To Hell and Back

By Steve Cox

Stephane Roncada is a fighter. He battled Travis Pastrana tooth-and-nail for the 2000 125cc Eastern Regional SX Championship (and won) and that same year’s 125cc National Championship (and lost). He’s overcome the Epstein-Barr virus, raced hard against Ricky Carmichael, and struggled with broken bones. But never has he faced an opponent so great as his current one: drug addiction.

You may remember that RonRon disappeared from the 2004 AMA 125cc Nationals after the Washougal round, complaining of back problems after he had given James Stewart all he could handle at the Las Vegas SX and Hangtown MX National. But little did we know that he was in the midst of a downward spiral; committing suicide on an installment plan, one pill at a time. For a couple of weeks in May, Stephane made James Stewart look human. Now, we know he did it while abusing prescription pain killers.

“I would have to take it for the races or I wouldn’t have been able to finish, and since I got pretty used to them, they didn’t mess me up a lot,” he said. “I wasn’t high or anything, but I was really relaxed, and that might have helped me ride as good as I did sometimes. It seemed like sometimes I could focus a lot better on stuff, but it was tearing me up inside. I would get on the starting gate completely relaxed. I didn’t care, I was happy. I knew I could do races because I was in decent shape. But what I didn’t know was being on that type of medication and then pushing your heart athletically puts you at a pretty serious risk of a heart attack, so I’m lucky with that. But you will notice that when I was on the track at the National, I was always sitting down. I would hardly stand up. I couldn’t. My back would hurt too much.

“I have a pinched disc between the L4 and L5 vertebrae in my back, along with some liquid that’s part of the disc squeezing out,” RonRon said. “The best thing I can do for it is work on my abs and my back to support it with lots of muscles. The thing is, the worse my back would get, the less I would do in training. And that would make my back worse, and I would train less, which would make my back worse. I didn’t know I was doing that to myself. And the worst part is that I kept taking more and more pain medication to help me be able to ride and train as much as I could, and I was digging myself into a deep rut and I couldn’t get out. Nobody could tell me what was wrong with my back, and I was suffering. It was hell.”

The increase in pain and the subsequent increase in pain medication, led to a physical and chemical addiction to Vicodin, which is an opiate, as are such drugs as codeine, morphine, Demerol, methadone and heroin. In other words, it’s no joke.

“With Vicodin, the more you take, the less your body can fight pain on its own,” said RonRon. “So when you’re out of the drugs, you can’t function. When I ran out, it would hurt me too much to move, I couldn’t sleep and I almost went to the emergency room a couple times. After Washougal, I stayed here in the United States for a month, and then I went to France for about two months. Since then, I’ve been back and forth between here and there every couple of weeks. I’ve just been trying to get my life back, basically. That was really, truly hell. I was suffering like I’ve never suffered. The detox was the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through in my life. With all my injuries and everything, nothing compares to it. I was in rehab for three and a half months for Vicodin addiction. I took it so long that I was physically addicted, not just mentally. I would get cold sweats and the shakes, lots of anxiety – it’s like having the flu, but like 10 times worse.

“When I started detox, it was really hard. The symptoms from Vicodin withdrawals are horrible. The symptoms are the same as people who are addicted to heroin, and it will make you go completely nuts. And on top of that, I had a deep depression. It started even before rehab. The more you take Vicodin, the mo your body hurts when you don’t have it, and the more depressed you are, so it makes you suffer because you can’t stop. If you do, you’re completely miserable. I got to the point where I couldn’t make a phone call or watch TV or run an errand without it. I couldn’t do anything.”

And it’s the depression that almost killed him.

“The hardest part was getting over the depression,” Roncada said. “The doctor made me take a test, and the worst score for depression was 21, and most people averaged about a seven on the scale. I was a 19. Every single day for three and a half months I had dark ideas. I had bad thoughts of taking a whole bunch of sleeping pills, but the only reason I didn’t do it is because of Carly (his girlfriend) and my parents. But I think if she wasn’t there, I wouldn’t be here anymore. There was a time here in the U.S. when I ran out of Vicodin and my back hurt so bad that I couldn’t sleep, so I decided to get drunk to go to sleep. I grabbed a bottle of Vodka and drank it until I fell asleep. A couple of hours later, I woke up in pain and I drank some more to go back to sleep. Then I did it again. In the middle of the night, she made me stop because I had drunk about 3/4 of the bottle in just a few hours, and I still had all the Vicodin in my system. I could’ve died, but she stopped me.

“One day, after I got out of the hospital to go continue the treatment at home, I had a nervous breakdown. My mother and Carly had to carry me to the hospital – from my house to the car and from the car to the hospital – because I could barely move, my teeth were chattering as fast as they could. It was horrible. From that day, I couldn’t even walk anymore. For about a week, I couldn’t even walk 50 feet. Going to the bathroom was like doing a 10-lap moto. I couldn’t get out of the house, and just the thought of going outside would scare the living shit out of me. It was really, really bad. That shit almost killed me.”Thankfully, Stephane has beaten the addiction. However, as with all physical addictions, he must be very careful not to fall right back into that deep rut he described earlier. At press time, Roncada had exactly one month to lose about 30 pounds, get his testing done, and get mentally ready for Anaheim 1.

“It’s completely crazy, because where I’m coming from, if I’m ready for the first race, it’s a miracle,” he said. “It’s not like I’m coming back from an injury, I’m coming back from almost dying, having a nervous breakdown, drug addiction and detox, and now they’re giving me one month to get ready to try to beat Tedesco? It’s crazy. I’ve been riding for two weeks, and I’m completely out of shape. Completely.

