161-o: THE BLACK HOLE

The life of a pro cyclist is like living in a cult. That is a closed community where the outside world is kept at a distance, and where this cult’s own unwritten laws apply. But it is especially the place where the sect members feel safe for the big bad world; a sect represents the pinnacle of security.

In an almost religious way the sect members are working together on that one goal. Riding good races. For the rest there is hardly anything.  All events in the world or even private affairs hardly matter.  It is life like in a cocoon.

The fact that elite athletes are not exactly the most pleasant characters is evident from the following:

The atmosphere in the house of Rico Verhoeven before the fight against Badr Hari:

Kick boxers Rico Verhoeven and Badr Hari on the poster of their fight.

The best scenes take place in the house of Verhoeven, where the ruthless fighter of the ring, stripped of all glory, emerged as a timid, listless father and husband. His wife Jacky takes care of all family matters in the run up to the kick box match so that her husband can prepare optimally. That means for example that Jacky has to cook kilos of chicken fillet and potatoes in the kitchen, while hubby is looking on his phone like a tired teenager on the couch. Sometimes it’s a pity, Jacky says about the situation before of the big match, “I must accept it all over again each time he responds angrily, that I don´t have the husband I would like at that moment. The only conversation we have is: you want steamed broccoli or steamed beans?

Highlights of 2016 Rico Verhoeven YouTube:

Fight Rico Verhoeven against Badr Hari 2016:

WIVES OF THE TOP ATHLETES

The wives or girlfriends of top athletes constitute the home front. The safe haven where the athlete can recover from his competitions and can prepare for the next. These women play a very important role in their partner’s career. For years, they take total care for the family and especially for their hubby. In addition, they behave very modestly and they do not act in the foreground. Without the loving efforts of these women a lot of athletes would never have reached the top.

Cathy LeMond and Jacky Duchenne Verhoeven are two examples of exemplary elite women.

Also Greg LeMond ultimately, long after finishing his career, came to understand how he has tyrannized his family for 14 years.

Cycling is foremost a sport to ending up in a black hole after stopping.

Cycling at top level dominates the entire life of a rider and that throughout his career that can last an average of 10 to 14 years. All this time the rider is fully focused on his sport. Everything else is secondary. In order to perform well everything revolves around the rider. He is central. In the team he is treated like a god. Home is no different. His loving wife should comply with his whims and often unreasonable desires. A social life with friends and family is impossible.

He lies on the sofa with his legs up with the TV or the screen of his phone as the only pastime. Preparing for the next race. For the home front it is a relief that the average professional cyclist lives for 180 to 200 days per year with the team and not at home. Interests for subjects other than bicycles, cars or women I could never discover. I never saw a rider who was interested in the period after his top sport career. Let alone that there was envisaged a study. Besides, a rider who takes part in a study gets himself in trouble because he will certainly be reproached for not being fully committed to his sport. A rider who is doing well is in the center of interest of his supporters, the press or the TV. That wealth many riders cannot bear.

Because they happen to ride a little bit some of them think that they are special and exalted above everything and everyone. Eventually, the ego becomes so big that they become unbearable as a teammate or family member. Although this story is somewhat of a caricature of reality and certainly does not apply to all riders it is at the core of the message the harsh reality. In any case, these are important pitfalls for which the accompanying staff but also the rider himself has to look out for.

Life as a professional rider is like life in a religious cult. They live as if in a cocoon. Every moment of the day is scheduled with training, races, travel, rest, massages and food. All for a higher purpose; perform well in the races. A rider knows, so to speak, what he will do about two weeks from now in the afternoon at 3 o’clock. That gives a wonderful feeling of security and of calm. After stopping the career a common complaint is, therefore, that when waking up in the morning a target fails to fill the day.

Riders who end their careers have also worked for years in this system. Some are lucky to be able to remain active in cycling. Others make their way into the ordinary human society which is a totally unknown and strange world for them. It feels like they are released in a big dark forest. Suddenly the safe structure of the cycling team falls away. After stopping the doubts arise. The desire to return to that beautiful time. You see the races on TV again and you will see your old teammates who are still performing well.

Homesick you think of ‘how nice it was’. Not for nothing old riders realize only too well that the time they were professional cyclists was the best time of their lives that will never come back. This sense of loss and homesickness can be so strong that life after the bike has absolutely no sense. Depression, addictions to alcohol, drugs or sex lurk. The number of broken relationships or marriages after stopping is very high. The number of suicides in old cyclists is significant.

The black hole after a top sport career.

During their career, athletes not want to be concerned with the period thereafter. They open their minds when they have actually stopped. Nobody wants to be associated with the black hole. That’s still a taboo. Consequently athletes will not talk about it quickly.

After the career, the athlete suddenly stands  alone.

On the other hand, the personality of an athlete becomes stronger during his career.  Also, most athletes have good contacts with sponsors and other disciplines. Too bad that in the Netherlands only 13 out of the 74 sports associations provide information and support to athletes after finishing their careers. Some sports federations offer study counseling and career guidance.

And top swimmers are obliged by their federation,  to participate a detraining course   under the guidance of special trainers  for a period for at least  one or two years.

In short:

Starting a new life after finishing a sports career is problematic for a significant number of athletes. The difference between life as a top athlete and life in mainstream society is huge. Logically many athletes have trouble with their new life after the sports career. It is the task of the coaches and the sports federations to help athletes to address this major change in their lives in the right way.