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Steve Donaldson: A Warning To Us All!
I had been riding a bike for a couple of years before I met a “proper” cyclist, he was Andrew Donaldson. It was through him I started to race and met his younger brother Steve. I lost contact with them both, but had heard that Steve had caught a very serious virus and it had stopped his cycling career and nearly stopped his life!

I remember Steve as being a big strong rider, fast in a sprint, good on the track and great against the clock and he was only a junior and was showing the older riders his back wheel on occasions, then I heard nothing! Rumor was that he had contracted a virus that had affected his heart, no more cycling and health that would go down hill until the inevitable. We should all be very carful and take heed of his warning.

PEZ: Tell us about your cycling career before you caught the virus?
Steve: Well I got my first bike when I was 14years old, Ј28, 5speed, steel 27×1.25 HP wheels and steel cottered chainset. That was during 1976 a very good summer. I rode my first ever race, a 10mile TT, I did it in 29 minutes and 46 seconds, not bad for cut down shorts, T-shirt and no toe straps!

The next year I joined Glasgow United Cycling Club and went on winter Sunday runs and started racing in the schoolboys 10 and 25 mile TT’s and closed road racing, I won my first ever road race and managed to perfect the art of crashing in most races, best was the front wheel falling out going round a corner in the middle of the bunch. In 1978 I got a new (well 2nd hand) frame. In my first race, the Wallacehill APR, I was 2nd and managed to beat that Robert Millar chappie that day.

Got wiped out one Saturday night when hit by a car at about 7:30pm, (my new frame bent beyond belief and kit all ruined), typical cyclist; got home at about 9pm and dug out the winter hack bike and acquired enough kit to make it a fixed wheel for the next mornings 50 mile TT, one tanned leg and one black and blue leg, but I still managed the junior prize. That year I won the West of Scotland Junior Road Race, the West of Scotland 1mile Pursuit at Westhorn (all comers).

In 1979 I won another RR and was invited to ride for the Scotland Youth team, and started to ride Meadowbank track in Edinburgh.

In 1980 I rode lots and lots of miles, hard weekends and double training sessions, this was getting serious! Road races, the track and broke the Scottish 25 mile TT record with my brother Drew and Alan Hewitt. Then things started to go wrong, I rode the national 25mile TT and crashed out, then rode the Glasgow to Dunoon road race, that was my last race.

PEZ: How did you catch the illness?
Steve: The Doctors thought that I contracted the virus when I had some dental work carried out, and the virus entered my bloodstream via wound in my mouth.
Moral of the story; keep your teeth and gums healthy.

PEZ: What were the first symptoms?
Steve: Initially I would wake up with a sweat. Then it started to affect my cycling, during races I would all of a sudden lose all power, heart was racing at 240+, probably in ventricular tachycardia, (VT is a potentially life threatening arrhythmia – a bit like sudden death syndrome) then it would self terminate, normally after 2-3 minutes, i.e. just go back to normal sinus rhythm.

When I crashed in the Nat 25, that’s what happened there, during the Nat 50 I also had an attack and during the Glasgow to Dunoon I had an attack and all I could do was hang in until it sorted itself, which it did.

When I first had to go to hospital it was a Sunday 6th July 1980 I had been out watching a junior road race. I was following the race and felt a wee bit dizzy, so headed for the race HQ, sat down, stood up and collapsed! I then headed down to A+E and was rushed through to the resuscitation room; I was awake walking and not in pain.

They hooked me up to an ECG machine and then all hell let loose. Heart rate was 272, they have the ECG printout to show, blood pressure was 80/4 (well that’s what they told me). And they were totally confused as to why I wasn’t in pain.

And the first question they asked when they heard I was a cyclist GUESS!!!!

What are you taking???? – It doesn’t matter we just need to know.

My Answer was: ”NOTHING!” (I was actually miffed that they thought I would be taking anything – but then again this was the early 80’s).

