Team members willing to let it ride
Rick Crawford didn’t expect the Colorado Mesa University cycling team to forgive him.
The CMU cycling coach admitted he provided performance-enhancing drugs to professional cyclists he was coaching from 1999 to 2001.
Crawford not only faced his team, but the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and CMU President Tim Foster.
Crawford was hired in February to coach the cycling team, which is listed as an “emerging sport,” not one of the university’s NCAA-sanctioned sports.
“I didn’t expect the kids to (trust me),” Crawford said Wednesday, choking up. “They gave me a big hug. They embraced me. ... We underestimate our kids. I expected to get throttled (by them).
“There hadn’t been a whole lot of warm, fuzzy feelings up until then. I really was encouraged there might be a light at the end of the tunnel. They could see I was struggling. They said hang in there and that they were behind me.”
Captain Patric Rostel couldn’t attend the team meeting, but had a one-on-one meeting with Crawford.
“He told me about it,” Rostel said. “I was like OK. He said, ‘I understand if you hate me now.’ I said, it’s OK. We all make mistakes. He learned from it. That’s what counts. The team was all in support of him. They reacted like I did. It was a long time ago.”
Rostel raced professionally in Germany in 2007 before coming to Mesa and said he was aware professional cyclists were doping. Professional and former professional cyclists can compete collegiately as long as they are enrolled in an institution of higher learning full time. The sport is sanctioned by USA Cycling, not the NCAA.
“It’s a big step,” Rostel said. “For him to (admit) that is really huge. He didn’t have to do that. It was good he did that. I honor him for that and respect him for his decision.
“I think Rick is a great coach for the program.”
Foster said Wednesday the school will support Crawford, who vowed to serve at least 500 hours of community service during the next five years in anti-doping education for the USADA. CMU also announced Wednesday the hiring of former professional cyclist Scott Mercier as director of CMU cycling. He will provide oversight and direction for the program.
Mercier spoke with the cycling team earlier this semester while Crawford served a three-week suspension as the university conducted an internal investigation.
“They had questions,” Mercier said. “They wanted to know what was going on. It was unequivocal the support you could feel in that room of 25 kids. They really banded together.”
CMU junior Sam Phillips believes Crawford was truly regretful and wants to do the right thing for the program.
“I feel like I have a pretty good relationship with Rick,” Phillips said. “I’ve had many conversations with him since then. It really sounds like he is very regretful for what he did do. He has changed from it. He seems happy to get it off his chest, but it’s definitely hard for him to bring back up.
“I haven’t seen any change in how people see Rick. I feel most of us are understanding what did happen was many years ago. I feel like more of us are in support of him because of his honesty and how he handled the situation. He is probably one of the better people to talk to because of it.”
Rostel and Phillips said Crawford talks to the team regularly about the dangers of PEDs.
“If he would ever hear of someone doing that, he would not accept it,” Rostel said. “He would probably kick someone off the team. If you’re that stupid to dope, you should have nothing to do with the sport.”
Rostel believes Crawford’s reinstatement is good for the program in the long run.
“Later on, the long-term effect will help the program,” Rostel said. “He was in that situation and knows not to put kids in that situation. Education is the most important thing. In the long run, it will definitely help the program grow bigger.”