Illness Forces Mountain Bike Champ Furtado to Quit for Good
Diagnosed with Lupus, Most Winning Biker Retires

Juli Furtado
Tuesday, November 25, 1997

Mountain bike champion Juli Furtado has been forced to hang up her wheels after being diagnosed with systemic lupus disease. Misdiagnosed for nearly a year with Lyme disease, the two-time World Champion, three-time World Cup Champion and five time National Champion, tried to regain her competitive edge after the diagnosis to no avail.

"After countless days of pedaling my bike and going nowhere, I finally realized my body, physically, couldn't compete at world class level while fighting this disease," Furtado said.

She announced her retirement earlier this month.

"There comes a day in every athlete's career when they must move on. For me, that day is today, Furtado said. In 1996, she realized her dream when she was named to Olympic Team and raced in Atlanta. With varying results that year, Furtado was able to race just once in 1997.

"In June, when I was finally diagnosed with lupus, the news came as no great surprise. I had been initially diagnosed with Lyme's disease during the spring, but hadn't responded at all to the treatment," Furtado said. A consummate athlete, Furtado though she would be able to regain her strength and spent months training.

"Even with this new diagnosis, I've always thought I could return to competitive mountain bike racing. However, life doesn't always go as planned," the GT team member said.

According to information provided by The Lupus Foundation of America, "lupus is a chronic, autoimmune disease which causes inflammation of various parts of the body, especially the skin, joints, blood and kidneys." Whereas, our bodies immune systems normally ward off viruses, bacteria and "other foreign materials," with lupus "the immune system loses its ability to tell the difference between foreign substances and its own cells and tissues. The immune system then makes antibodies directed against 'self'," the foundation's information said.

Furtado's Winning Form
Market research commissioned by the Foundation reports that Lupus affects one out of every 185 Americans. "Lupus is more prevalent than AIDS, sickle cell anemia, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and cystic fibrosis combined," it said. The cause is unknown, but the Foundation reported scientists to believe the condition is "genetically predisposed and know that environmental factors such as infections, antibiotics, ultraviolet light, extreme stress and certain drugs play a critical role in triggering lupus."

Ninety percent of those diagnosed with lupus are women and "the majority of cases can be controlled with proper treatment," the information stated.

Furtado was a member of the US Ski team before switching to cycling seven years ago. She missed the Olympics then with knee injuries. "Mountain bike racing fulfilled the void left from ski racing and allowed my athletic aspirations to continue," Furtado said. Whatever she does, she'll do it well.— Sarah Love, Mountain Zone Staff

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