By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor
Up and coming racer Mike Friedman, who races for Jonathan Vaughters' Slipstream-Chipotle team (previously TIAA-CREF) was recently diagnosed with a rare blood condition that will keep him from racing for the first half of the 2007 season. The condition, called Factor 5 Leiden, is a genetic variation present in about five percent of the population that causes hypercoagulability, which means the blood clots at a higher rate than normal. Friedman discovered this recently following a surgery to remove two saddle sores.
"I had surgery for a saddle sore this fall and formed a clot in my leg a few days later I was driving a long time home," Friedman told Cyclingnews. "A few days later I was out riding and the clot passed into my lung. I had to check myself into the hospital because I couldn't even breath. I had a pulmonary embolism! It seems crazy to be a 24 year old endurance athlete to develop a blood clot, and the first thing everyone jumps to is, 'he must be on drugs!' I don't even take a multivitamin, so it's hard to deal with that."
While in the hospital testing revealed the genetic variation, showing that one of the two genes involved is abnormal. "It goes back 40,000 years when it was better to have your blood clot easily, like when there were saber tooth tigers around," said Friedman. "Long story short I have to go onto anti-coagulants for six months, which means I can't race. Because I am on the meds it is dangerous to race in case I crash."
Upon hearing this from his doctor, Friedman worried for his upcoming season and future in cycling. But Vaughters and USA Cycling, where Friedman trains at the Olympic training center, have stood by their commitments to him. "It's a great thing that USA Cycling and Jonathan have showed a lot of faith in me," said Friedman. "They aren't kicking me out of the OTC, enabling me to attend school, and I'm still on the team. I was really scared that I was going to get fired and kicked out because they wouldn't want to deal with this - just say, 'Go home and get better, then come back.' It really made me cry, to know they are behind me like that. I owe everything I have to the team and the environment from this past year."
In some ways his six months from racing could have some positive outcomes. "I'll be able to train soon and I'll be back at the Olympic training center. I'll attend school this semester to get some of that out of the way. I think I might be able to come out of this with a different body style, by training at such a low intensity I'll be much leaner."
If nothing else, this experience will further ensure Friedman will never take his health for granted. "I went from being able to race for six or seven hours to not even being able to walk. That scares the shit out of you!"