Diagnosed with a rare and incurable heart disease, cyclist Hayden Roulston thought his career was over—until a chance meeting in a pub with an alternative healer literally gave him a new lease of life.
Roulston was just 25 years old when he was diagnosed with arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVD), a condition which is known to cause sudden death in athletes. Up to that point, Roulston had spent a handful of seasons competing for professional teams Cofidis and Lance Armstrong's Discovery Team. But when his condition was diagnosed in 2006, he was told to stop competing. Bad news for a professional cyclist with ambitions to succeed on the Tour de France's 3,500 kilometres.
Yet three years on, and Roulston is an Olympic silver-medalist who on Saturday claimed third on stage 14 of the Tour. And before March's Tour of California, he got the confirmation from a doctor telling him what he already knew: he has a healthy heart.
"Three years ago, I was diagnosed with (ARVD), but before the Tour of California a doctor told me I have a healthy heart," said the 28-year-old. "It's like a second life and I have got my dream back as a cyclist."
Four months after he was first diagnosed with ARVD, he met alternative healer Julie Reid in a Christchurch pub. Their conversation disrupted his beers with mates but it put Roulston back on the path to the Tour. A quick five-minute session of Reiki, an ancient Japanese healing practice that is said to channel negative energy out of the body, failed to produce any obvious results until his next bike session. "I had finished with cycling, all my dreams were gone. I had nothing to lose," he said. "Next day I went training and felt something different. I wasn't missing a heart beat and I was getting 300 beats per minute on a heart-rate monitor. A 300 rate means virtual death—my normal heart-rate is 170 to 180—so, for me, 300 was a massive, massive issue.
Roulston continues, "I had another treatment, but what is amazing is that Julie was still learning about Reiki herself and the energy she has, which is super powerful. I was totally sold after that—it blew me away to see her response: her hands were shaking and she was sweating from taking the bad energy out of my body."
Regular Reiki sessions saw Roulston improve so much that he returned to competition, and ended up standing on the podium in Beijing after winning silver in the individual pursuit , and bronze in the team pursuit. But a return to the Tour de France was his ultimate ambition so when Cervelo, with 2008 winner Carlos Sastre as their leader, offered him a contract last September, he jumped at it. "Going from having to retire from the sport to come back and get both Olympic success and be back in the pros again has been incredible," he said. "It's hard for a New Zealander, or anyone outside of Europe, to get a shot at the pros, but I am very lucky to get a second chance. It was only nine months ago I was at (New Zealand's) Tour of Southland questioning whether I could win that race. Now I am at the Tour de France and fighting for a stage win a few days ago."
He finished third on Saturday's stage behind Katusha's Sergei Ivanov after the Russian made a stage-winning breakaway move 11 kilometres out to hold off Ireland's Nicolas Roche, who came second, just ahead of Roulston. "It was a great achievement, I was initially disappointed and I still fully believe I can win a stage, but third is pretty good," he said.
As a domestique, Roulston's role is to give support to Cervelo's leaders Sastre and Thor Hushovd. "My job is to support our two leaders whenever they need it, whether it is to try and lead out or get water bottles," he said.
But with a new lease of life and a second chance at Tour glory, Roulston refuses to waste a single opportunity. "I am just beginning now, this time I will use all my potential," he said having now studied and become qualified in Reiki. "I have changed, it has fully changed my attitude to life; everything happens for a reason.
"I could have accepted the first diagnosis and said 'that's it', but I kept my mind open for a second alternative and I started to learn about the real me," he says. And with his partner due to give birth next week, Roulston is hoping for plenty to celebrate when the Tour finishes in Paris on Sunday.
By Ryland James, Agence France-Press, July 21, 2009