Doping and the Story of Those We Love
My opinions on the subject of doping have been expressed many times over the years and it is clear what my stance is. I’ve tried to give the facts as a way of providing unbiased information to the general public so that they may understand what doping is and how it has affected the world of professional cycling. However, I have been hesitant in sharing the more personal stories as they are private and bring back a lot of painful memories. Yet I realize that I cannot separate the two. Doping isn’t just something that affects a sport, it is something that affects friends, families and loved ones and leaves an indelible mark on our lives.
I’ve decided to share a story that is not from my perspective, but one of someone who I love and who has been with me throughout this entire journey. As my wife, my best friend and confidante, Kathy LeMond has had a unique vantage point into the cycling world. Her perspective is not one of an athlete, but as a normal person privy to the trials, challenges and triumphs of the sport. Here she shares a personal story from many years past on how doping in the sport of cycling has impacted the lives at hand, not just the reputations, media or standings.
It was pitch black in our bedroom as I reached for the ringing phone. I was already panicking because it is never good news that wakes you from a deep sleep. I thought it might be my parents and something had happened at home in the US. No one called us in the night, everyone knew Greg needed to sleep.
I finally found the phone and answered. All I heard was screaming and crying. I totally panicked. I yelled to wake Greg up. I didn’t even understand who was on the phone. Then I got it. Anna-Lisa Draaijer was sobbing that she had tried everything but,” he was dead.” He was cold when she touched him. She was waiting for the ambulance and what should she do?” He’s dead! He is cold, he is cold. I am so afraid! Oh my God, oh my God!”
I could not even process what Anna-Lisa was telling me. Johannes dead. She had tried CPR but he was already cold and she was alone. We stayed on the phone until the ambulance arrived. Greg and me trying to wake up enough to process what was going on in our dark and cold bedroom and Anna in the hallway of her house in her nightgown alternating between sobs and screams of pain.
We were not close friends, we were casual friends with our bond primarily being our husbands’ profession and our language. I was another American wife. I was older and had my children and she was a newlywed. Johannes and Greg had been on PDM together and we’d had dinner together as friends once, at least that’s what I remember now. They were young and very in love and a joy to be around. She was smart and working as an accountant in Holland.
Just a few years earlier, we were all in our kitchen getting ready to leave the house to go out with the Draaijer’s. While waiting for the babysitter to arrive Anna-Lisa started telling about how tired Johannes had been and that PDM had decided that he had a testosterone deficiency. Both Greg and I reacted the same, “What? Of course he does. He’s racing. Greg is depressed most Mondays after a long race ends and it is totally normal to be low on testosterone after a big race.” She informed us that Johannes was now on a hormone supplementation program. The young couple had been told by team management that he needed it.
Now, this is where it all ended up. A young man dead in his bed and his sweet young wife a widow. She got in her car after leaving his body at the hospital in Holland. She came down to stay at our house in Belgium. We all sat and cried and cried. She could not believe that he was really gone-nor could we. We’d forget at times and it felt like he was at a race. We were used to our husbands being gone. She stayed for days and we tried to help her get information and just help her stay alive.
Sometimes I imagined how I would react if I lost Greg. How would I possibly live through it? I always thought I would just die too but was now witnessing that things don’t work like that. The one left behind is still alive. The grief doesn’t kill you, as much as you wish it would.
This was a entirely different type of death. A death with a component of dishonesty and shame. As though Johannes wasn’t the amazing young man that he really was. That her grief should be hidden and his death not talked about. That was clearly what the cycling world wanted.
Anna-Lisa was told that an autopsy would be performed It was a traumatic week for her with constant badgering by all and her waiting for his cause of death. She was so grief stricken that I placed many of the calls to PDM management asking for information. They wanted to talk to her, alone. I was very protective because I knew each of these men. We had a past.We left that team for their promotion of doping and it had been bitter.
I was like a protective mother and so angry witnessing her grief. This was all so wrong.This was so stupid. This was only cycling.
Anna-Lisa finally agreed to go back to Holland by herself to meet with PDM management. She left the house shaking and nervous and a bit disconnected.
She said she’d call me when she knew what was going on.
She called that night. She told me that Johannes had died with the heart of a 70 year old man, it was “shredded.” She had made an agreement with PDM but did not share the details with me.
I have not heard from her since then, but Greg and I have never forgotten her or Johannes. This young and vulnerable couple persuaded by team management to do unethical and illegal activities that they would never dream up on their own.
Our first experience with the gravest possible outcome of a life of doping. It didn’t end there and Greg lost other teammates to doping and depression. It is not an activity without consequences. If there is an outraged energy that we both carry to the fight against doping it is because we have this experience. How shallow is any victory when compared to the love of your spouse and the joy of a family. They missed out on it all