It’s a tragedy that Frederiek Nolf passed away from a heart attack last week in Qatar. He was only 21. Judging by the reaction of the other riders in the Tour of Qatar as well as the thousands of fans on his facebook "in memory" page he was well liked and respected.
Unfortunately one of the first things that comes to many people’s minds (including me) is that his death was related to doping. A disturbing notion. Yeah, I’ll say it. No one else I know has published this, but I know many are thinking it. Its often the first assumption when this type of tragedy occurs in our sport. Cycling has earned this reputation for good reason however, the fact is, we just don’t know.
Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) is often triggered by physical activity. I personally know 2 young and healthy athletes who died of a SCA while doing what they love. Were either of these guys doping? Absolutely not. One man was a recreational runner and the other an ice hockey player (among husband, father, etc.). This type of thing scares the $@*! out of me because I’m well aware that every time I go out and race I’m pushing my body beyond what it possibly should be pushed. I cycle for a lot of different reasons, but the chance of actually DYING trumps all those reasons. There is always the chance that I could die from being hit by a car or taking a hard hit to the head in a crash etc. while riding my bike. But I can minimize these risks by riding defensively, choosing certain times and roads to ride etc. (I”ll write a whole post on this). As paranoid as this sounds, I’d also like to minimize the risk of dying from a heart attack.
After my mate died from a heart attack playing ice hockey, this hit home and I went directly to a sports specialist doctor to get my heart checked and for advice on my well being in the sport of cycling. Since cycling is a low impact sport it allows your cardiovascular system to be pushed to much higher levels than other sports where your muscles and joints will give out before your heart and lungs. The doctor gave me a EKG just to rule out that I did not have any irregularities in my heartbeat that can be a predictor of heart conditions, complications and anomalies. He informed me that most young and healthy people who die of heart complications usually have an undiagnosed condition. Most of these conditions can be prevented and diagnosed with a visit to the doctor. The body has shutdown mechanisms that prevent catastrophic heart failures from happening in healthy people. Most people fall within the middle of this bell curve. What a relief! My advice, if you’re at all concerned about your heart health, is to go to a Sports Specialist and put your mind at ease. I’ve been to regular GPs who aren’t as familiar with athlete specific issues (i.e, heart size and low resting heart rate) and it’s better to talk to a doctor who knows athletes.
So, was Frederiek Nolf doing anything that he shouldn’t have that lead to his early death? Who can say for now. Even if he was, he still deserves the same respect and mourning that anyone else in the world would get. I think that cycling fans can be extremely harsh critics when it comes to this type of thing and often pass judgment far to quickly. He was just a kid.