PEZ: What did the doctors think was the problem at first? And later?
Steve: They thought it was a Coxsakie virus which had affected my heart muscle, then they thought I had Wolf-Parkinson-White Syndrome – all heart related problems. Then they moved onto supraventricular tachycardia – all problems to do with the electrical pathways in the heart. But now they say it’s just good old cardiomyopathy

PEZ: How has it affected your body?
Steve: Piled on the weight, up to 83kg from 70kg and not as muscular as I was before. My heart doesn’t like me going too fast, even when walking. I even have to watch how much fluid I drink and it has now induced problems in the arterial chambers.

PEZ: As I remember you managed to ride your bike at first, can you cycle now?
Steve: I still tried to go out with training bunches, but that was becoming too difficult and kept using the track as a way of staying fit, but due to the nature of the illness even that that had to go. So I don’t cycle anymore and have not cycled for a few years now. Last major cycle was when I had an ICD (Defibrillator) fitted and went out for a run, up a short climb and manage to get the thing to shock me as my heart rate went above 171. Not a good idea!

PEZ: How has it affected your life?
Steve: Initially I thought why me, but hey there are worse things in life than not being able to ride your bike. It has given me a different outlook on life, my wife and I just live for the now, and enjoy what we have. I do have a good sense of humour; you have to be able to laugh otherwise you would just give up.

PEZ: What does the future hold for you? Is there any cure?
Steve: When I did my first pass of the questions from Alastair I was lying on my bed in the Heart Failure Unit in the Golden Jubilee Hospital in Scotland. (This is quite ironic because from here I can actually see where, as a schoolboy, we used to go and train.)

They have given me some options; some ablation work to help the artial problems, more drugs to help improve the heart muscle and lastly a transplant. Ultimate cure is a transplant – any volunteers???(Only joking!)

PEZ: Do you have to take medicine and any other treatment?
Steve: I take a few bits of medicine some ant-arrhythmia drugs, diuretics, blood thinners and some ACE inhibiters. And as I said before I have an ICD installed – I’m on my 3rd one now, this helps reduce my visits to hospital for cardioversion (as in ‘CLEAR’ – zapppp)

PEZ: What would you say to a cyclist with a cold or flu or not feeling too good now?
Steve: Rest, visit the doctor tell them how you are training, and if they don’t understand then find a doctor who can understand the needs of an athlete. Maybe it could have been avoided if I had had better dental regime and if I had noticed changes in my body and rested sooner and taken it easier, but when you are 18/19 years old you feel you are indestructible and nothing can stop

Steve Donaldson now.

PEZ: Obviously you still follow cycling?
Steve: Yes, I still try to get to a few local TT’s and RR’s, mostly to take photos, but sometimes get to larger events like the Track World’s at Manchester, but even that is getting to be very tiring.

PEZ: When you hear of cyclists that are fit and healthy taking drugs, what do you think from you position?
Steve: From the off I have never taken any performance enhancing drugs (you can’t count alcohol). I can understand the temptation, “take this, it’s invisible and you will be a star…..” I think they are only cheating themselves and their peers, what needs to happen is a ban, not just a 2 year slap on the wrist. Sine die – banned for life – kicked out

PEZ: I guess you still remember dropping me in the winter going over the Crow Road hill on fixed wheel bikes? I know I do!
Steve: I also remember riding a two up with you, when we couldn’t drop the guys we caught, until we were about 2mls to go when I had a blow out on my front tub, then they just looked at us and sat up, I just rode the flat to the end even round the corners – ah! them were the days. Then back over the Crow Road with spare wheels hanging off the rucksacks!

PEZ: One last wee question – what would you have done if you hadn’t been ill?
Steve: I think I would have spent more time on the track, I had a good sprint and was able to spin a gear and actually thought the track was a great day out. I would have liked to have gone to the 82 Commonwealth games as a trackie. But hey! That’s life.


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