Excerpts From The Edge: Catching up with Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Stephane Roncada

Many people know Stephane Roncada as the happy-go-lucky, super-fast Frenchman who has been slugging it out with a smile on his face in the USA for longer than any of the current crop of racers from France. He traded paint and jerseys with Travis Pastrana in the hard-fought 2000 125cc National Championship, won that year’s Eastern Regional SX Championship, and in his time in the 250cc class, he gained a reputation as a fast (albeit sometimes reckless) rider.

You may remember he disappeared from the AMA Nationals after the Washougal round complaining of back problems, having given James Stewart all he could handle at the Las Vegas SX and Hangtown MX National. But the back problems proved themselves to be trivial compared to what he’s gone through since he left the US for France a few months ago.

Of all the battles he’s ever engaged in, none of them are as tough as the one he’s in now.

Transworld Motocross: Where have you been all these months?

Stephane Roncada: After Washougal, I stayed here for about a month, and then I went to France for about two months. Since then, I’ve been back and forth between here and France every couple of weeks. I’ve just been trying to get my life back, basically.

TWMX: Get your life back from what?

RonRon: 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. It’s something they can’t fix, and it’s always going to hurt me all of my life. The best thing I can do for it is work on my abs and my back to support it with lots of muscles. But it’s never going to feel good. And it’s genetic, so it’s not like I did something to my back to hurt it.

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 worse 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.

And then, of course, I got addicted to Vicodin (ed. note: Vicodin is in the opiate class of drugs — as is heroin, for example) after taking that for five or six months. Pro Circuit knew what was going on before they signed me, and they signed me anyway, so that shows a lot of confidence in me. I can’t thank them enough for that.

TWMX: It’s definitely easy to get hooked on medication like that when you’re having chronic pain. How hard was that to get over?

RonRon: That was really, truly hell. 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 two and a half months for Vicodin addiction. I was taking it so long, 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.

TWMX: How was that not affecting your mental focus on the track? You had those battles with Bubba while you were high on Vicodin?

RonRon: Yeah. 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. 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 didn’t know it, but 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.

When I started detox, it was really hard. The symptoms from Vicodin withdrawals are horrible. The symptoms are the samee 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 more 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.

But the hardest part was getting over the depression. I had a very high level of depression. The doctor made me take a test, and the worst score for depression was 21, and most people averaged about a 7 on the scale. I was a 19. Every single day for two and a half months, I had dark ideas. I wanted to commit suicide. 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 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.

TWMX: Relating all of this back to motocross, since that’s what you’ve spent most of your life doing, does this kind of thing put your racing into a new perspective?

RonRon: It made me realize that my place is in sports, on the bike and on the racetrack. I started thinking about what I would do after riding, and it really scared me. 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 shaking 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…

The entire story will appear in the next issue of TransWorld Motocross Magazine.