4.15.2015

A Day In Rome With Alex Dowsett For Haemophilia - reportage

"As you can understand, Alex isn't one easy to stop." Indead he isn't and he has never been: haemophilia didn't stop him practising a sport, being competitive in it, becoming a champion. 
Becoming an exemple, motivating people - and especially kids - with haemophilia to be active and to push their limits... he had not meant it at first, he said, but when he realised it he felt it right. 
I'm in Roma, in a glorious sunny day, attending a press conference about haemophilia and competitive sport held in a prestigious location - the Stadio Olimpico - with two prestigious testimonials: Alex Dowsett and Ivan Capelli. Both haemophiliac, both champions in risky sports, like procycling and F1. Both willing to share their experience of stubborness and freedom.
The lecturers are important: there are the CONI President Giovanni Malagò, Antonio Spadaro (Direttore Sanitario of the Istituto di Medicina e Centro dello Sport del CONI del Centro dell'Acquacetosa ), Angela Rocino (Responsabile Centro Emofilia e Trombosi Ospedale San Giovanni Bosco di Napoli), orthopedic Surgeon Pier Luigi Solimeno (Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico di Milano). Moderators are Maria Emilia Bonaccorso (ANSA Sanità) and Romano Arcieri (FedEmo Onlus). The Italian Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin was supposed to attend too but has been prevented by political duties and personal reasons.
I use to meet Alex at races and interviewed him a few times but I have never seen him in such an official occasion: yep, I'm taking too many pictures. About haemophilia you can find many info on line and I suggest you have a look to Little Bleeders' site, that's directly supported by Alex.
I know something already, still it's touching to get aware of the huge scientific improvement that recently changed the quality of life of people with haemophilia, especially the youngest. Once a child with heamophilia was told that sport and even any physical activity was dangerous for him, life threatening. Their average lifetime was significantly shorter than healty people's. And you can imagine the psychological impact of this perspective on a kid.
Now there is a pharmacological therapy allowing a normal life and an active life style is suggested to keep healty and fit. Still, picking profesional sport as a job is unusual for guys with haemophilia and one reason is the belief still shared by many doctors that the sport is dangerous for them, leading to the refuse to release a medial certificate allowing the competitive practice. Things are changing but changes take time.
"Nobody really tried to stop me" Alex says "Doctors suggested I do some sport, that it was good for me and my parents allowed me to try several different sports. Ok, some sports like rugby or football weren't indicated. I used to go swimming three times a week and I was swimming at a quite high level. I had been diagnosed with haemophilia A, I started the prophilaxis and I has had no more spontaneous bleedings since when I was 13."
Indead the medical care for young adults with haemophilia is now almost the same as for everybody and athletes with haemophilia need the same surgery as any other injuried athlete. You probably remember that Alex broke his collabone few months ago, while he was training for his Hour Record attempt. Older people with haemophilia, who have been not treated with new found medications, often need orthopedic surgery but dr. Solimeno says the prophilax is good also for them.
"I can say haemophilia made me a cyclist" Alex goes on "I couldn't pick the most popular sports, - rugby, football - and when I told doctors I wanted to pick cycling they were... ehm... ok, why not learning to play a musical instrument instead? But you can't just forbid a kid to play his favourite sport, you can't just say him to not play football because he'll be even more willing to play football and will find a way to. It makes no sense to try to stop or to limit a young guy. He must be guided instead, allowed to try different sports till when he find the one he really like and that suits him better.
Swimming had made be strong, increased my resistence. I started cycling and I found out I could be really fast."
So fast that he's now one of the best time trial specialists in the world! An inspiring exemple and a symbol. A real reference too: "I got a e-mail by a mother some time ago. She was desperate because her son wanted to play football but doctors say no. He couldn't get a certificate for the competitive practice. I suggested they change hospital, put them in contac with the haemophiliacs association and a new doctor said ok. She wrote me now and her son is playing in a Second League Team. The hole is closing. Prophilax and being fit, that's the important thing."
Moving and motivating.
The press conference goes on with many interesting speech, sharing information - 8 runners with haemophilia will take part in NY Marathon - and proposing solution, like the bracelet invented by Ivan Capelli: a small memory storage with all your medical info immediately available in emergency situations. "I'm sure that Alex likes competition, exactly ike me." Ivan Capelli says "We met today for the first time and he told me his father has been a car pilot so... I have a suggestion: a challenge. I invite Alex to drive a F1 GT on a crcuit and see how fast he can go and then I'll ride a bike in a velodrome... to see how many minutes he can let me behind!"
Alex looks very interested! Who knows him also knows he's the proud owner of a Lotus and really loves driving fast cars. The challenge is sealed by a handshake in front of the banner of the life saving bracelet.
The press conference is over, I go saying hello and asking a few question:
"What about the Hour Record?"
"I want to give a strong message" he is "There are a few very prestigious events in the cycling community: Roubaix, Tour de France.... the Hour Record is one of them."  And unlike races it's something going beyond the cycling community, getting straight to the larger public, to people in general. The Hour Record attemp - and hopefully success! - by an top level athlete with haemophilia is a very clear signal meaning kids suffering with that disease can do sport, can be competitive, can become champions and do amazing things if they have got the talent and the will.
"Do you do the Giro?"
"No...."
"The Tour?"
"Maybe"
A last picture together I and I'm out in the sun, looking forward a tasty lunch in Piazza di Spagna before I head to home. And I smile thinking of a little stubborn bleeder loving his bike, and his freedom.

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