The sport of boxing very much mirrors life. As much as we want it to go smoothly and run to a logical plan we know that for both this is not going to happen. Just as in boxing, life throws obstacles in the way, and getting where we want to be can take longer than anticipated. From time to time people are faced with serious challenges in their life – when this happens the only thing to do is copy our favourite boxers and fight.
I contacted Bernard Condevaux (@BernardPT on Twitter) to see if he would be willing to share some of his experiences and talk about boxing in an interview. Thankfully Bernard was willing and the result is educational and interesting. From boxing to Bernard’s biggest fight and his involvement in professional sport this piece will hopefully inform and inspire in equal measure.
I am grateful to Bernard for his candid answers and I hope that everyone reading gets as much out of this interview as I did.
CM: Hi Bernard, so we have had a few interesting discussions about boxing on Twitter from time to time. Can you tell the readers a bit about your love of boxing, how you got into the sport etc?
BC: I have loved boxing since I was a kid. I came of age during the Muhammad Ali years (still have my scrapbook from the first
Ali-Frazier fight), and I used to love watching boxing with my dad. My parents both moved to the US from France (via Montreal
for a few years), and most American sports were of little interest to them. He told me about Marcel Cerdan, the great
French middleweight that had an affair with Edith Piaf and later died in a plane crash (plus my Dad was named Marcel!). Growing up in the Detroit area, the Kronk gym became a focus of local pride during my late teens with their stable of champs, especially Tommy Hearns (who I share a birthday with). I used to put on the gloves so my older brother could “legally” beat the crap out of me, and used to bang with some friends too. I felt good enough to take on my dad, but the man had serious whiskers! I remember watching the Arguello-Pryor fights with my dad too… I was a big Arguello fan, and just watching the sheer volume of punches Pryor threw amazed both of us and we couldn’t stop talking about it… great memories. After I moved to Colorado and got married, my wife became curious about the boxing passion too, so on one visit back to Detroit, we went to the Kronk gym. My friend, who was a police officer at the time thought we were crazy, 2 pale skinned folks going into one of the rougher corners of Detroit to visit the gym, so he insisted on “chaperoning” us. The old Kronk Rec Center was a bit of a dump, and the gym was in the basement. When we arrived, everybody was as nice as could be and we talked boxing, altitude for training, and Olympics, all while watching guys spar in the ring. They were great, showed off for my wife a bit, and we had a great time. Glad we did, as the old Kronk gym no longer exists.
CM: Also from Twitter I have seen that you have been treated for cancer. Can you talk about your feelings when you were diagnosed and then how the treatment procedure was for you?
BC: Yes, I was diagnosed in May 2012. I was 52 years old at the time. I ride my bike a. lot, and I had been dealing a big lump in my groin area for about 3 years: so much for being proactive! I was able to ride and do what I wanted, felt great, until it got large enough that I couldn’t sit comfortably on the bike seat for very long. As a result, I went to a colorectal physician
to have it removed, which he did. I was then called to follow up that Monday, and my wife came with me. That’s when he said the testing of the mass came back and it was adenocarcinoma: basically a cancer that came from some glandular tissue, and they needed to figure out where it came from. I really didn’t believe it, as I felt great and was training pretty hard with no ill effects. Plus, since my older sister died from colon cancer, the last thing I wanted to consider was my mortality. And with my wife there, too… shocked is the best way to put my feelings. I had never really been sick. or hurt before that. They wanted to do a colonoscopy ASAP given my sister’s history, but I was flying out to work the Tour of California with Quick Step Cycling Team the next day, so I put it off until I returned 10 days later. It was nice to be busy and around the circus of a cycling tour to keep from focusing on the diagnosis, but I did tell my sister and brother under promise they did not tell my mom. Having lost a child to cancer, I didn’t need her freaking out until I had more information.
Anyway, the colonoscopy came back clean and I began to look at this as a boxing match… I know it was going to be a fight, and it would likely go some distance. I couldn’t look too far forward, but also couldn’t be too narrowly focused. Every positive test result was like a round to me. The more the doctors looked, the more odd my condition was, as they couldn’t find the definitive source. I felt like I was going to get away clean until right before I was supposed to leave for a pre-Olympic (London) camp with the BMX team: my oncologist said we were going to do chemotherapy and radiation for 6 weeks, which meant no BMX camp. I told her I was supposed to join the US Olympic Team in London on August 4, which was 6 weeks away. She asked if I still thought I would
go, and I said absolutely! So, to give me an opportunity, we made calls and got OK’d to get into surgery in 2 days to place the chemo port in my arm on a Friday so I could start that Monday. The good folks at USA Cycling told me that I was still their guy until or unless I told them I couldn’t make it to London… I needed that carrot for extra motivation. After 2 days of chemo (mytomycin and the appropriately named 5-FU), I still felt very good and convinced myself that I was bigger than the disease. Day 3 changed that… felt like absolute hell. No energy, no appetite… could barely get out of the chair. I felt like I had been run over by a truck and then it just parked on me. I made a point of walking the dogs and walking to the gym and doing what I could just to feel I was not giving in. All the while, I did radiation every day too, which gradually burned my undercarriage and further drained energy.
