Words by Max Fierek
Photography by Riley Seebeck
Video by Spencer Johnson
"What hurts? Where?"
"My shins hurt, like a lot. Have your shins ever hurt?"
"Your shins hurt? What kind of 9 year old has shins that hurt?"
It's been 12 years and I still remember the conversation I had with my dad when I first felt the effects of Lyme's Disease. I was sitting in the passenger seat of our old white Silverado driving through Northern Wisconsin on a two-lane highway through fields of purple lupines that were so bright they looked like they had jumped off a canvas and into the dirt. We were heading home from a sailing trip in the Apostle Islands of Lake Superior, an absolutely gorgeous area that is a national hotbed of deer ticks and Lyme's cases.
I hate hiding behind excuses so dealing with Lyme's is something I have mostly kept to myself except for a few close friends and family, I have been treated on and off but it was always difficult for me because I was a kid and had the personal myth of being unstoppable and when I took the antibiotics they usually made me feel worse which then affected my ability to race. A few years ago I was getting ready to take the season by storm with EWS, US Nationals, and more lined up, I trained all winter long and put everything into being ready but after training for months, I realized that I was basically still lifting the same weights as when I started, I wasn't putting on muscle or anything. I hit my first race and got absolutely destroyed, I still had hope that EWS Whistler would be the one but between crashing and hitting my head in Stage one and my body being burnt out by the top of Stage two I knew I wasn't making it the whole day. In the transfer climb, it dawned on me all at once, I had been ignoring the Lyme's for years, pretending it wasn't real and pretending like it was all okay. At that moment I realized that I needed to focus on getting healthier and doing whatever I could to get better.
After being on heavy doses of antibiotics for several months and my body being so weak and in pain that trail riding became almost miserable it was taking me over 2 hours to do a "quick" Galbi lap in Bellingham which my friends could knock out in 45 minutes the idea for this project hit me. "If I feel this way there have to be others who feel the same" so I called up my good friends Riley Seebeck (Photos) and Spencer Johnson (Video) to see if they would be willing to help me tell this story. They are both originally from the Midwest and now live in Washington like me and are masters of their crafts so I figured who better than friends to help me share. I told them off the start that this project wasn't for sponsors and wasn't for advertising, it was about telling an honest story and bringing awareness to not only Lyme's but also to the fact that there are a lot of individuals who deal with illnesses every day and most of the time never show it. We agreed that telling the story and getting it out to as many sources as possible was the key to this project.
Part of why I wanted to team up with Spencer and Riley was because I knew that they had both dealt with serious conditions themselves. Spencer with Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (or ITP), meaning that your blood doesn't clot like it's supposed to which meant as a kid he wasn't able to enjoy a lot of activities to the fullest for fear of injury. Riley being from Southern Wisconsin actually had serious Lyme's as well, to the point of partial facial paralysis, which he says he still notices now years later. I seriously can not thank them enough for working with me to bring the project to life and tell exactly the story I had in my head.
What's Next? Well as of writing this post I am for the first time in years actually genuinely starting to feel better, I have been lucky enough to work with a Lyme's Specialist in Wisconsin who has helped to make sure that I am taking not only the right antibiotics but also supplements and vitamins to keep my body happy. My goal is to be back in racing condition for the 21' season and I am thinking maybe to prove to myself that I am healthy again I need to do something absolutely grueling and out of my wheelhouse like the BC Bike Race, but we'll see!
Finally, I would really just like to thank everyone that helped make this project a reality. It takes a lot of people and a lot of passion to bring a project like this to life so thank you all so much for the help. It really does mean the world to me (and Velzy ^^).
To learn more about Lyme's and how to prevent it please visit https://www.lymedisease.org/