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Chris Sheppard on cheating by doping

by Carl Brewer last modified 2006-07-10 04:20

Chris Sheppard: "I cheated"

Canadian mountain biker Chris Sheppard recently tested positive for recombinant erythropoietin (rEPO) after an out-of-competition test at his home in Kamloops, Canada, and was subsequently suspended by Canadian Cycling and fired from Team Haro. He was liked in the mountain-bike community but is now a pariah. Sheppard used to send a personal email to his sponsors and friends on a regular basis; a diary of sorts. The email was called the 'Shep Report'. What follows is what the outcast rider calls 'the final Shep Report.' In it, Shep, as he is known to friends, explains what led to his decision to take EPO and the consequences.

First and foremost I have to say that I cheated. Point blank. I have let down my girlfriend, family, friends, sponsors, fellow racers, and National team supporters. I have been led down a path that ends my career with question marks and lost hope especially to those who looked up to me. All I can say is I AM SORRY. There is no justification for what I have done - just a history of why I was pushed to this point. I am not trying to raise sympathy, nor have people feel sorry for me. Cycling is a tough sport and after 17 years of racing clean and pointing the finger, I gave in during hard times. I wanted what was taken away from me; that is, years of hard work culminating in a solid season that ended with an accident and my spiral into depression.

Some of you have already stopped reading and I don't blame you. It has taken months of me living every lyric from AFI's "Sing the Sorrow" for me to finally sit down and let it out. I could have drifted off into oblivion to never care again but I can't. I can't let this blow over and start a new chapter while not at least explaining myself to those that have become my family. In the end I am a cheat but I am not the guy who is saying, "I didn't" to his grave. I "did" and it has wrecked me more than my accident last year. For those listening, for those young guys I have let down, having fun has always been my claim. Doing this drug free hasn't been a battle because I loved the hard work, the miles, and the muscle pain. Ask any racer that has trained with me and they'll say I definitely over trained to the point that had to affect my results over the years. I guess that is why I have mostly kept to North American soil where the word "fun" can still be applied to our ritualistic suffering.

When I was struck by a truck last summer a few things occurred in my body that I have not been able to reverse. At first I thought things would be OK considering I didn't have to spend time in the hospital - then I raced. From leading the NORBA STXC and second in the XC series I started my descent into desperation and depression. I took almost 6 weeks off the bike while undergoing rehab for my back (which is ongoing), then started a slow build up to the season. For five months, every day felt like I had not had my morning coffee (to those who don't sip-each day felt fuzzy) while my back was always painful. I look back at my dark, days in December when I mentally started to fall apart. My therapist was working on the back pain I had while breathing as two of friends suggested over and over see a clinical psychologist. "I am a professional", I thought. "I am mentally strong and don't need help to get through it. I'll just keep on working hard and everything will be better. "

How wrong I was.

I continued body work, physio, and an hour a day rehab into the spring yet my back was still painful in the morning while driving me insane while I rode. As soon as my heart reached high aerobic zones it felt like a nail was being driven into my vertebrae. To this day I still receive a friendly reminder of that truck running the stop sign each morning and during each workout. My biggest issue would be the concussion I received. Since the accident I have not been able to raise my heart to within 10-12 beats of last years' maximum. An athlete's number one weapon is his brain. It seems that the problem that haunts me is my ability to concentrate. No matter how hard I try, I loose focus causing me to fall short of my body's maximum during training and racing. I think the worst part of this injury is that it extends past racing and into my everyday life.

Let me repeat: I have dug my own grave. These are not excuses and I will forever have a tainted reputation. I am sorry to those I have cheated.

As my poor racing and training continued I lost hope and my heart deflated. I have worked on my position, efficiency (thanks Andy, Scott and Justin in Bend) power to utilize what I have left. Clinging onto something will bring out the Devil's advocate in a hurry and that is what happened with me. Once again this does not justify cheating but my mind weighed the positives and negatives of, "It's not cheating, you're just making up for what was taken away".

Passion is a powerful drug and for a second if all of you could think of the one thing that drives your every day, that makes you smile even in the worst of times-then have it taken away. Ouch. I was blinded. I fought with these thoughts all spring pushing my girlfriend away while being drawn into self-loathing. It was at this point that I chose to do what I did. No one pushed me into it. No one told me how to do it and above all I didn't have hands on learning. I just did it. I felt cheated at the time. Can you believe that? I guess it is tough for all of you to accept and I don't blame anyone that is disappointed nor do I blame people posting on the internet or talking behind my back or thinking that I cheated to achieve past results. I can only say that I have never doped and that my results are consistent for year to year. As are my hematocrit levels, blood values, testosterone all which can be verified through past UCI test dates, out of competition testing and controls at the races.

Only after the fact you come to realize how cheating affects other people and how I didn't think about my girl, family, sponsors and supporters. I was so passionate about something I would risk my life to keep it instead of moving on. That is how the top can blind you. How a love so strong overwhelms judgment. The irony in it all was the fact that I was tested the first day I did it. My folks always preached to me that "A Sheppard should never gamble because we always loose". A bit of a weird way to be brought up but those words are so true. I kill myself every day on the mistake I made.

So now I reflect on a career that is tainted. Canada has always bred its athletes to believe that if they work hard and believe in themselves, they can lead a drug-free career. I have lived this statement for 17 years while fighting for every mile and every position. Through extremely hard training camps month after month, year after year the current crop of Canucks had a Russian mentor whom we wished to excel for. This belief in oneself was the foundation for all of us to push our limits. Now I push through one of the hardest parts of a lost career - the inability to spread my passion for cycling to others. To see the spark in a 10 year olds eyes after finishing his first race.

I have set it upon myself to open children's eyes to the world of cycling and life outside the normal boundaries. At every race I preach self-belief, and to have fun. When out with the younger National Team or American riders I repeat the same words of advice I was passed on while training with Canada's past greats. This is a mentorship I wanted to continue through my last years as a cyclist but I have jumped off a cliff with no way of stopping my fall. Now, every person I talk to - every time I open up - I feel the pain in my back twinge. It hurts me because in the end my fellow racers, who are my friends and my family, will only remember the spike I hammered into their backs.

I am sorry.

-- Shep

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