I did a week of chemo, then another week at the 4 week mark, and 6 weeks of radiation. My goal after treatment was just to have my body function normally after 6 weeks of essentially poisoning my body. The cool thing was, a few days after my last session, with an immuno-booster shot before my flight (because your white blood cell count drops to basically zero after a round of chemo) and I was off to London. Those games will always be special because of what I went through to get there as well as the support from USA Cycling, the USOC, and my family. All told, I did not feel “normal” again until almost 3 years later.
CM: Tell us about your emotions towards the end of the process. Your thoughts when you were given the good news?
BC: It’s funny, as I said it took almost 3 years to feel normal again: normal response to training, being able to predict how I would feel if I pushed myself. So after that, in my mind I felt I had beat it, even though the “rule is 5 years. 1-2 scans per year, regular visits to oncologist, radiation oncologist, internist and colorectal doc, always with good reports. When I had my 5 year appointment coming up, I had to do one last scan before the appointment. Then the occasional, “what if it came back?” started to creep in…not often, but often enough. I actually debated in my head if I would go through chemo again (like it would really be MY choice, as any married guy or father would tell you). So when I got the hug from my oncologist after she asked me if I knew this was my 5 year mark (yes, WELL aware!), it was a huge relief. Champagne that night and my personal #TKO5 for 5 years. I am sure as big a relief as it was to me, even though inherently I knew I was OK, I know it was a big relief for my mom, my wife and kids and family. But best of all, I finally feel like I can put cancer in my rear view mirror… not forget it, but forget about it.
CM: I’m guessing experiencing this has altered your perspective on life?
BC: I feel like cancer did alter my perspective on life, and in a positive way. I think I mellowed out from my hot-headed past, appreciated just going for a ride again vs “training”, having coffee with my wife, hanging with my kids more. I remember the Lance Armstrong quote, “I don’t have any more bad days. I only have good days and great days.” And yes, even though all the negativity surrounding Lance hit the fan the fall after I was diagnosed, I still looked at him as an inspiration in the cancer fight, and I feel that quote sums up my attitude these days. I am personally averse to the term “survivor” even though I know how important that is to many people.
I didn’t want to survive, I wanted to win and beat cancer… surviving wasn’t good enough. And I mean absolutely no disrespect to those who take justifiable pride in surviving cancer, and so many have had it worse than me or like my sister, did not survive. I know survival is a win. That is just my mindset, and I still wear “FIGHT” on my Road ID band. Since cancer, I think I am more appreciative, less likely to get mad, much more patient (although perhaps my family would argue?), and I think it has had a positive impact on my role in physical therapy, in working with athletes, and with my family as I have more empathy, and I hope more perspective. You can win a few rounds but that doesn’t mean you win the fight. Big picture.
CM: You have already referenced your involvement in cycling at a high level, London Olympics etc. I’m interested in your background and experiences in that sport from day one till now.
BC: I was a part of Team USA for Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and London 2012. I used to race bikes, but although I enjoyed it, I wasn’t elite. Being a physical therapist with a background in sports, having worked with the Colorado Rockies and Colorado Avalanche as a consultant, as well as treating some other elite athletes, I felt I had something to offer. I started helping out doing free medical coverage at local races, then put together a “Junior Development Program” where I travelled to National level races, talked to kids about training and nutrition, did testing on them using CompuTrainers, and would recruit a pro to talk to the kids about what it took to be a pro, and how one respects your sponsors and the sport before taking the kids for a ride. I did that for a couple years and then was approached by Dr. Mark Purnell and Dr. Glenn Kotz about joining up with them as part of (then NORBA) USA Cycling’s medical team for mountain biking. I had worked with the New Zealand national team in Metabief, France for the 1993 mountain bike world championships, and with France during the 1994 world’s in Vail, Colorado. Working with France was akin to working with the All Blacks in Rugby, or the Yankees in baseball so in a sense I had some legit credibility.
I have worked with USA Cycling at every mountain bike world championships since and will be at my 25th this September in Cairns, Australia. I also did other cycling work on the track, BMX and road, at the Olympics and elsewhere, as well as cyclocross. One day a woman I had worked with previously, Susan Masini, put me in touch with the Quick Step cycling team from Belgium. They needed some help at the Tour of California back in 2010. They are arguably the top team in cycling, and when I went to work with them, they had one of the biggest stars in the sport, Tom Boonen. I admit I wondered if I was perhaps over my head working with such an elite group of athletes, but after a couple days, I fit right in and now consider myself an honorary Belgian. I have kept a relationship with the team since, and have worked with them in California, Colorado and Canada, and have made some great friendships as a result. As I had mentioned, I worked with them in 2012, right after being diagnosed but before any real treatment, and I kept it under wraps until one of the mechanics questioned why I never took one of the bikes for a spin. I explained I had a bunch of fresh stitches in my crotch, and then mentioned why, even though details were yet to come. Basically, I did not want anybody trying to accommodate me or cover for me because I was “sick”… I got that from my dad! Well, when we were at the airport, one of the team signers gave me Tom Boonen’s number form the race, signed. It was number 22. He then went on to tell me the significance of 22, how it was a very lucky number ever since his dad raced, and for some of Tom’s
biggest victories… a long and touching story. Never once did he mention that he found out I had cancer.
