Warning: This story contains graphic details
Individual NRC rankings leader Ben Day never intended to contest the overall win the SRAM Tour of the Gila. Instead, the Aussie hoped to help Fly V Australia teammates Phil Zajicek and Jai Crawford test themselves against world-class climbers such as Levi Leipheimer and Tom Danielson. But Day hoped that in the process he could post some strong results, particularly in Friday’s stage-3 time trial.
Day’s ambitions for Gila changed, however, last Saturday after he extracted a four-foot tapeworm from his anus while on the toilet. Following the extrication, which he described as “an out of body experience,” Day suffered vomiting and diarrhea for several days, nearly knocking him out of Gila altogether. He started the race in hopes of adding a few points to his NRC lead, but discovered quickly on the opening stage that he hadn’t yet recovered from severe dehydration.
Day claims he had no clue he was hosting a parasite until he went to the toilet last Saturday prior to a training ride and had diarrhea.
“I had a dangler,” Day said. “I had to pull it out. It was three or four feet long, at least. It was white and flat, like a ribbon. I just told myself not to think about it, just do it, just get it done. I honestly don’t know if I got it all or it just snapped off. The thought of it still makes me cringe.”
After the extrication Day headed out on a training ride. When he returned, he didn’t feel like eating, he said. Instead, slumped on the couch, nausea kicked in, and soon he was “throwing up everything I had for breakfast.” Fever followed as Day spent the night on the toilet, dripping with sweat.
Day put in a call with his team doctor, and is now taking a pair of medications — Albendazole, which starves the parasite, and Praziquantel, which attempts to kill the parasite immediately. He was told that, judging from the size of the tapeworm, it had probably taken residency in his intestinal tract for “at least a few years,” meaning he won the overall at this year’s San Dimas and Redlands Classic stage races while infested.
“Apparently tapeworms don’t commonly cause any noticeable symptoms,” Day said. “They just attach themselves to your stomach lining and absorb the nutrients you are trying to eat. I can remember a few times when things didn’t feel right, but nothing substantial. It never seemed to bother me until last Saturday.”
Though he estimated that he went to the toilet “10-15 times a day” between Saturday and Thursday, Day decided to give it a go at Gila, which started Wednesday. Day finished Wednesday’s stage 15 minutes behind Leipheimer.
“Whenever I would eat food I felt like I was going to have diarrhea and throw up at the same time, just massive nausea,” Day said. “But I was feeling so good from the previous week, I knew I had good form, I had good training, all the (power data) was great. I was just hoping it was something I could get on top of, and get over. I didn’t realize until halfway through Wednesday’s stage that I really wasn’t that good.”
Day has spent the rest of the race taking it easy, helping the team as he can. He finished 61st on the time trial, 4:30 off the winning time. Zajicek, his teammate, sat fourth on GC heading into Saturday’s criterium.
“There’s no point in trying to hurt myself now, it’s best just to recover a bit and get ready for the Joe Martin Stage Race,” Day said, adding that he doesn’t know how he should expect to wait for a full recovery. “I’ve read that some people have to take medication for up to six months. We’re being aggressive by taking both of these medications at the same time. I’m hoping it’s out of my system really quickly.”
True to his laidback Aussie personality, Day has kept a lighthearted attitude about the experience, disclosing graphic details about the experience and even dubbing the parasite “William the Worm.”
“He was a big part of my life for a few years, apparently,” Day said.