“I hired a trainer, though, and I’m going to do whatever I can to get at least halfway ready for the first race on the West Coast. I mean, seriously, if I can get top five in the first race, there are a lot of people who won’t believe it. To them, it’s just impossible that I’d be able to race this early.”

But on the positive side, Pro Circuit knew everything about RonRon’s condition before they re-signed him for 2005 and 2006. “I can’t thank them enough for that. They knew about everything, from the back problems to the drug addiction-everything. I wanted them to know what was going on before they signed me. They really showed a lot of faith in me.”

Now that he’s back in the U.S. and he’s climbed back out of the rut, Roncada has found solace in something he’s always had, but always taken for granted: riding his motorcycle.

“I started thinking about what I would do after riding, and it really scared me,” Roncada said. “It really messed me up. I realized that the only place I feel comfortable 100 percent is on a bike. When I came back here from France, I was still having a hard time with a lot of anxiety. It’s really hard to deal with – you get jittery and shaky and you feel like you can’t breathe. But the thing is, when I came back here and I rode for the first time, I remember it was really hard for me to get going because I was so anxious and I could barely move and stuff, but as soon as I got back on the bike and started it, it was like magic. Everything went away. I had a smile on my face, and it reminded me of all the good stuff about riding. As soon as I started the bike, all of the anxiety and stress completely went away. I haven’t had that much fun riding in years because I completely realize that that’s what I love to do, and that’s what I’m meant to do. I never understood the people who say they get such a rush out of riding, because I ride all the time, but now I really understand those people.”

As far as the New Year is concerned, RonRon formerly harbored some pretty serious confidence that he would be able to challenge for a title. Now, at least with Supercross, he just hopes to survive.

“I just started riding again,” he said. “I have no idea what this season is going to be like. I don’t know if my back is going to be strong enough for the whole season. I have no idea. I’m really trying to figure out what’s going to happen in the next couple years. Basically, the back problem is going to be a part of my life forever. I’m always going to have to work out and do some kind of sports. Lying around all day is not going to be an option for me.

“Realistically, if I can get in the top seven at the first couple rounds, I’d be really happy. I’m way out of shape, I’m 30 pounds overweight, so what can I expect? I’m not a machine. There’s no way I can accomplish all of that in one month. If I can, then I guess I’m not human. We’ll see at Anaheim.

“Last year, I would do six or seven laps, and then I would be in survival mode because of my back. But I never showed that I wasn’t in shape. I would keep the same lap times. Like, when I raced with Bubba, after six laps, I was completely dead, but I held on for nine more laps and got second. For some reason, I’m good at riding tired, so hopefully I can use that to my advantage in January. But if he can get through Supercross healthy, RonRon should be ready to go for the 125cc Nationals – a series he almost won five years ago.

“I’m really looking forward to the Nationals because I know they won’t be nearly as hard,” he said. “I can ride Nationals right now, but Supercross is a whole other story. My trainer says that a lot of things with me are mental, so if I can get my head to think that I can do it, maybe I can.”

(Editor’s note: Weeks after this interview was conducted with Stephane Roncada, he reportedly made an attempt on his own life by overdosing on medication less than a week before the Anaheim Supercross Series opener. As we go to press, it looks like he will make a full recovery, but his future in racing is uncertain.)rd for me to get going because I was so anxious and I could barely move and stuff, but as soon as I got back on the bike and started it, it was like magic. Everything went away. I had a smile on my face, and it reminded me of all the good stuff about riding. As soon as I started the bike, all of the anxiety and stress completely went away. I haven’t had that much fun riding in years because I completely realize that that’s what I love to do, and that’s what I’m meant to do. I never understood the people who say they get such a rush out of riding, because I ride all the time, but now I really understand those people.”

As far as the New Year is concerned, RonRon formerly harbored some pretty serious confidence that he would be able to challenge for a title. Now, at least with Supercross, he just hopes to survive.

“I just started riding again,” he said. “I have no idea what this season is going to be like. I don’t know if my back is going to be strong enough for the whole season. I have no idea. I’m really trying to figure out what’s going to happen in the next couple years. Basically, the back problem is going to be a part of my life forever. I’m always going to have to work out and do some kind of sports. Lying around all day is not going to be an option for me.

“Realistically, if I can get in the top seven at the first couple rounds, I’d be really happy. I’m way out of shape, I’m 30 pounds overweight, so what can I expect? I’m not a machine. There’s no way I can accomplish all of that in one month. If I can, then I guess I’m not human. We’ll see at Anaheim.

“Last year, I would do six or seven laps, and then I would be in survival mode because of my back. But I never showed that I wasn’t in shape. I would keep the same lap times. Like, when I raced with Bubba, after six laps, I was completely dead, but I held on for nine more laps and got second. For some reason, I’m good at riding tired, so hopefully I can use that to my advantage in January. But if he can get through Supercross healthy, RonRon should be ready to go for the 125cc Nationals – a series he almost won five years ago.

“I’m really looking forward to the Nationals because I know they won’t be nearly as hard,” he said. “I can ride Nationals right now, but Supercross is a whole other story. My trainer says that a lot of things with me are mental, so if I can get my head to think that I can do it, maybe I can.”

(Editor’s note: Weeks after this interview was conducted with Stephane Roncada, he reportedly made an attempt on his own life by overdosing on medication less than a week before the Anaheim Supercross Series opener. As we go to press, it looks like he will make a full recovery, but his future in racing is uncertain.)