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Petaluma pro cyclist misses Tour of California due to infection

Published: Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 1:40 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 1:40 p.m.

As it is said, life happens while you're making other plans. This plan was a good one, with strong lovebird overtones. Jennifer Caudill would be a presenter on the podium at the Tour of California. That way she could be around her fiancée, Petaluma's Steven Cozza, a pro cyclist for Team NetApp, during the 2011 Tour. It would be a great story to tell the kids one day, maybe even a stupendous one: Mommy presenting a medal to Daddy for a podium stage finish. Yep, that would be an one-of-a-kind family photo op.

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Steven Cozza

Photo courtesy of Steven Cozza

But then life happened. Started in January actually.

“I'd wake up in the middle of the night with stomach pain,” said Cozza, 26.

Cozza was familiar with stomach issues and did not panic. Within the last two years, he estimated, he had four or five food poisoning episodes. Now that he looks back on it, Cozza guessed frequent food poisoning might have been a contributing factor.

“I would take 8-10 imodium tablets daily,” Cozza said. “I would eat 10, maybe more, tablets of Pepto-Bismol. I'd eat them like candy. But things kept getting worse.”

Cozza was having this insatiable craving for carbohydrates and sugar. He was consuming the normal amount of calories and carbs that a training cyclist would. Tons of bread, he said.

“Yet,” he said, “it always felt like I was on a half-tank of gas. It was so frustrating. I was on mood swings on top of everything.”

For the better part of three months Cozza went to doctors and was tested more than a lab rat. He felt he was wasting away which confused him — Cozza took great pride in eating healthy, living right, being a stellar example of a smart approach to fitness.

“It got to the point,” he said, “that I thought I was going to have to stop racing. I just couldn't handle it anymore.”

And then in mid-April he finally found out: Cozza had Candida Albicans, a parasite and yeast infection of the intestines. A bloodstream infection by Candida Albicans is serious matter, affecting internal organs, causing valve damage and murmurs in the heart, seizures and acute change in mental function in the brain, are just two examples. Bacteria in his body, both the healthy and unhealthy types, were being depleted.

On April 23 treatment began. In order for his body to completely rid itself of the infection, Cozza was told, there would be a withdrawal period of a week. He would be miserable. He would hate it. That week occurred two weeks ago.

“I kept getting cold, breaking out in cold sweats,” Cozza said. “I felt crappy for a week.”

Having just finished his anti-parasite medication, now on anti-fungal Cozza is on a diet of no sugar, no carbs. If it's white, take flight. He is on the mend, no question about it but not in racing shape. Almost as painful as those stomach pains was Cozza's decision not to compete in the Tour of California. Stress could aggravate the situation, impede recovery. Cozza is projecting a return to cycling — he is leaving for Europe on the 22nd — by early June. His Giro Bello Classic is still scheduled June 25.

“After being frustrated for so long,” Cozza said, “it's nice to know what's wrong. But I can't wait to feel good on the bike again. I just want to be happy again and I'm really happy when I'm on the bike.”

Happiness is not going to happen this week, when he's at home in Sebastopol watching the Tour of California, watching Jennifer on the podium, knowing she is there because she wanted to be near him during the race. Life is damn inconvenient sometimes, that very cool image of Mommy and Daddy standing on the podium is gone to be replaced by another unique photo op — Jennifer and Steven will be married Nov. 5 in a horse barn in her home state of Kentucky.

“It's a very nice horse barn,” said Cozza, comforted in the knowledge that, no matter what, there will be at least one sensational thing to happen to him in 2011.

For more North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky's blog at padecky.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.

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