Karl Baumgart, co-founder of Gold Medal CBD,
5x USA Master National track cycling champion,
6x UCI Master’s World track cycling silver medalist
A Year long journey
This story has an insane beginning, and an even more insane end. I’ll need to go back just over a year ago to Christmas night 2017. Somehow I ended up in a North Scottsdale emergency room for heart attack symptoms. And I’m lying there looking up at the white ceiling tiles wondering, “How the hell did I get here?”
If that wasn’t enough, here’s what continued to transpire over the first three months of 2018:
- More heart attack symptoms
- Full blown cardiology workups
- Neurological symptoms including blurred vision and facial numbness
- Severe insomnia, to the tune of netting 30-35 hours of sleep from January 18th to February 22nd (with zero sleep every other night for 3 weeks straight)
- Hiring a psychologist
- Hiring a psychiatrist and taking anxiety meds
- Inability to ride outside at all, or a trainer more than 20 minutes (even in zones 1-2) without having a physically powerful anxiety attack
After thousands of dollars of testing… after calling in favors by my friends to get me into specialists as fast as possible – we found out nothing was wrong with me. Well, physically that is. All of these symptoms were delivered courtesy of severe anxiety. And I thought anxiety was just in your head…
I’d certainly dealt with it for quite some time attempting to balance my personal life, bike racing at a high level, and keeping a successful business running. The time and attention required by each (and how to balance them) creates a natural level of anxiety, and up until this point I had thought I was managing them well.
I had done it for years in fact…
One of the long lasting lessons learned from my therapist is that even “the mighty Velobomber”, Karl Baumgart… can’t run full-gas, all-out, no-quit, 24/7 365.
The severe crash is a result of the severe input. It’s a cliche, but the bigger they are the harder they fall.
And damn, I fell hard…
I had no idea that anxiety could manifest itself into severe physical symptoms that appear to have no relationship to what you’d perceive were mental health issues.
In a way you can say I was lucky that I’d never had to personally deal with any mental health issues (well, outright deal with them) until this point in my life. But holy hell did it catch me off guard.
I’m grateful for the friends that were there to support me, share with me their stories of very similar issues, the amazing medical care I was referred to and received, my therapist who helped me re-frame so much of how I see life and define success now… and of course my amazingly supportive wife Bonnie who took on almost as much of the brunt of this storm as I did. In many ways, more so.
I’m also grateful we’d discovered CBD and all it’s benefits. Over the course of the year, I’d gradually use our products more and more. In fact, they played a huge role in allowing me to train at such a high intensity for such a short period; and also to handle the anxiety that continued to build along with it.
fast FORWARD to may 2018…
So… if you had been through all of the above in the first 4 or so months of the year, would you attempt a super-truncated comeback?
In fact, my psychiatrist warned against even trying. She was concerned the expectations I’d put upon myself could cause me to slide backwards. It was at this point in the year I had only begun to start sleeping 6 hours a night regularly. Up until now I had been on a slow grind sleeping from 2-3 hours to 4, then 5, then 6… and not even every night I’d sleep that well. So I understood her concern, and I weighed it. Carefully.
I also weighed the high importance I put on getting myself “back to normal”… or physically capable of doing the things I wanted to do, and performing at the level I had just been performing at not even 6 months prior.
Most people would just be happy to being on the road to recovery from all of the above symptoms… never mind dream up a hair-brained idea to go and race at a National championship on just 7-8 weeks of “formal training”…
The good news was I’d just finished conditioning for, and completing the hikes into the Havasupai Falls campground. So I wasn’t coming into this with a ZERO endurance level… just not good cycling fitness. The hiking/training was a fun process that kept me physically active and took some specific training to make it 12 miles in and out of the campgrounds… and a total of 40 miles in 4 days time. (That’s a lot of hiking for a cyclist!)
Needless to say upon return from the trip, I drempt up what it would be like to have my life back… my life back from the formerly unknown world of severe anxiety.
So let’s get to the racing… because this is where this story gets even more interesting!
heading back east…
So we’re done hiking, and I “think” I have just barely enough time to cobble together a hyper-focused training plan to get back to at least “masters national level” racing.
At this point I would decide to put in 3 weeks on the bike, doing all the things my coaches taught me over the years. My plan was to head out to LA Velosports Center to see what I had to work on… and “if” I could even possibly gain enough power/fitness/conditioning to justify the time and expense I’d need to invest into a trip to Trexlertown, PA to race.
After entering the monthly LAVRA TT, I posted a Kilo time that was close enough to what had been for me, a “starting point” based on previous data. And this is what would allow me the green light to move forward with my crazy plan… because if I wasn’t even at this point of fitness, there’s no way I’d invest the energy, emotion, time, and expense to saddle up for Nationals.
