Alexis Desolneux is a BMX rider from France who got COVID-19 and battled it for over two weeks. Thankfully, he and his family are fine now and he’s even gotten back on his bike. Here’s his firsthand account of dealing with the disease…

A little over a month ago we learned how the Coronavirus is affecting the BMX industry. At that time in mid-March, events and team trips were getting postponed/canceled, overseas production looked grim, while the gears were still in motion for Stateside production. Fast forward seven weeks and a lot has changed…The Coronavirus gained the official name COVID-19, cases have exceeded three million worldwide, and countries, counties, and cities the World over are exercising varying degrees of quarantine/stay at home orders. As for our little BMX world, just during the last few days while this article was coming together it was announced that both the 2020 Vans BMX Pro Cup Series and X Games 2020 have been cancelled for the year. Without a doubt we’re all dealing with some level of upheaval in our lives brought on by this pandemic. We asked riders from around the world how it’s affecting them, including three riders who are in one way or another on the frontlines of the disease including Alexis Desolneux who got sick and recovered, Luis Pinzon, a pediatrician in a hospital emergency room, and Darryl Nau, a local in the COVID-19 epicenter of the US, New York. We got responses from a total of 16 riders—who are all experiencing the disease differently and with varying outlooks on the situation. We’ll be dropping the article over the course of the next four days, beginning with Alexis Desolneux. Alexis is a rider from France who got COVID-19 and battled it for over two weeks. Thankfully, he and his family are fine now and he’s even gotten back on his bike. Here’s his firsthand account of dealing with the disease…

Alexis Desolneux – Chelles, France

Photo: Matthias Dandois

What is the situation with COVID-19 where you are?
I’m currently home in France, in a small city named Chelles, about 12 miles east of Paris. The situation with COVID-19 in the Paris area is serious. There are still a lot of patients in hospitals. The curve is flattening at the moment, but unfortunately there are still a high number of people dying from the virus every day.

What kind of restrictions are in place and how well do people seem to abiding by them?
We are under the state of emergency restrictions with a strict home confinement. Our moves are very limited. Certain professions are still active and a small percentage of the population use their car or public transportation to go to work, but you need to show valid permits to the police in case of control. Most people who still work do it from home. We can essentially go out to buy food or for an hour of physical activity alone (or family members in confinement together) in a one kilometer radius from home. In any case you need to fill in a paper or a file on your phone with a QR code to justify your move every time in case of control. In the Paris area, the rule has been enforced and we can only go for sport before 10am and after 7pm. The reason for this was because of the many joggers out during the day in Paris. You had people running on sidewalks exhaling next to elders in line for food shopping… In general, people have been abiding to the restrictions. I’m surprised how most of us understood the importance of staying home. Of course having to pay a 135 euros fine if you’re out for no valid reason—or much more if repeated—helps keep people home. But a large majority even thinks our government was late to take these decisions. None of this is fun, but when you look at the numbers, there’s absolutely zero glory in taking risks to maintain the same level of freedom as we are used to. We went into lockdown on March 17, from then I went out for food a couple times at my local supermarket where it was impossible to always keep distances, until I started to feel the first symptoms on March 21. Knowing we are highly contagious before feeling any symptoms (if having any symptom at all), am I the one who contaminated my family? How many persons did I contaminate? How many persons were contaminated by the persons I contaminated? And how many of them ended up in reanimation? Having any form of social contact outside at the moment may have consequences way more important than a temporary reduction of my personal freedom. 

Can you describe what it was like having COVID-19, how sick you were, what was happening to your body, et..?
I was what is considered a “mild’’ case. The main thing to know is that the daily repetition of symptoms wears you out. I had various symptoms over 15 days. It started with throat pain, then fever, headache, loss of taste, cough, diarrhea, muscle ache, back pain—and I felt tired all the time. I was in bed 18 hours a day for a few days until my body reacted with a lot of nervous tension/pain caused by the virus affecting the nervous system. I found myself getting up in the middle of the night to walk around the apartment to ease these tensions. It was strange.

Did you go to a hospital? What was it like dealing with the doctors and medical staff?
No, I didn’t have to and I was lucky because things weren’t looking very good between day 7 and 10—the sketchy time when things can go worse. I was starting to feel some breathing issues on and off, but by day 11 I was feeling better. My doctor had warned me about the day 7-10 part of the infection. I kept monitoring myself after that. It was easy to deal with my doctor on the phone, but people were trying to call the SAMU (France’s 911) for hours until someone could take their call. Their services have been under great stress.

Overall, how frightening was it?
I wasn’t scared until having some breathing issue around day 8 to 10, and hearing about how things may abruptly go worse for some patients at that stage. I didn’t tell anyone then, I tried to relax about it, treat my cough and rest as much as possible.

Riding solo… not exactly a new concept for Alexis.

How was home life while being sick?
It was a weird time. I’m married with two kids (12 & 16) and my wife and myself pretty much fell sick at the same time. In the first 2-3 days I was still able to be active so I took care of her and the family, then I had to stay in bed myself just as she started to get a bit better. She was sick for like 5 days with luckily limited symptoms, although the first 3 days were intense. The kids had even less symptoms and only for a short time. They were fine.

