Guy East’s Purpose
It is a sizzling July evening in Fiorenzuola d’Arda. The small Italian town is host to the ‘Six Days of the Roses,’ a long standing track cycling event and one which draws Olympic and World Champions to the concrete-surfaced Velodromo di Fiorenzuola.
If any sport embodies attention to detail and the buzzword otherwise known as marginal gains, track cycling is right up there. And this is evident in the heat of of this outdoor arena, where the rider pits are populated by throngs of riders warming up on rollers, mechanics tending to bikes and coaches poring through race programs.
Two Americans stand out in the crowd, but only to the observant eye. While national teams include both riders and staff, Zachary Carlson is changing his handlebar setup in between his scheduled events. Next to him sits one Guy East, contemplating changing into race gear from his more comfortable beachwear. These two guys are here in Italy as ‘lone rangers,’ tending to their equipment, organising their own nutrition and carrying their own bags. And while East epitomises this unassuming and low key image, he has possibly discovered the best kept secret to improved athletic performance.
‘A life with purposes takes you to another level,’ he says pulling on his skinsuit. ‘Seven years ago I was completely self-focussed on my cycling career. But I was also anorexic, bulimic and depressed. So I stepped away from the sport to find my way.’
It takes balls to call time on an unhappy career. The fear of the unknown is indeed a limiting factor. And in the case of East, he packed his bags in 2011 and set off travelling around Latin America serving the poor. But while the notion of hitting the road and ‘finding oneself’ is indeed inspiring, East is quick to dispel any romanticism or glamour of his self-directed life path.
‘It was really tough in the beginning,’ he says. ‘I didn’t really have a plan but had witnessed such poverty when I travelled to those parts of cycling events. Here we were in a sporting bubble being paid to compete while the homeless and destitute were all around us. It was a reality check to say the least, and helping the poor by building houses gave me new purpose in life. It took a long time for things to fall into place.’
East’s travels proved a catharsis of sorts, so much so that he was inspired to resume his professional cycling career, but in a more balanced way. Hope Sports was born out his Eureka moment, a project that the now-resident of Tijuana runs in tandem with competing on the roads and velodromes of the world. Teams and groups of athletes sign up to come to places like Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica to build houses. In this way they are giving back to society, the unlikely spin-off being enhanced sporting prowess through helping others. And East is convinced of the benefits.
‘Things like training and nutrition can only take an athlete so far,’ he says mounting steed in anticipation of the Madison event only minutes away. ‘But a life devoted only oneself is unhealthy and not really stimulating. As they say, what you put in is what you get out. But it is how one interprets that message that is the real key to success and longevity.’