So after 4 more weeks of training, and the approaching major race and travel, I had some setbacks…
Unfortunately it would appear my psychiatrist was right- and more anxiety attacks began ramping up. It got so bad that I almost had to turn around and call it quits.
I second-guessing myself daily with thoughts like,
“Is it too soon?”
“Will I be ready?”
But after some solid counseling from my support team, I was able to hop on the plane with Bonnie and head out to T-Town and get this done. I was as ready as I could possibly be.
Another day of training at “Legacy Velodrome” for Scottsdale’s Velo Track Cycling, p/b GQ-6 teammates. From right to left: Bob Francis, Kayla Hankins, Karl Baumgart
ON TRACK AGAIN…
The first day in PA was unremarkable. As expected I was acclimating to the climate and altitude change (I was back at sea level again- as I live near 2,500 feet above sea level). Not a huge difference, but noticeable.
The second day found me assembling my race bike and heading out to the track for an open session to get my post-travel legs spun out. It had been, in fact, my first time on a track with actual people since the World Championships back in October the prior year. So this was a needed re-acclimation. Being a CAT 1 racer, it didn’t take more than a lap or 2 to remember where I belonged…
I was ready to race the next day!
stop the merry-go-round…
It would turn out that the schedule was set so my first race was the 1K TT, or the Kilo. This would prove my best opportunity at a gold medal and championship jersey given my lack of longer range fitness. And as I’m laying in bed the unexplained and unreal happened… a massive vertigo attack!
You can’t imagine the horror of feeling awesome when you go to bed, only to have the room spinning out of control just hours before your “A” race would start!
Imagine, you just took the time, emotion, energy, and expense required to get yourself to a National Championship… and you can’t walk 2 steps without falling over!
This would end up carrying on for then next 8 hours.
It only finally calmed down when day break came up… but I was still only 80% better. At this point, I had 2 hours of sleep and I had only 1 shot to potentially race… it was to take Dramamine.
Thankfully I had been continuing to take our Gold Medal CBD tincture, so that also helped keep me from getting worse. And I was due to take some upon awakening anyway… so I was hopeful the combination could get me back to level ground.
Come to find out later, the vertigo attack was from positional vertigo due to flying (I have a sensitive inner ear issue), and it somehow manifest with perfect timing just 2 days after landing. (you can’t make this stuff up)
But back to race day…
So here I am, about to race MY numero uno race and all I can hope to do is feel well enough to ride. The only thoughts in my head were,
“I’m a 90% scratch today… how the hell did this happen? WHY did this have to happen after all I’ve been through?”
But somehow some way I picked myself up, I showed up, suited up, got on my rollers (and didn’t fall off)- and actually was free of vertigo while I was prepping and racing. I was distracted from any self pity and focused on the task at hand.
And then the most insane part happened on the track…
I somehow barely managed to hold on long enough to win a gold medal by a fraction of a second (0.24 to be exact)!
I was beyond shocked and of course thrilled to stand atop the podium. Hell, I was thrilled to even race at all after what transpired in the previous 10 hours!
And this was just DAY 1 of a week long of racing…
So here I am, dealing with some latent vertigo symptoms, and hoping to continue racing for the week. Thankfully, by sleeping semi-upright for the rest of the time I was able to avoid any further issues and continued to “play” bike racer.
The next race up would be, what I hoped, a breakthrough for me: a back-to-back National Championship in an individual timed event… and one I’d set my sights on for 4 years now; the individual pursuit.
Having seen all the entries in the race, (and if I were on form), I knew there were a couple of guys I’d be fighting with for the top step. And given my performance at Worlds the prior year (4th, and the 2nd fastest American), I seemed to be quite a bit ahead of everyone else in the field (that I was aware of). However, in perspective that meant nothing in the here and now; as it was prior to a virtual meltdown in my training (and life in general).
So with that in mind, the pressure was once again on and I needed to put down my A race- whatever I had with me that week to even have a shot.
But the merry-go-round kept on spinning, this time in a different way…
Unfortunately, the timing for my event was sped up far in advance (due to a huge number of same day scratches). And the actual time of my race ended up going MUCH sooner than the initial scheduled time.
Imagine me running into the velodrome moments after my coach called me while I was pulling up to the velodrome parking lot asking how close I was.
Get this… my group was already on the start line, and I wasn’t even across the track into the infield- nor even dressed to race – never mind warmed up!
So in our best effort, we got me a whopping 8-12 minute warm up, with 1 opening effort, and then they threw me on the track (pretty much a hot mess) and I ripped off what I could.
It was FAR from close to anything I had done in the past; but more noteworthy, it was more than 8 seconds off the first place time!
However, even in the insanely wrecked state I was in, I was able to pull off a close call silver medal.
Heath Dotson would go on to win the event; and I would see my chance at my first Individual Pursuit title come up 1 step short on the podium.
