It’s rare that a book will make me laugh out loud, but while reading Keith Richard’s various exploits - from driving across Arkansas (of all places), with the car well packed let’s say, to his passion for learning music, I burst out laughing several times the other day. I was in a waiting room, in France…heads turned and people sort of stared, but by now I’m used to that here. Guess I’m used to that anywhere….
I remember back in 1986 looking up at a semi circle of people staring down at me. I’m thinking ‘wow, did I have an accident? Did someone wop me on the head? What’s up??’ Then someone leaned in and said, ‘can you tell us your name?’
I’m thinking, ‘well, it’s on the tip of my tongue but it just won’t come out….can you give me a few minutes?’
It was a weird moment that lasted about 15 minutes before all the connections came back. By then I was on my way to the Washington Hospital Center, where I’d soon be diagnosed with and treated for epilepsy.
There began battles with side effects of various medications, sleeping 19 hours a day, weight gain, some wicked mood issues, sensitivity to heat…..there never seemed to be a way around a lot of those, so I just trained harder and that seemed to have a few good effects.
Six world titles later, Olympic silvers, world record, blah blah….I was then coaching an amateur men’s (boys) team in France, discovering that these kids are more into partying than training hard on their bikes. Some of them were actually given pretty good stipends to ride for the club. I moved on to work with various individual athletes and returned to racing with the men, locally, and took up running, duathlons and some adventure racing to have fun.
A stint with the New Zealand national women and junior and espoir men’s team had me on the road all season and working with a motivated group and full of good humour! From there it was on to working with a club of DN Elite men in France as Directeur sportif-manager and getting these boys up a notch. We were on the road quite a bit and they did quite well, with one of them signing pro and a few, as the French do, sticking to their comfort zone… Basically, staying amateur for life as the work load was easier.
From there I got a phone call from my old mate Didier Rous, August 2008. ‘Marion, you up for working with me? I’m onto a project that I’m sure fits your character.’
‘Bring it on,’ I say, not quite sure what he’s going to spit out.
‘JR [Jean Rene Bernaudeau] has given me reign as sports director at Bouygues so we can get this show on the road...and we need a coach, so I was thinking of you.’
I sat down thinking ‘we’re in France, there has to be something behind this…a joke or something?’ BUT, I know Didier well and he is the only French director sportif out there today that I would trust 200% for his honesty, integrity, and work ethic.
We discussed various issues - medical (the team doctor was a family doctor for the moment, not someone from a sports med background, there was no team biologist - why would you want a biologist one would ask? To help discern if someone’s training has gone to shit because he has mono, to see how the boys react to high altitude training camps or even to various workloads), aerodynamics – wind tunnel testing to improve power output in a more aero position, dialing in positions….
The list goes on and we set to work….from 2008 through to 2010, accomplishing as much as we are ‘allowed’ to accomplish given the circumstances.
I brought in a competent sports med staff, biologist, and set up the wind tunnel testing in Magny Cours. We moved forward, slowly but surely. The camps were full on and went well, with loads of work to do nutritionally. We set to work on that as well…from regular day-to-day diets to race situation diets and race food.
The communication wasn’t transparent, I battled to understand why certain riders with amazing tests aren’t getting the results they should: 400-550w and you’re not in the front? What’s that about?
At the end of this season, the team lost its sponsor…. A few riders changed teams, though none to foreign squads. I had contacts ready with two of the best teams but language, less pay, and more work that is certainly well compensated in the end, but the riders had already decided to stay in the comfort zone….
So, after much reflection and a bit of disappointment, I’m back in action myself, working with a limited number of athletes, and maybe eventually with a team…although perhaps onto something entirely different.
Learning is a lot like a tough road race, with ups and downs. Just like my passion for this sport, it seems to never stop,