Editor’s Note: Competitor.com received this letter from professional distance runner Christian Hesch on Sunday evening, Oct. 14, 2012. It is published in its entirety, unchanged from its original version.
October 14, 2012
Dear family, friends, and fans:
When I first began running, my coach told me that someday I would face a choice. He said he wouldn’t tell me how, or what, to choose, only that the day would inevitably come. It would be up to me which direction I would choose. For many years I chose the proper direction, but two years ago I made a choice that will disappoint, sadden and, perhaps anger you. I chose to use EPO. I won’t expect anyone who’s cheered for me over the last few years to lack a feeling of being cheated, betrayed, and let down.
At the time, I rationalized that, “if I just don’t race on it, it won’t be that bad.” Let me tell you how that’s working out for me — not so good. Sure, [it] doesn’t seem very rational anymore, especially as all it’s done is saved me a few weeks of training each time I came back from injury, at the cost of tearing my reputation down, damaging friendships and, worst of all, leaving me to inform my family that their son/brother/grandson is a doper.
I was certainly never pressured (by anyone other than myself) or coerced into making these decisions. The decision was an (ir)rational choice that I deliberated (and agonized) over a period of time. With the knowledge that my career was likely approaching its twilight, I chose to take the easy shortcut, to make it easier on myself than it was on everyone else who’s ever come back from adversity. I’ve come back from approximately 5 injuries before this in a clean fashion. Why would I risk it all now, just to save a month of training? It certainly wasn’t the pressure of making an Olympic Team (I know full well I wouldn’t make it, clean or dirty), nor was it monetary stress, as I was rather financially comfortable at the time. All I can point to is allowing my frustrations with being so oft injured to give me a crappy “reason” to take a shortcut, and try to cheat my way back to fitness.
I truly admire clean athletes such as Lauren Fleshman, Anthony Famiglietti, and countless others, who have successfully returned from incredible adversity, yet have held to the highest ethical standards. It is their example of integrity that I hope to follow from here forward, and perhaps earn, at least to a small degree, a level of the respect I used to command from my peers, family, and fans.
As one who has lost arguably thousands of dollars from athletes racing “not normal,” I won’t tell you I succumbed to a “culture of doping,” nor will I tell you I felt there was no other choice. The truth is there was always a better choice, one that I simply, freely chose not to take. There should be nobody feeling sorry for me, I was acutely aware of what I was doing each and every time. Too aware, perhaps. One of the greatest problems with synthetic EPO is the lack of danger, when dosed carefully. As the (in)famous cycling doctor Michelle Ferrari once stated, “EPO is not dangerous, it’s the abuse that is. It’s also dangerous to drink 10 liters of orange juice.” Unfortunately, in many ways, this is true. This leaves us with only doping controls (or your own ethics) as a primary deterrent to potential abusers of EPO. It is my profound hope that the information gleaned by USADA from the cycling sanctions, my sanction, and others, will facilitate a better understanding of how doping tests are so easily beat, so easily avoided, and how doping is so easily ignored by the powers that be. While the resources may be difficult to obtain, it is my sincere belief that with those proper resources and significant cooperation from athletes who’ve “been there, done that,” it will be possible to develop testing that is sufficient to make oxygen vector doping an option that is not viable for athletes. Only when EPO is essentially no longer an option will we have athletes refuse the dark side of sport.
I am well aware that some will be very understanding and forgiving of my misdeeds, and I thank them for that. I am equally aware that there will be many who will (and have already been) happy to vilify my behavior and me. Not only am I in no place to cast stones back at them but I would not do so, even if I could. I can also understand that some are going to be skeptical. I’m skeptical myself of those who seem to “sorta” admit their doping — be it duration, amount, level of involvement, etc. I can only offer this: My performances have never shown any sort of “spike,” nor have they been otherworldly. I’ve run the same times and level of performances for the last 10 years, and I look forward to returning to competition, largely so that I can assuage any doubts that I can, have, and will continue to run the same performances, with a more certain assurance that those performances are on the level.
While I know that this return to competition will be with a less enthusiastic reception than before, I was brought to tears twice this weekend in speaking with two different race directors. Both had every right and reason to castigate and belittle my behavior. Instead, both encouraged me for coming forward, offered their unbridled support, and encouraged me to continue moving in a positive direction. I cannot thank them enough for renewing my motivation to repair the damage I’ve inflicted to everyone.
For those who have, continue to, or will dope, regardless of when, why, or how, I do not look upon them with contempt, animosity, or even pity. I look at them as human, with flaws much as I am flawed. Even before I made the choice to dope, I came to a realization that I was guilty of holding those whose behavior I didn’t approve of to a double standard. I was guilty of “ranking” an individual’s transgressions, as if cheating on a spouse was “worse” than driving drunk. I believe it is with this mindset that we hold dopers, repentant or otherwise, to a more severe judgement than the drunk driver, the philanderer, or the race course cutter.
I hope that this is, if not a leap forward, then at least a step in the right direction for my life, one that helps me guide others to make more reasonable decisions than the ones I came to make.
I hope that you will weigh the evidence and make a reasonable decision. And if you feel that there is more to the story, then I won’t hold your skepticism against you. Lord knows that I have my own of skepticism of some athletes seemingly half-baked confessions. I will promise you that when I return to racing if you yell “doper” or “you suck” at me as I pass by, I will not flip you the bird, nor will I throw a sarcastic thumbs-up. I might wave though, and I’ll be happy to hear you out after the race, no matter how rough the content. As Tyler Hamilton said so well, “I’m an ex-doper, and I don’t suck.” I hope you’ll feel the same way about me after sharing a word, a race, or a beer with me. I look forward to seeing you all on the roads, next year.
Christian Hesch, ex-doper
PS. As you may have your choice of news reports of my story, I feel obligated to state that I felt forced to mislead a publication (that I will refrain from naming) which threatened to break the story before I could even begin my negotiations with the US Anti-Doping Agency, let alone complete them. I felt certain that the damage this would cause would be difficult to overcome, and thus I gave a 100% false record of what occurred in my past. I was also concerned that the investigating reporter was using 2nd, 3rd, and even 4th hand information, and even blatantly making up information in one case (asking me to “confirm” an alleged activity that, myself, my attorney, and USADA can all confirm, is untrue). Whether this reporter was simply a victim of misinformation from others, or it was intentional, I believe I did what I needed to in order to allow myself to negotiate with USADA without prejudice.
When I receive communication directing me to conform to a desired type of answer or else “I don’t mean this in a threatening way. It’s just….,” then I’m probably going to take it in a “threatening” manner. Without this public predetermination of guilt, I have found USADA to be fair and equitable. I look forward to having my case finalized in a matter of days, and I can assure you that the penalty will be fair.
I will unequivocally state that the facts stated in the NY Times article, as well as those stated here, are true, accurate, and honest, and paint the most clear picture of my poor actions.