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A Fred’s-Eye View: Craig Gordon’s world of pain

  • By VeloNews.com
  • Published Oct. 13, 2006
  • Updated Nov. 5, 2013 at 6:08 PM EDT

By Fred Dreier

More than a slight cramp: Gordon did some damage

Photo: Gripped Films / Aaron Kobilis

Rhabdomyolysis

A common disorder which may result from a large variety ofdiseases, trauma, or toxic insults to skeletal muscle. It may be definedas a clinical and biochemical syndrome resulting from an injury which damagesthe integrity of the sarcolemma of skeletal muscle, leading to the releaseof potentially toxic muscle cell components into the circulation.(1,2,3)This may result in potential life-threatening complications including myoglobinuricacute renal failure, hyperkalaemia and cardiac arrest, disseminated intravascularcoagulation, and more locally, compartment syndrome.

Craig Gordon pedaled his bike so hard this past weekend that henearly rode himself to death.

The Aussie pushed his body to the extreme limits of physical exhaustionto capture the 2006 24 Hours of Adrenaline solo world championships, heldin Conyers, Georgia. In doing so, Gordon sent his body into the depthsof rhabdomyolysis.

Now, I’m no doctor, but after reading the above definition, I have to assume that rhabdomywhateveritis can’t be good. In simple terms, Gordon’s bloodstreamwas so full of junk given off from his shattered muscles that he was closeto poisoning his kidneys.

From his hospital room, Gordon offered his best analysis.

“The muscle breakdown combination with my dehydration sent a reallytoxic level of proteins into my blood stream,” he said. “In a normal person,the range of the protein is in the 20-250 parts per whatever range. Mycount was 5800.”

Yikes.

After riding for 24 hours, Gordon was on his way to the hospital for 48

Photo: Gripped Films / Aaron Kobilis

Doctors told Gordon had he continued to ride untreated, he very wellcould have ridden himself onto that great winding single-track in the sky.Then they hooked him up to a dialysis machine to scrub his blood clean.

Gordon said he realized something was wrong with his body during theearly hours of Sunday morning. That’s when the course’s bumpy descentsbegan to take its toll on his leg muscles. Much of the course’s descendingwas on open rock faces, and the bumpy and jarring surfaces simply toreGordon’s body apart.

“Anything that was jarring sent pain into my calf that was too intense,”he said. “I could ride the climbs no problem. Every time I would come upto a technical section I would just take a deep breath and say, ‘Let’s go.’Midway through I would be screaming in pain. I spent most of the day justmentally managing the pain.”

With the race win safely in his pocket, Gordon embarked on one finalspin around the eight-mile course. Midway through the lap, Gordon’s musclesseized up and his body temperature dropped. He got off his bike and beganwalking, but had to sit down in the dirt because his right calf had become,as he says, “stiff as a piece of ice.”

A member of the film crew who was capturing the race on tape for thedocumentary “24-Solo” (to debut in 2007) picked Gordon up and rodehim to the finish line, which Gordon pedaled across with only one leg clippedin. After a quick trip to the medical tent for an IV, Gordon began shiveringin the hot Georgia sun.

There would be no podium presentation for Gordon, but rather an ambulancetrip to nearby Rockdale Medical Center.

So, the natural question to arise from Gordon’s plight is, well, why?

Why push oneself beyond the sensible level of pain and suffering? Eventhe most hardcore endurance athletes and pain freaks realize there is a slimline between reasonable pain and dangerouspain. This line separates uncomfortable maladies — stomach cramps, theburn of lactic acid and popped blisters — from more serious ailments liketorn muscles, heat stroke and kidney failure. Craig Gordon most definitelyleapt over that line during his 24-hour adventure. To quote Walter Sobchakfrom “The Big Lebowski,” Gordon entered “a world of pain.”

“I came here to America to do a job, and I wanted to do it well,” explainedGordon. “My wife would call me stubborn.”

Gordon’s wife, Anita, by the way, has a role in this story as well. Gordonkept a small, 1980s-era photo of her taped to his stem.

“It’s great, she has this total mullet, like four inches high on thetop and down her ass in the back, and she’s wearing chains like Mr. T,”Gordon explained.

What a lucky guy.

The “job” that Gordon came to do was to take down six-time world championChris Eatough, the heaviest heavyweight in the history of the sport. Eatoughhas owned the world championships since its inception in 2006, and hasbrought down some of the sport’s biggest cross-country stars in the process.Tough, hard guys like Tinker Juarez, Rishi Grewal and Andreas Hestler.

The vanquished Eatough said Gordon took the 2006 race fair and square,and even went as far as to say his performance in Conyers was perhaps hisbest.

“This may have been the best performance I’ve ever had. My gap was anhour to the guys who I usually beat by 20 minutes or an hour,” Eatoughsaid. “There are certainly no regrets. I don’t think I could go that muchfaster. Craig beat me by over an hour, and I can’t see any way that Icould have made that up.”

That’s not to say Eatough doesn’t have his own explanation for exactlywhy Gordon put an hour into him. After all, the two spent the first halfof the race going blow for blow, and lapped the rest of the field by theeighth lap. Even Eatough finished his race off with a trip to the medicaltent for an IV.

“I just think it came down to who was willing to destroy themselvesthe farthest, and Craig was more willing to go further. I also think that’swhy he’s [in the hospital] and I’m [at home],” Eatough said.

“I don’t thinkCraig intended to send himself into the hospital. Perhaps he just wasn’tsure of his limit. Maybe I would have been more willing to do that to myselfon my first or second try at the race, but I have a wife at home and ababy on the way, and I know she’s happy that I’m not in the hospital rightnow. Racing is important to me, but there isn’t anything more importantthan your health.”

So was Craig Gordon foolish to push his body beyond the healthy extremesto win the 2006 solo world title? His performance could nicely fit intothe categories labeled “badass” and “idiot.”

I suppose the answer depends on, well, who is answering.

Financially, Gordon’s attempt was a major loss — his $7000 bill fromhis two-day stay in the hospital dwarfs his $2500 winner’s check from therace.

But for bragging rights, Gordon achieved something that most peoplewill never do — he logged 240 dirt miles in 30 laps.

Jason Barry sees Gordon as a hero. And he believes his film, set todebut at the 2007 Sea Otter Classic, will show it.

“It’s amazing what Craig did, it shows what the level of 24-hour racinghas come to,” said Jason Barry, whose film on the race will debut at theSea Otter Classic in 2007. “But it’s like watching a train wreck on film.Gordon nearly kills himself to beat Chris. I have this shot of him in thehospital room talking to his mom, and he’s just saying, ‘Oh, I’m rippedapart, mom, I’m ripped apart … but I smashed it!’”

Gordon can fly back to Australia knowing that he did what needed tobe done to beat the unbeatable, and in doing so, helped take the sportof 24-hour endurance racing into a brave new world.

Hopefully, Gordon will not suffer any long-term health effects fromhis winning performance in Conyers. Who knows, perhaps some day he’ll beable to look back on his win and, with a grin, mutter something like, “Eh,it didn’t hurt that bad.”

Well done, Craig.

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