are no heroes, there’s only the chance to act heroically. People are amazing.