Sunday, August 17, 2008

Life - Doping Temptations

So I've been working in a hardware store. Sort of an entry level position, ringing up people, helping them out, etc. The biggest things are to be trustworthy, helpful, and motivated - this is a town where people trust one another.

I had a bunch of different adventures during my first week of work.

I learned that horses eat a LOT of food. Straw and stuff, sometimes flavored with molasses, preferably dry. I learned that although feeding horses costs a lot, feeding the birds costs a lot of money too, ditto dogs. I'm glad our cats are good with a couple scoops of dry and 2/3 of a can of wet a day.

I also found out that if you drop a heavy bag of horse feed on your head just right, your neck crackles just like you went to a chiropractor.

I didn't experiment with different drops so I can't report on different techniques, but suffice it to say that a two foot drop hitting about the top left quarter of my head wrenched my head sideways pretty hard, resulting in that comforting crackle. My neck felt really good for a couple days, I have to admit.

I also found out that my self-perceived IT skills (relatively basic) is, in fact, a touch more than basic. My typing skills are okay too, considering there are no ergo keyboards and I have to delicately peck at the keys so as not to irritate my wrists. To illustrate my wrist endurance, it takes perhaps 30 seconds of consistent typing before my wrists feel like they just did an intense interval. But I can type while looking elsewhere and talking about something else, something that apparently impresses others.

I have very understanding bosses - they remind me to leave on time so I can ride or race, and twice now they've poked me out the door to make it on time. I haven't missed a ride, and I made it to the midweek race fine too.

I also learned that having literally tons and tons of feed around (horse, dog, cat, bird, goat, bunny) is sort of like a huge "all you can eat" buffet for mice. I think this last week, with one person who studied mice in college, we (they) caught about 30 or 40 mice. Personally I have no problem with mice (rats are different) so it's a bit difficult to learn about their demise. To put things in perspective, when I moved the Bethel van the other weekend, a mouse ran under it, looking for shelter or something. I made sure the mouse was clear before I moved the van again.

They also bug-bombed the place but I haven't learned the results just yet - I'll find out tomorrow. Bugs bug me so I have less problem with eliminating them, but the last time someone bug-bombed a place I knew of, I was still in it! I and the whole bike shop was working in the same building and we ran out, coughing, a couple guys who really got fogged getting violently ill. So fly swatters are okay, bug bombs I'd rather do without.

This coming week is the first week where three full timers return to their "real" jobs, teaching school or going to college. I got a week of trying to figure out where everything is - it's got to be the biggest little hardware store around.

I also learned that bike shop margins are huge compared to hardware store margins. I thought they made tons of money on each sale but that's not true. When you make the same margin on a $50 sale as you do on a severely discounted high end bike, it's not good.

So what's all this got to do with doping?

Well, it doesn't. But it sets the tone of my job, my work, how I spend my 7:50 AM to 5:30 PM during the week, 30 minutes less than that on Saturday. It was on that shorter day Saturday that I was helping a couple load their SUV with very heavy bags of horse feed. 50 pound bags, and their "dead body" firmness made it hard for me to carry even one - the ends would droop or the bag would slide or I'd be afraid of ripping the corner of the bag off.

Obviously I wasn't a pro at this, but the guy buying them was - he deftly picked up TWO bags, plopped them in the SUV, and repeated the process. I said something about being impressed with his skill.

He grinned and looked at me.

"I did this for a living. It's what motivated me to go to college."

Then, realizing that perhaps he'd said too much (i.e. implying that perhaps I didn't go to college), he abruptly turned and left.

As I walked back to the front, past the mouse-kill spots, past the dead-bird spot, past the "where I got bit by a bug" spot, I thought about what the guy said.

Okay, I know that I can do something else and make more money. I took a whopping pay cut to work at the store but that's okay. I don't need to make much money and, honestly, I want to focus on doing what I want to do, rather than what I can do. I've been fortunate enough that I bought a bunch of nice stuff, I don't feel the need to buy other things, and so being in a status quo type of situation is fine.

But that approach to life is a luxury.

What if I didn't have my fun car? Or my Cannondale. Heck, what if I didn't have my Giants? My lights? Down Low Glow? Computers? Laptop? Weight lifting thing?

What if I was struggling just to make a living.

And college simply wasn't an option.

And, to extend the "what if" a bit further, what if I had a hint of cycling talent? What if I go on the group rides after working all day, exhausted to the core, yet manage to demolish all the local Cat 2s and such. I go to road races and end up vying for the win, perhaps foiled now and then by substandard parts failing at critical moments?

What if I knew I could make 100 hours of salary by winning a race? 200 hours? I'd have to work 1000 hours to make the amount that one guy won at a huge purse, mass start, one mile sprint event. And that event was something like 10 or 15 years ago.

And what if someone told me that taking this or that would help me win.

Tough, isn't it?

That's a big problem. A big one. It has nothing to do with ego, nothing to do with being more cut. It has to do with "Can I make it till next week money-wise?". I have to think that desperate people do desperate things.

I've mentioned before how I've been at the bottom of the barrel, struggling to find food on the weekends because during the week I relied on handouts from the bagel shop. I didn't mention how I rode whatever I could, using less than ideal things simply because they were free. My cranks and rings for a long time were 167.5 mm. They went to 170 mm when a customer had cranks and his bottom bracket swapped and gave the shop his old parts. They promptly went on my bike, saving me from having to buy a new bottom bracket (I had to use both because they weren't compatible).

But I always had a shelter, I had family worried about me, willing to help me. And though I didn't rely on that crutch too much (my dad would discretely give me too much money for helping with stuff around his house), I knew that if all else failed I could just go home, regroup, and try again.

Some people don't have that luxury.

For me the point is moot. I have so little ability that when I'm feeling really fit I just get out of the "untrained" category of power to weight. Everyone drops me on climbs, everyone. So cycling or any athletic thing is out of the question for me.

But for those slightly less than totally gifted cyclists? It has to be tempting.

Toss in some hard luck, struggling circumstances, maybe a bad decision or two, and you have a very bad mixture - a huge potential for doping.

I make a big assumption that the biggest problem with doping is when a struggling athlete succumbs to temptation. I'm studiously ignoring the individuals who don't need anything yet still dope. That's a different thing motivation wise and although the net results are the same (they doped), I think of it as a different path.

Unfortunately I don't have a solution. Credit counseling? I think it's a bit more universal than counseling for cyclists only, but perhaps it would be a start. If you're not in dire straights then you won't have to give in to temptation. Post cycling career counseling?

I'll let it stew for a bit. But I think that this is something that ought to be addressed.

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