It’s not an easy job. In addition to caring for all the riders in every imaginable and unimaginable respect, and I mean really caring, like really giving a shit, like doing everything possible to ensure that each one of them, each with their own unique and personal needs (mental, physical, emotional, physiological, etc.) and idiosyncrasies are happy and able to perform at their absolute best, you have to do all the shit work, the logistics and production that come before and after the race. Preparing the Service Course. Setting up racks and bins and various storage containers into an efficient system. Retrofitting and customizing all the various the vehicles. Airport pick-ups and drop-offs. Ordering and inventorying nutrition, supplies, bandages and myriad medical materials. Laundry on location, whatever that entails, for eight professional athletes. Making two dozen Nutella and peanut butter sandwiches on the counter beside a sink in a Best Western bathroom at 1:30 in the morning, while, mostly likely, polishing off a bottle of mid-shelf Whisky and listening to obscure (B-side-type) 80’s music. Bleaching 200 water bottles in a stranger’s bath tub in a host house in a suburb of Atlanta in the morning when it’s still dark and everyone on the team except for you is still sleeping. Rinsing out those same water bottles before filling them up with water and half of them with supplements and hydration powders too. Labeling them. Putting them all into 3 different coolers. Walking the coolers down stairs and around corners and through narrow hallways outside to the parking lot, hoping the whole time you have the keys somewhere on your person to the DS Mini Cooper and the van headed to the feed zone.
And when the race finally starts, you drive to the next location where you check-in into 10 different hotel rooms, and set them up, each one with it’s own set of gear and purpose.
After the race you massage, which is in some ways is your clearest and most obvious and most necessary role on the team. You are here to keep the riders healthy and optimized. You massage eight riders each for a half-hour, often without a break, which takes as long as it takes. You apply what you know about massage, chiro, kinesiology, rakki, various injury management techniques, and whatever else you have to the task.
And Speed Week is different and by different I mean worse because the races are often at night, sometimes late at night, as in not finished until 10:00 or 11:00. So the routine that keeps you working from 6:30-1:30AM everyday for six days at a time is shifted back some eight or so hours, and so now you are basically working an overly long swing shift.
Maybe that’s why Fojo, who was still Team Exergy’s soigneur, at least everyone (still sleeping and dreaming about podium girls and if you’re Matt, little pugs named Lucy) thought he was, woke-up on the fourth day of Speed Week at six in the morning, the morning after Beaufort, the morning after giving Carlos Alzate, who had just finished second, a massage at 1:30 in the morning, packed up all his things, stuffed them into a duffel bag, de-friended the entire team on Facebook, took himself and his things to the Greyhound Station across the street and bought himself a one-way ticket to Atlanta.“To be good a soigneur you have to a lot of initiative and really care for the riders. Because you’re not doing it for the cash.”Jono Coulter, Team Exergy Soigneur
We asked Ken Mills, Team Exergy Assistant Director Sportif, to tell us what happened:
“I asked Fojo11Fojo is now a verb: at some point during Speed Week, after the morning Fojo went missing, the term manifested itself. Someone, nobody knows who, just started using it. To Fojo is to quit, bail, leave, abdicate responsibility, unduly interrupt, sabotage, etc. to give (basically I made him do it) Carlos a massage. He was upset and I could tell he didn’t want to do it, but eventually he did. I guess in the middle of the night he decided he was done. I heard him up pretty early the next morning, like around six o’clock, making noise and I was like, “What’s going on, what’s up?” but I didn’t think much of it really. I got up at 7:30 and I went into his room and there was nothing there, his luggage was gone and all his team stuff was packed up. Everything was gone. I spent the next 20 minutes looking for him and calling his phone (which was off) and asking everyone I saw where he was. At some point I remembered there was a bus station across the street and I figured, “Well where else could he be or how else would he get back to Atlanta?” and so I walked over there and found him sitting on a bench in front of the terminal.
“He just said, 'I’m leaving.' We talked for like five seconds. I was like, 'You don’t have the respect to tell me you’re quitting?' and he was like, 'No, I’m out of here, sorry.'”Ken Mills
“I wish him the best, it just wasn’t a good fit, he wanted things to run more smoothly, he wanted more support, and it’s a thankless job doing all the shit that nobody else wants to do. But yeah, he just bailed. He left us in the middle of the week soigneurless.”
It really is a thankless job with little reward and no opportunity to make even a reasonable amount of money. There are those jobs where doing the math (hourly or salary / hours at work = something like $2.45 an hour, on a good day) is a bad idea, the kind of job where remuneration is not the point, the point, you hope, comes in the form of experience as in like an apprenticeship or adoration or numerous and effortless opportunities for casual sex or status or portfolio building, etc. And being a soigneur offers few to none of those. It’s a job that demands you care about the team and the success of the team to the detriment of your own well being. It’s a job not suited to most mammals. It’s a job with little sleep or rest and lots of people calling you at all hours of the day and night to ask you where their arm warmers are, the ones they left in the team car, which team car you weren’t in when they were left there and so how would you know where those arm warmers are. Having spent time with Fojo, often while he was in the grips of any number of unfortunate pre- and post-race drills, I can safely say that he is a descent, wholesome, hardworking and above all else, well-intentioned dude. His complaints about how things were run on Exergy were fair enough. And but this isn’t about Team Exergy because Team Exergy is a entirely wonderful family of athletes and support staff, managing a limited, albeit generous, budget against an impossible list of needs. This about the industry, the souigner industry, which industry sucks. This about the facts which facts are that being a soigneur takes next-level selflessness and boundless reserves of compassion and empathy and healing-type energy for the athletes in your care, which in my opinion is a quality beyond rare. Some can do it, which is good news for racers and racing, but most can’t, which is normal enough, I wouldn’t do it. The point is, don’t hate the player, hate the game.