Strength in numbers important in sport – and recovery

This summer, Durango was fortunate to have been inundated with bikes. First, the USA Pro Cycling Challenge was in town, with people-powered bikes taking center stage. Vibrantly colored Lycra jerseys and plastic safety helmets were the signature apparel for the peloton. Subsequent weeks brought motorcycle rallies to our region and the “rolling thunder” of Harley-Davidsons, Hondas and other gas-powered bikes. Biker vests, tattoos and even a few spiked helmets were visible.

By all accounts, both biker cultures lived up to their respective stereotypical looks and riders; townsfolk and tourists seemed to have a collective good time with the events.

On the surface, these two groups of riders might seem disparate to say the least, but people in both groups sometimes deal with substance abuse. Throughout the last 30 years, it’s been fairly well established that alcohol and drugs are part of motorcycle rallies for some participants. More recently, as reflected by various scandals, blood doping appears to have become a fairly consistent part of professional cycling, with some riders making assertions to the effect that “everyone is doing it.”

On the flip side, there are, in fact, riders within each group who don’t use these substances. Given the pervasive narratives within each group regarding use, what support do riders in each culture have to abstain from using? In the motorcycle culture, there are literally hundreds of sober biking clubs across the nation, in addition to Alcoholics Anonymous and other support groups. Internet search results show there are numerous sober bicycle clubs, as well.

While the choice to use substances ultimately rests with each person, research has indicated that the more supportive relationships people have, the greater their capacity for resiliency. In sports and in recovery, the more people cheering for us, the better we’re likely to do.

Imagine if no spectators showed up for the bicycle races; I wonder how racers’ times would be affected. With no cowbells ringing, no helicopters flying overhead, no streets lined with hollering fans, my guess is that times would drop off significantly. Never having raced in an event, I lacked this personal perspective, so I asked a biking colleague.

Sure enough, my co-worker reported that he rode “like a slug” when pedaling alone, but when riding with others, his pace was much faster. Riding in an event took this to even a higher level for this rider, who attributed the even faster pace to the adrenalin produced by participating. Maybe this is why we rally together, both in bike events and in life.

There’s something electric about the strength of community. Joining with others propels us to experiences difficult to achieve alone. While we do ride alone, so to speak, from time to time, it’s encouraging to see that we create opportunities to come together to provide strength in numbers when it is needed most – supporting others in sports, and also in recovery.

Mark White is director of quality for Axis Health System. Reach him at mwhite@axishealthsystem.org or 335-2217.

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