Mountain bike racing is a wild down-hill ride, chocked full of obstacles, bumps and constant challenges. It is not unlike the life of Ted Briggs.
Drug abuse interrupted Briggs’ pursuit of excellence in his favorite sport. But ultimately it was mountain biking that helped pull him from the depths of despair.
Briggs, a 45-year-old married father of two from South Lebanon, is one of the top mountain bike racers on the East Coast. He’s been clean for the better part of two decades.
“After I got out of rehab, anytime I wasn’t at therapy or AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings, I was riding my mountain bike,” said Briggs. “When I was riding my mountain bike, I had a sense of freedom. Freedom from addiction. Freedom from the world. I could be me. The mountain bike was a tool, a tool of my recovery.
“Before rehab, nothing was important to me,” Briggs continued. “But when I got cleaned up, my mountain biking became important to me. It made me feel good about myself. Before it was a chore. Suddenly, it meant a lot to me.”
Briggs wasn’t intrigued by the so-called ‘traditional sports’ growing up in Richmond, Virginia in the 1970s. And in 1988, when mountain biking was first coming into vogue, it sparked an interest in Briggs.
“I tried soccer for a brief spell,” said Briggs. “I liked soccer, but when I was 15 I started smoking cigarettes and hanging with the wrong crowd. I began smoking pot, and doing marijuana and stuff robs you of your motivation.
“My drug addiction lasted until I was 26,” Briggs added. “Gateway drugs led to more serious drugs. I got into cocaine and became an addict. That’s when I checked into rehab. I struggled with it.”
With poor internal boundaries and making bad decisions, Briggs’ life began a downward spiral. So how far did he fall? How bad did it get?
“It was to the point where I lost my job from calling off work,” said Briggs. “I lost my fiancee. Then when she was gone it was kind of like a free ticket. I blew threw my savings. In four months, I went from being a drug user to a full-blown addict.”
But before he could pull his life together, Briggs had to hit rock bottom.
“It got so bad one night that my body couldn’t take it,” said Briggs. “I didn’t have any drugs, it was 4 a.m. and I put a .357 to my head. At that moment I saw myself in a mirror, I put the gun down and started crying. I called my dad and said, ‘I need help’. My dad was a recovering alcoholic so he knew that the only way I was going to get help was to help myself.
“So yeah, it was bad,” Briggs added. “I was a junkie. I wanted to kill myself. I’m a Christian and I fully believe God intervened at that moment and changed the whole path for me. It was like God and the devil were battling for my soul.”
For Briggs, rehab consisted of five days of in-patient treatment and four months of three-times-a-week out-patient work. He also practiced the 12-step program and did anything else he possibly could to confront his addiction.
“It hit me one Christmas morning in rehab, ‘I shouldn’t be here’,” said Briggs. ” ‘I should be with my family.’ The next day I woke up and I was very peaceful. I wanted to change my life. It was six months later, and I felt better really quick.”
So it was that God, family and a sport called ‘mountain biking’ changed – dare we say saved – Briggs’ life. Free of the limitations that drugs and smoking put on his body, Briggs was able to become serious about mountain biking and ultimately reach his full potential as a racer.
“Yeah, adrenaline is kind of a drug,” said Briggs. “Cocaine is an amphetamine, so you get a rush. Downhill is the same thing. It’s very similar to a cocaine high. There’s no better feeling than flying down a mountain side, risking life and limb – and finishing safely and placing high.
“I think it’s become more powerful than the drugs were,” Briggs continued, ‘because it’s not a false feeling, it’s a real feeling. Drug feelings are false feelings.”
At the end of last season, Briggs placed third overall at the Vertical Earth Gravity Games series at Blue Mountain, PA. Currently, he manages his own team – Generation Gap Racing, which consists of a dozen racers from the Middle Atlantic and New England states.
At the time of this writing, Briggs led the Category One, 40-plus class of the Gravity East Series.
“I started racing when I was 28, so I got a late start,” said Briggs. “I’ve had a handful of firsts and a lot of seconds and thirds. I’m considered ‘expert’ and I’m in first place in my series. I’m good for my age. I do it just as good as the younger guys. I just don’t do it as fast.
“It’s an extreme sport,” continued Briggs. “It’s a dangerous sport. It’s probably one of the most dangerous sports known to man. Safety is a big thing. You need to have the proper equipment.”
And while the down-hill riding Briggs never looks up the mountain, drugs are in his rearview mirror.
“No, I have no desire to use drugs,” Briggs concluded. “I got my fill of that. The memory of my last high is an image of me holding that pistol to my head. That’s scary as hell to me. Addiction is a disease of the mind and I found something to replace it with.”
(Editor’s Note: This piece on Ted Briggs initially appeared on Lebanon Sports Buzz in September of 2011. It was reprinted with permission.)