Cycling out of control

All Ben King wanted was control, but that’s what he lost along the way.

Ben King
Ben King of the United States riding for Cannondale Pro Cycling takes the podium to receive the race leader’s yellow jersey after winning stage two of the 2016 Amgen Tour of California from South Pasadena to Santa Clarita. (Photo Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Before Ben became a professional cyclist and rode in the Tour de France in 2014 he faced a common but scary challenge: eating disorders.

It all started on his first cycle tour to Europe when he was 16 and his team lost very badly to the other teams. "I have never suffered like that just to finish races," Ben remembers.

It was at that moment that he decided to dedicate himself to his sport and start training much harder. Ben looked into what the pro cyclists did in regards to exercise and diet.

"They looked like skeletons and I started to believe that the lighter I got, the faster I would become," he explains.

With that mentality, Ben increased his training and exercise schedule, "I would ride in the morning, lift weights in the afternoon, then go to track practice, eventually coming home to cram in homework, go to swim practice and then die in my bed every night from exhaustion."

It got to the point where he couldn't possibly fit any more training into his days and yet that still wasn't enough; he wanted to look like the pro cyclists he saw.

"On the way back from swim practice I pulled off to the side of the road and made myself throw up. In a twisted way it gave me a sense of control. It became a habitual thing. I began to wear down physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

"I remember throwing up in the toilet and then brushing my teeth. When spitting I found blood covering the sink. I was beating my body into submission. The thing that I was trying to control was controlling me."

At only 17 "I was training three to four times a day and had been purging every time I felt like I had overeaten," he confesses.

Ben became tired and temperamental and started to lash out at his family members. "I remember one night after swim practice I came home and mom told me that she had saved me dishes to do. I started doing them really angrily, eventually breaking a salad bowl that my mom liked. She yelled at me and I had just had enough so I ran out of the house to cool off in the woods."

After Ben came home, his Dad asked what was wrong but Ben didn't want to tell him about the anorexia, although he knows his dad would have been understanding. Then Ben's Dad started to pray for him asking God to take away what was troubling his son and teach him that God was really in control of everything.

Ben was raised in a Christian home and grew up being taught the answers to big questions about life. But all his knowledge only translated into a real, personal walk with Jesus during a service trip he took in middle school to Chattanooga, Tennessee.

"There the answers and theology I grew up with took on a life of their own. I saw God's people at work loving their communities and offering hope and comfort in the midst of suffering and brokenness. Since then, I've been on a number of trips like that," he shares.

So when his dad prayed for him, Ben realized he was not only hurting himself and dishonoring God, but it was also hurting the people around him. "I knew I had to get this thing under control but I didn't want to talk to anyone about it, so I turned to God because He already knew what was going on inside of me."

Ben then underwent another major turnabout in his life. "I started to adopt a healthier lifestyle through the encouragement of my walk with God. I learnt what was happening, down to a cellular level, to the food that I ingested. I found out if I don't get enough of the macro nutrients to recover, I won't get stronger.

"I realized that there were things in my life that I couldn't control and gave those things to God, now they no longer control me."

Ben now has a healthier attitude to his cycling and his faith in God. "Cycling has always been something that has brought me a lot of joy and it is healthy. It is a way for me to interact with my God and has become an act of worship [bringing God applause].

"My identity as a person loved by God first, and as an athlete second, has allowed me to deal with pressure and disappointment that accompany a sport where you're only as good as your last race, and where for every good day there are 10 bad days. On the same note, it has allowed me to approach cycling as an act of worship, pouring my whole self into it, as in any other vocation. Colossians 3:23 in the Bible says: "Whatever you do, work at it with all of your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters."

"I feel alive on the bike. Each day of health and strength is a gift. Cycling is a beautiful sport, and I like to think that with the right mind and heart it also pleases God."

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