Day 3 of racing would be the very next day following the IP, and that would be the Scratch race. Having taken silver medal in virtually every single Scratch race I’ve entered at the National level or higher I was feeling good about this race. I’d never won a jersey in this event, so it was again on my short list of track racing accomplishments.
This is a mass start race and we would have a nearly full field with over 20 riders registered.
Unfortunately, I had a crash. Lucky me.
Did I tell you this was an insane trip?
It was in a 2 man break in the early/mid way point of the race. We were off the front and after a few laps of pulling away, we somehow crossed wheels, and I was on the losing end of that equation.
I went to the ER and had 3 broken ribs. And I had bumped my head.
I was not happy as it was one of those nights my legs were LIT UP and I had not felt that strong in YEARS. (must have been the months of rest earlier in the year).
Did I say I was not happy?
With the prospects of my Nationals trip being over, I was bummed… really. Yes, I was grateful I had earned another National Championship prior to my crash, but I’m a bike racer. I just want to race my bike, and being injured badly enough to be crashed out for future events really stings.
But, here’s the the triple whammy…
I had 2 team events I committed to, and team events are my favorite events! I don’t know about anyone else, but I’d rather share the podium with a team than take the top step myself. It must have been all the years of playing team sports that had given me the preference to be able to share a result (hopefully victory) with a team. It means more in the end as you now have a shared memory and bond with others. And in a predominately individualized sport, no one ever enjoys your victory with you as a team mate would.
the team comes first
So understandably my teammates were absolutely destroyed that in just 2 days before we’d race; as a result of my ER visit they’d be done for the week as well.
My first team that I had committed to was my Velo Track Cycling team p/b GQ-6 teammates, Bob Francis and Tomas Mundarain in the 35+ Team Sprint event. We’d plan this team prior to arriving in T-Town…
The second squad was for the Team Pursuit. This was comprised of couple of hitters that were on top of the podium in the 40-44 age group in the individual pursuit… winner Jonathan Cavner and bronze medalist Jason Gallacher… and then of course myself and the one and only Ben Sharp. This was a composite “pick up” team together as none of us had a squad planned coming into the event.
So 24 hours prior to our events (and just 36 hours out of the ER), I went to the bike paths across from the velodrome and attempted to execute some standing starts (can you say ouch?).
I’ll say it’s not the most fun to do that to yourself, but with some crafty skill with a lot of Rock Tape, and with an increased dosage of Gold Medal CBD in my system I was able to make it happen.
After I survived the testing, I let the teams know I’d be able to make a go of it.
Strategically, the team sprint was a no-brainer; I was slotted to be MAN 3, but given my lack of ability to breath openly, I needed to get my 2 laps in and get off the track. I’d now be MAN 2. The real trick would be to start hard enough to get on Bob Francis’s wheel, but not tear rib tissue in the process (which I’m sure happened anyway).
The harder race to figure and plan around was team pursuit. I was coming back as a member of a defending national champion team for the age group 35+ and we had some decisions to make.
The questions that needed answering were,
“Could I go the distance of 4K with the breathing and my diaphram? (broken ribs make that harder)
Secondly and more important to everyone else on the squad,
“Would I be able to steer the pursuit bike up and down the track in TT position with broken ribs (safely, numerous times, in a tightly assembled group)?”
In advance of a team meeting, Ben and the guys were thinking I could make it work, but I opted for the safest choice possible. In my mind, I could start the team (and with broken ribs I wouldn’t need to start us too hard- nor could I really). So that was a plus. But I told them I could run probably the first full Kilo or a little more than that to get them on speed and let them warm up into the ride prior to having to pull. Then I’d self-eject from the squad and let them finish it off.
They weren’t sure about it, but given the choice was ultimately mine, and the safety factor surely was a concern for all- everyone bought in and did just that.
In the end, with the help of all of my teammates that day, I was able to pull off a repeat championship in the team pursuit, and a repeat bronze medal in the team sprint!
Not bad for a couple of broken ribs, and defiantly proved that I could suffer even greater than I had in the past.
The hardware was nice, but more important was the mental toughness I was able to regain after a hell of a year. Not only regained, but leveled up in my mind.
It was worth the entire week’s insanity and brings me to the unbelievably largest cliche and yet largest truth…
You can achieve what your mind believes
This has been long overdue, but in my next post I’ll be sharing some stories from the campaign leading into my 2018 Master’s Track World Championship week… which wasn’t nearly as insane as this trip, but by no means boring to say the least!
*12/31/18: Update. In coordination with my psychiatrist, I’ve subsequently been able to completely eliminate my need for anxiety medication (slowly over a gradual period of time), and now only take Gold Medal CBD to manage my anxiety. Again, this wasn’t something I did on my own, or cold turkey getting off the medication… but I was able to increase my CBD dosage and gradually eliminate my anxiety meds under the supervision of my doctor.