I just got back from Team Novo Nordisk’s first major training camp of the 2014 season which was held in Santa Barbara, California. The December training camp for a pro cycling team is a big deal and the schedule is hectic: training rides, presentation of new sponsors, photo and video sessions, testing, meetings and in our case this year, building dozens and dozens of new bikes for all our riders as Orbea is our new bike sponsor. At one point I think we had over 160 people at the hotel.
As all my readers know by now, Team Novo Nordisk is the world’s first all diabetic pro cycling team. Our mission is to inspire, educate and empower people with diabetes around the world. If left untreated diabetes is ultimately fatal and if improperly managed it can result in a variety of very serious complications, including heart, eye and kidney disease. In order to successfully carry on our mission we need all of our riders to be role models in diabetes management. They check their glucose several times a day, they get tested regularly by our medical staff and they attend talks given by experts on diabetes management.
I like to say that if an outsider came to our camp, the only way for them to tell who our riders with Type 1 diabetes are in the crowd versus the rest of the staff is to look for the people who are constantly monitoring two different devices as opposed to only one. Our riders alternate between checking their continuous glucose monitors and smartphones while the non-riders only play with their smartphones. Our riders live a normal and healthy life and as far as I can tell, most of them also seem to live a happy life.
Needless to say, I share our team’s values of inspiration, healthy living through sports and dealing with adversity in a positive manner. I strongly support these values. Imagine my reaction when I was at the camp and I got a call from my family in Montreal telling me that my mother was in the hospital with cancer and had only a few days to live. I had never seen my mother sick a day in her life. How does one go from “being perfectly healthy” to dying in a few days? While at the hospital, my mother admitted to my father that she had been sick for over a year with serious growths on her skin. She had hidden it from all of us.
At first my dad told me not to change my return which was planned for Thursday December 19. On the Tuesday I went for a bike ride with my coach Jason Tullous for about an hour and I then went on my own for another two and a half hours. When I got to the top of the Gibraltar climb I checked my iPhone and saw that I had a text from my sister-in-law saying that the situation was deteriorating quickly. So there I was, alone, in the middle of nowhere, shaken up, with a very technical descent ahead of me and a dying mother back home. I composed myself and proceeded to descend safely. On the descent one of my main thoughts was that I would soon be back to the hotel surrounded by people who need to (and do) manage their disease, a disease that could otherwise be fatal, on a daily basis. They do it twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year and they are experts at it. Contrasted to that was the thought that back home, my mother had taken the exact opposite approach, did nothing about the obvious signs of cancer and she would soon pass away as a result. She passed away on December 23.
If asked what my mother died from, I would have a hard time to answer: “Cancer.” I think the more appropriate answer would be: “She died from an untreated cancer.” We will all die and, statistically speaking, a lot of us will die from cancer. But why not fight this disease (and any other) until the very end as opposed to not at all? I guess the lesson of this story is that even if we are in the business of inspiring people to live a healthy life through sports and disease management we can never take for granted that it is, in everyday life, inspiring even the closest to us.
There are a few simple measures that can tilt the odds in your favour for a lengthy life: healthy eating habits, regular exercise and regular medical check ups. That is not a very long list and it is quite easy to do it. To that list I would add another item which is personal and very important to me: “Accomplish a very significant athletic activity for my 75th birthday.” All of my family knows that for my 75th birthday I will be skiing the Couloir Extreme on Blackcomb Mountain in Whistler, British Columbia with my kids. Why? For two reasons. Firstly because it obligates me to stay fit and live a healthy life until then and secondly because on that day it will make me feel young.
One of the most inspiring person I know is a guy named John Baillif. I met John in France in 2009 when I was there to ride the Etape du Tour. I think John is now 78. Guess what his next cycling event is. He will ride the Haute Route Dolomites with me in August 2014. Seven days of riding the mountains from the Adriatic Sea to Geneva, over 900 kilometers and 21,000 meters of climbing. John is my hero.
I am afraid of death and I would like to live forever. Who would ever want to leave the great party that is life? I know I won’t get my wish so I better make it a good and long time and one of the elements required is remaining as fit as possible for as long as possible. And in the process, I need to make sure that whenever outsiders at a team’s training camp ask any of our riders or staff how they can pick out the Chairman of the team in the crowd that the answer remains for a very long time: “Go on a ride with the devo team and when they hit the mountains the Chairman will be the guy at the front of the group taking a 45 minute pull.”