With each pedal-stroke of his 80- and now 90-year-old legs, Carl Grove sought to show fellow Americans that old age can be rich and rewarding.
His bike is his soapbox. As time caught up with many of his peers, the former U.S. Navy Band saxophonist, who played for U.S. presidents and visiting VIPs and who was born on his parents’ kitchen table during an Indiana thunderstorm the year before the Great Depression, is still riding to spread his stay-active message — despite a doping violation caused by a diner steak.
He has set age-group cycling records in the 80 and 90 categories and accumulated 18 national championships. What matters most to Grove is setting a healthy, don’t-give-up example in a country increasingly sickened by obesity and the inactivity .
Through his exploits, his hope was to share the simple maxim he lives by: “Do not sit down.”
“I see all kinds of people that, man, they go up two or three or four steps and I hear them kind of pant and what have you. This country is not like it used to be. I didn’t see that when I was younger,” says Grove, who will celebrate his 91st birthday July 13.
At the end of last year, the stay-fit mission he calls his “life’s work” suffered a mighty and, in hindsight, unfair and unnecessary blow.
The Colorado Springs-based U.S. Anti-Doping Agency informed Grove that traces of trenbolone, an anabolic steroid used by U.S. cattle farmers to bulk up livestock, were detected in a urine sample he gave at the U.S. Masters Track National Championships in Trexlertown, Pa., in July, where the field’s oldest competitor added to his collection of titles, setting times faster than men in their 80s, 70s and even 60s. He was stripped of his gold medal in the pursuit — the day he tested positive — but kept two others.
Grove’s conscience was clear.
As USADA’s investigators eventually determined, he knew he hadn’t doped. Instead, Grove had been inadvertently contaminated, probably by a dinner of cow’s liver he ate at a local diner on the evening of July 10 .
Still, the failed test was tough on Grove. He knew how it would look, how short attention spans would put the words “cycling,” “doping,” “steroids,” “disqualified” together and imagine the worst, perhaps picturing a 90-year-old version of Lance Armstrong, cycling’s most famous doper.
Sure enough, and despite USADA slipping its public announcement out on a Friday, news than an athlete so old had tested positive generated worldwide headlines this week and a mix of incredulity, mirth, sympathy and cruelty online.
“I was really kind of down for a while. But I’m over it,” Grove now says, making his first and only public comments about the case in a telephone interview this week .
“ The thing that I really, really care about is that I wanted to be a sterling, totally clean person in front of people that knew about me,” he said.
For the anti-doping system, this is another black eye. Grove says taxpayer dollars should, within reason, continue to be spent on policing amateur sport, not least to combat the increasing use of steroids. But the shaming of a well-intentioned great-grandfather smacks of vindictiveness. There are so many bigger battles for the anti-doping system to fight.
USADA boss Travis Tygart says the agency had no choice but to issue him with a public warning for the failed test, the lowest-level step it could take in such a case.
He “ate meat and had a test that you then can’t just sweep under the carpet as much as you might otherwise want to,” Tygart said. “ The outcome is not right and it’s a system gone awry.”