Examining Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Part II

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In Part I, foundation information about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) was introduced. In this column I will share more information about the athletes I interviewed, factors that contributed to each of them getting CFS, factors that contributed to the recovery process and summary tips to minimize your chances of getting CFS.

While there were many common threads in these stories, no two stories for getting CFS or for overcoming the disease were the same. Click on each athlete's initials for a more complete back story.

Cyclist R.C.

R.C. was the oldest of the athletes I interviewed and had the deepest history of dealing with CFS.

In September of his sophomore year of college, R.C. got sick. The first problem he found was through a blood test that determined his liver enzymes were out of tolerance. This was followed a month later by chicken pox and then mononucleosis. He didn't return to school or start racing again until the following spring.

In the winter of his junior year he was selected to the U.S. Olympic Training Center resident collegiate program. The summer between his junior and senior year he raced a lot and was flying on the bike. He was selected for the 1980 Olympic Long Team; however, that was the year the U.S. did not send a team to the Games.

The spring of the following year he was back home, going to school and riding fantastically with hopes of being on the national team. At the same time, however, he began to feel like something was wrong.

"School pressures, relationship stress, worry and performance anxiety did me in," he said. "I started feeling really bad. But oddly, I could still ride well. It wasn't until I felt terrible that I quit riding."

A doctor misdiagnosed him with blood pressure problems. He worked for an entire year to rest and get healthy again. A full eight years after his freshman year of college, he was flying on the bike again; but he started to feel that old sickness creep back.

He said, "I felt the way you feel when you're just about to get the flu or a cold. No energy, weak, tired and just sick. But the feeling lingers and just won't go away...for weeks and weeks on end."

After a battery of tests from a general practitioner, he was finally diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The doctor put him on an antiviral medication, Zovorix. He began to feel better, but it would be two years before he felt good on the bike again.

He rode consistently well for seven years, then began to feel unstable again. He returned to taking Zovorix, but this time there were no positive results.?

Another four years of struggling to get healthy produced limited results. After extensive testing to eliminate a battery of illnesses, he was diagnosed with CFS for a second time. An immunologist suggested he work to rebuild his immune system with healthy foods and acupuncture.

It took two years for him to get healthy again.

In reflection, he commented that when outside stresses began to pile up, he didn't change his riding. He didn't reduce intensity or volume and that was a mistake. Relationship issues were major stressors for him; however, because he was riding well, he didn't feel like he needed to change anything about the bike.

Additionally, he is now aware of how riding the bike in extremely windy, wet and cold conditions further stresses his body. In the past, no weather condition would keep him off the bike. Now he knows staying off the bike on some days will keep him healthy for the long haul.

Cyclist H.A.

The similarities between H.A. and R.C. include going to college in a tough study program and also being a very gifted cyclist. She was invited to be a resident at the Olympic Training Center (OTC). While at the OTC, she got pneumonia. Unfortunately, she was misdiagnosed and continued to train at a high level for two weeks—digging a deeper hole—before a proper diagnosis was given.

After treating the pneumonia, she tried for the next eight months to train, but she was just tired all the time. She described the same tired and low-level sickness feeling that R.C. described.

After contracting pneumonia again, she started napping, and napping turned into sleeping some 18 to 20 hours per day, literally. She didn't remember what it felt like to not feel tired.