I remember flying back and thinking that was a nice gesture, then getting ready for the first big test, the colonoscopy. Both my wife and I were pretty nervous, thinking about my sister and what if…until I looked up at the calendar and noticed the date: May 22. I laughed and knew this was going to be OK, and it was! 22 is now a lucky number for me. I am forever grateful to cycling, as I have made great friends around the globe and have had the honor to watch riders I have worked with as juniors become elite champions and Olympians, to watching athletes fulfill dreams with Olympic medals, to meeting President George W. Bush and talking cycling with him, to marching in the Opening Ceremony at Beijing and participating in 3 Closing Ceremonies, meeting Evander Holyfield at Team USA House in London, traveling all over the world…truly blessed to have found my little niche in this sport.
CM: So cycling/boxing. How rampant is the use of PEDs in both sports?
BC: Ah, yes…
THE question! It’s funny, people used to tell me ‘they knew’, or that ‘I knew so and so’ was a doper. I always said (and say) I can’t
possibly know, but can suspect. I will say that I try to give benefit of the doubt in most cases, but my suspicions rise when someone defies normal age limits spectacularly, or suddenly adds power and speed at an older age (especially after working with someone known to have been involved in doping). I won’t use any names, and certainly I do not KNOW that they doped, but am suspicious (especially when VADA testing was refused for boxing). I still love the sports and try not to obsess on doping: while I do not believe cycling is totally clean by any means, I do feel that riders are not as super-charged as they were even 20 years ago. I think the biological passport helped, but then some athletes turned to micro-dosing or different methods. While I do not believe they are able to be as full gas as perhaps they once were, I still think human nature is to try and win however able, and that some (but not all) will try that method to succeed.
I am more concerned about it in boxing, because, as the saying goes, you don’t play boxing. When trying to knock someone out, being illegally doped could lead to serious injury or death. I am reminded of how many MMA fighters used supplemental testosterone because they had low-T… so a mid to late 20’s, jacked fighter had low-T? WHY would he have low-T? Because he was doping!! After a cycle of anabolics, the body produces less testosterone because there is already a high level, thus making one “low-T” for a period afterwards, but in reality they are really HIGH-T. When athletes are caught with higher estrogen levels, it is the same thing: they take female fertility drugs to stimulate the pituitary to send a signal to the testes to turn back on and produce natural testosterone. The ONLY reason a male athlete would have that in their system is after a cycle of anabolics.
I do believe VADA has helped, as they always look for synthetic testosterone, whereas Olympic sports and most professional sports didn’t check unless the T/E ratio (testosterone to epitestosterone) ratio was above 4:1. Most men are around 1:1, and really, up to say 2.5 or 3:1 would capture probably 90+% of all non-doping men, so 4:1 was a safe ratio to catch outliers. So, while 4:1 is high, it avoided catching anybody but pretty obvious dopers. However, if you had 5 times the normal testosterone for a man but were able to keep your ratio at 4:1 or less, you were considered clean, and no tests for synthetic testosterone were applied. That is why Floyd Landis was caught in the 2006 Tour de France: his ratio was about 3 times beyond acceptable levels, warranting the test that found synthetic testosterone.
So, I guess to answer your question: In my opinion only, I think cycling is cleaner if not totally clean, and boxing at the higher levels is making great strides thanks to VADA testing, and I applaud those boxers like Donaire that have submitted to regular testing, and the efforts of the WBC to push for regular testing.
CM: Finally, rounding it off with boxing, I respect your opinions on the sweet science and our sport is enjoying a positive year on the whole. Your thoughts on boxing in 2017 Bernard?
BC: Man, I have enjoyed following you, Michael Woods, and the many different boxing experts on Twitter this year, as I think it has been a great year for the sport! Garcia-Thurman, GGG-Jacobs, Frampton-Santa Cruz 2, DeGale-Jack, Joshua-Klitschko, Brook-Spence, Ward-Kovalev 2, Linares-Crolla, Superfly tourney, Broner-Mikey, Lomachenko, Crawford…so many great fights AND we finally get GGG-Canelo? It doesn’t get much better than this. It has been so good, and with the GGG-Canelo coming on September 16, I am almost more amused about the spectacle happening on August 26 than bothered. It definitely seems to have quieted the “boxing is dead” pundits, at least for awhile. I appreciate guys like you, Woodsy, Gatling, Hauser, Dougie Fischer and others keeping the conversation interesting, thoughtful, relevant and fun in this great sport, and I look forward to more interaction in the future. Hopefully we can grab a nice beverage after a fight in the future!