A few weeks ago we heard part one of Jesse Anthony’s story about overcoming hip alignment issues caused from racing cyclo-cross from such a young age. In part two of this Rally Cycling pro’s story on coming back from physical ailments, Jesse talked with us about suffering from mononucleosis during the 2009 season and beyond.
The second major issue that I've dealt with for many years is a weakened immune system ever since I had mono in 2009. Going into my second year with Team Type 1 in the winter of 2009, I was 24 years old and extremely motivated and fully recovered from achilles tendonitis in February and a broken scaphoid in July.
I was flying at training camp in January and was really hoping to make the Tour of California team. I was one of the strongest climbers on the team at camp, but the directors refused to put me on the roster for that race. Instead, I was sent to a criterium in Singapore and then to the Tour of Taiwan after spending ten days training in Malaysia.
At the Tour of Taiwan I won the KOM jersey, but got extremely sick at the end of the race and flew back home with a nasty fever. I was in bed for two days before traveling to Southern California for the San Dimas Stage Race. I was useless at the race and I got dropped about 30k into the second stage. Initially, I thought it was just because I was getting over being sick, so I stayed in California and tried to race the Redlands Classic the following week. I struggled through the first two stages at Redlands and was unable to finish the criterium, so I went home to rest and start training again. The team doctors thought I had a sinus infection, so I took a few rounds of antibiotics and continued racing criteriums through the middle of May.
Those were two of the hardest months in my life. Some days I felt fine and was able to participate in races and training. Other days I would get dropped in the first five laps; it felt like there was nothing I could do about it. I specifically remember participating in the lead-out on the last lap of Athens Twilight in Georgia, and then getting dropped two laps into the Roswell criterium the very next day.
Finally, I went to my doctor at home and asked him to test me for everything he could possibly think of. When the blood tests came back, he diagnosed me with mononucleosis, more than two months after I had first gotten sick in Asia.
Once I was diagnosed, I took three full weeks off the bike and then started riding 30 minutes every other day for a week. The next week I bumped it up to 45 minutes five days a week and slowly built my endurance back up from there. It was the worst time of my life; I struggled with depression and searched hard to find purpose in my life. I wanted to race so badly and I couldn't think of anything else that I wanted to do. I wanted an out, I wanted to be able to give it up, but I couldn't. There was an instinct inside of me that kept me drawn to bike racing so I couldn't just quit. I kept fighting for it.
I finally started racing again in mid-August, but I was so weak. I kept working hard and resting as much as I could making good progress through the late summer and into the cyclocross season. I had a few good ‘cross races during the 2009 season, but by the end of the cyclocross season in December I was exhausted again.
It seemed like professional road racing might have been over for me following two years with Team Type 1, however, at the end of November 2009 Jonas Carney called and said that he had a spot open on Kelly Benefit Strategies, but he couldn’t offer me any money.
It didn’t matter, I took the spot. I could never describe how motivated I felt at the beginning of 2010. I had so much to prove. I wanted to be a professional bike racer, to make a living riding bikes. I knew I could earn money at it, and I knew I could win races.
I won a stage of the first race I did with the team in the Philippines, got second place overall of the hardest stage race I've ever done, the Tour de Korea, and won a three-day UCI stage race in Norway later that summer. While I had some success on the bike, I still got sick at every single stage race I did that year; my immune system was still nearly nonexistent.
During the 2010 Amgen Tour of California I distinctly remember getting dropped with Francesco Chicchi 5km into stage two on some rollers leaving Pacifica. We chased in the caravan and eventually got back in the peloton just before a brutal crosswind section, eventually getting spit out of the back again. As soon as the road tilted up, I just stopped on the side of the road because I was so exhausted. I could hardly even stand up while waiting for the team car to pick me up.
Throughout 2011 and beyond my immune system has improved slightly every year. I still don't have the same immune system I had before I got mono, but I get sick far less often than I did in 2010. I feel like my weak immune system has been the biggest limiter on my ability to access my talent throughout my career.
The older I get, the more I realize that it's not about what we do, but how we do it; I know that I’ve always tried as hard as I can at bike racing, and I've had some really satisfying successes despite my unluckiness at times.
In the heart of his 12th season of racing full-time, Jesse has the right perspective; he’s apart of a strong team that supports his goals and their community through active involvement in events like Chefs Cycle and more. He’s been lucky to travel to many countries, sharing experiences with new and old friends alike, all while doing something he loves; racing his bicycle. At any moment, he could walk away from the sport, but for now he’s still having fun making memories and trying to help his teammates win bike races. Just yesterday, he won the prestigious Belgian Waffle Ride!
Ultimately, he knows “that freedom is even more inspiration to try harder, push further and enjoy every minute we get to do this.” We only get one go around, so injuries or not, he’s always put his best foot forward and will continue to do so.