How did being sick affect you financially?
It didn’t. All I had to do was keeping the fever down with a couple packs of Doliprane, because I had fever every single day for 10 days in a row. What affects me pretty badly financially is the cancellation of every BMX event I usually work at.

When and where do you think you may have contracted it?
I can only answer you with some facts. I got the first symptoms on March 21 and I was on a trip to Lisbon from March 10 to 14, which means airports, airplanes, hotel—a lot of social interaction. When I came back on Saturday 14, my wife and her boss had worked together in Paris as usual, but her boss had to leave in the morning as she felt sick. She called my wife in the evening and said she was diagnosed with Coronavirus. We’ll never know exactly how this thing entered our home. It could also just be from me going to the supermarket…

Do you feel fully back to normal now? And how’d it feel to get back on your bike? And what’s a typical session been like for you?
I’m close to being back to normal. Once I was well into recovery, it took me a good 3 days to picture myself rolling on my bike. I felt out of balance. I first used my legal hour of activity to take walks around the block, which helped. Then the first little session, I didn’t have much power but just rolling around doing peg wheelies and hang five in my parking garage put a smile on my face. I did that for a couple days, trying to do a bit more everyday. By the time I was feeling good enough for riding, they enforced the rule for doing sport outside and I had to go after 7pm so I started to ride an hour of flatland a minute from home, every evening. I really enjoy it, this whole situation completely changed my habits. I was riding a lot of street/park until the crisis hit but after falling sick, I’ve just been taking it easy with riding. Flat is always a great way to get back into it.

Opinions vary on whether or not people should be riding at all right now—and especially pros posting new riding content—as opposed to setting a good example to stay safe at home. What do you think?
First of all, restrictions (if any restriction at all) differ from one nation to another, in the US as I understand, from one state to another. Riding itself is not the problem. But if you have the possibility to ride outside your home, ride completely alone.

What do you say to your fellow riders who don’t believe the virus is something to worry about?
I don’t know… I didn’t worry about it myself before I caught it. I couldn’t imagine it was spreading that fast. Which in turn made me realize I could easily pass it to others, possibly vulnerable ones, without even knowing I was infected and that’s not a fun thought to live with. At some point it goes beyond being sick yourself (and surviving even though it sucks being sick), you just don’t want to pass this to someone’s parents or grandparents or whoever they love. 

Has this experience made you view BMX, or life in general, any different?
I had a life-threatening accident in 2008 which truly changed my outlook on life in general and reinforced my view on BMX. That’s when I decided to create HERESY. So this experience feels more like a bump on the road or a reminder of my 2008 kick in the ass.

Do you know anyone else who has gotten sick?
A couple friends had symptoms around the same time, that’s all I know. But we got news from our kids’ schools that some other families got infected.

Now that you’re feeling better, what are some things you’ve been doing to pass the time while not riding?
I’ve just been working a lot on HERESY. Trying to move forward with new projects while I have a lot of time. In the beginning of the lockdown, I was stressing a lot about losing my usual riding time. I had been filming for a video part for a few months and this was abruptly stopped. But falling sick really put my head back on my shoulders. I “woke up” unstressed and quietly looking forward to riding again. I just feel lucky to be here enjoying my time with the family, just playing games, cooking or trying to help my daughter when she needs me for her creations or homework. I have been travelling a lot since a few years with BMX events and trips so I try to see the positive side of the situation—we’re all home, time slowed down and I can watch my kids grow, we have more time to talk. It’s not the usual wake up, get out of the house, “see you tonight”, dinner, sleep, repeat thing. Heavier riding time will come again soon enough.

What do you think about the influx of people/brands using social media to help promote a positive mindset and encourage fun and unique ideas to stay busy while remaining socially distant?
I’m pretty amazed by how people adapt to this and how creative they can be. I haven’t been super connected, to be honest, but the few things I’ve seen were really cool, like what Matthias Dandois has been doing, even in lockdown in one of the worst places for Covid-19 in the world, he still spreads positive energy and creates. Here in France, there’s a TV show every evening—video conference style—where a locked down famous chef teaches from his own kitchen a couple recipes to be made simultaneously by five families/friends (on screen) confined together. The show is watched by millions everyday and this genius idea is a reaction to our situation and sends thousands of people in the kitchen everyday. 

What, if any, lasting effects do you think COVID-19 will have on society (or BMX) once this dark time passes?
This will probably change the way we imagine and look at infectious diseases and how each and everyone of us may infect another person with serious consequences. I’m not worried about BMX. Events will be affected for a little while but it will get over this just like we will.

Anything else that you’d like to add?
I just want to thank you for this interview, say hi to all my American friends, shout out to Profile racing and Vans for their continuous support, and wish a good health to everyone out there where the virus is hitting, in the U.S. and elsewhere.

The summation of riding solo.

Check in tomorrow for COVID-19 BMX Part II, featuring firsthand accounts from a hospital emergency room with Luis Pinzon, and Darryl Nau’s experience being in quarantine for over 50 days in his New York City apartment.

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