Multiple South African mountain-bike champion Kevin Evans has opened up about his past addiction, describing how it affected his career and family, and telling how he beat the problem.
It has been two years since he had his last drink, abused his last pharmaceutical and “dabbled in enslavement substances”.
Evans, who competed in 10 Cape Epics and finished on the overall podium four times, has told In the Bunch how the abuse gradually filtered into his life, and about “a really hard work ethic and a weird reward system.”
“After you’ve worked really hard towards a goal and accomplished something, there would always be a party, a reward, a chance to let your hair down. The rewards became frequent, but without the results.”
At the beginning of 2016 it was reported that the SA Institute for Drug-Free Sport (SAIDS) had charged Evans with doping after finding irregularities in his Athlete Biological Passport (ABP); a “longitudinal value of blood parameters”.
It resulted in a ban until March 3 next year.
“There were definitely contributing factors [towards substance abuse], from the repeated hospital trips and excessive drinking,” said Evans, who won the SA national marathon series title for six consecutive years.
“I was at my worst in the months after I had been told by SAIDS that I had a case pending against me.
“That was my licence to really ‘send it’ as I saw my whole career disappear. The case wasn’t handled well but that’s for another discussion.”
He never really realised how the abuse affected his career as a professional until recently. “The alcohol and pharmaceuticals sneak up on you and before you know it you’re abusing them.
“It happened a lot at racing, don’t ask me why, and it must have affected my performances negatively. Kind of stupid, when I think of it now.”
Most of the pressure in professional cycling that may lead to taking substances is “that which you put on yourself,” said Evans, who represented his country at the MTB world champs from 2003 to 2012.
“Obviously there’s team pressure, to get the results that you are paid to get, but in the end it’s mostly your own drive to succeed.
“You’re only as good as your last race and you can go from extreme highs to extreme lows; just like that.”
Alcohol was a trigger, and to “seek help from the ‘spirits’ in the bottle” was always the hardest part of his journey. It strips all inhibitions and then I’m too clever for my own good.”
Evans says he was “never present for life”; in his business and his family.
“It’s one thing being front and centre, and being a functional addict, but when you’re ‘not there’ you’re not available on an emotional level or on any level, really.
“That’s the worst effect on your family. And there was also the embarrassment at the way I was behaving.
The turning point came when his wife kicked him out of the house. “She was pretty pissed off with me!”
It was his darkest moment, he says. “I mean, I’m a family man. I’ve been raised as a family man. Losing that, and the realisation of it, was pretty dark for me,” he recalls.
“How could I ever lose my family because of pills and alcohol?”
That was when he put his ego aside and went to seek help from someone who became his sponsor. It was the biggest step on his way back.
He faced a daunting challenge. It was all about “rewiring” his brain and breaking old habits. “Luckily I had a great sponsor and I’ll always be in debt to him.
“I stopped drinking within about three days after our first meeting. I did start smoking cigarettes when I gave up drinking, but I’ll stop that too when I’m ready.”
Evans says he regained control of his life after about four to six months. It was tough at first because the thought of being without alcohol was hard to suppress.
“I used to love beer, especially a milk stout. And good red wine. It’s what we rely on to help us cope with stress, but you actually cope much better without it. Not only that: I’m a happier, more patient and more energetic person.”
Evans, 40, says he has not had a relapse and has not really been tempted in two years. “But one can never be complacent. I take it one day at a time, as they say. There is light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not a train.”
His message to people who have similar problems is to seek help. “There are more people going through the same thing than you could imagine.”
In his latest social media post Evans said there had been many moments when he was disappointed about decisions and choices he had made, and about the consequences, but it belonged to the past and could not be changed.
“The difference is that I now acknowledge that. I strive to make each day better than the last one; to be a better person,” he says.
“I look at where I am now and I’m happy. My path has taken me on a journey and I’ve come out of it a stronger person, and hopefully a better human being.
“I try my hardest every day to help and support my family, my friends and my business. I’ve given up such a little and received so much in return.
If his social media posts can help inspire just one person to a better life of sobriety, “then I’ve done a little more than most,” he says.