While Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has become the butt of endless jokes because of his nasty personal habits, everyone is overlooking the fact that Ford is actually just continuing a longstanding Toronto sports tradition involving the use of Erythroxylon Coca – the Divine Plant of the Andes. Of course, Mayor Ford is no athlete, and his favorite sports are evidently harassing women and reporters and sniffing powdered coke, but in principle this gross politician is a spiritual heir to a Canadian athletic practice documented in a 1912 book “The History of Coca” by Dr. William Mortimer. (And too bad he doesn’t know that he could not only lose the drug and alcohol habit but also lose the Porky Pig look by following a routine of drinking a few cups of Coca leaf tea a day. But hey – sober, trim, and respectful of others is probably not his style. And of course Coca Leaf is not legal and accessible – yet – so he doesn’t have that option anyway.)
According to Dr. Mortimer “Some years ago the members of the Toronto La Crosse Club experimented with Coca, and during the season when that club held the championship of the world Coca was used in all its important matches. The Toronto Club was composed of men accustomed to sedentary work, while some of the opposing players were sturdy men accustomed to out of door exercise.”
“The games were all very severely contested, and some were played in the hottest weather of one summer; on one occasion the thermometer registered 110oF. in the sun. The more stalwart appearing men, however, were so far used up before the match was completed that they could hardly be encouraged to finish the concluding game, while the Coca chewers were as elastic and apparently as free from fatigue as at the commencement of the play.”
“At the beginning of the game each player was given from one drachm to a drachm and a half of leaves, and this amount, without lime or any other addition, was chewed in small portions during the game. The first influence experienced was a dryness of the throat, which, when relieved by gargling with water, was not again noticed, while a sense of invigoration and an increase of muscular force was soon experienced, and this continued through the game, so that fatigue was resisted. The pulse was increased in frequency and perspiration was excited, but no mental symptoms were induced excepting an exhilaration of spirits, which was not followed by any after-effects.”
Then we have the example of Lance Armstrong, who absolutely positively denied that he had ever used performance-enhancing drugs – until he did. Poor Lance – he lives a century too late, because a hundred years ago not only did competitive bikers use performance enhancing drugs – their favorite speed booster was a Coca Leaf tonic, which was manufactured in Paris and sold specifically for bicycle athletes, and freely taken by anybody who wanted to win. Ah, la belle France!
Again, to quote Dr. Mortimer:
“Coca, as we have seen, has the quality of freeing the blood from waste material, and yet possesses sufficient nitrogenous quality to convert the stored- up carbohydrates into tissue and energy. The Andeans are a race small of stature and of low muscular development. The average American or European could easily tire a native Indian in a day’s travel, but while the former continuing on an ordinary diet would soon become stiff, the Indian sustained by Coca remains fit and active, and is apparently fresh and ready after a hard day’s jaunt. It seems probable that this condition is occasioned through the converting influence of the nitrogenous Coca acting upon the stored-up carbohydrates of the Andean’s accustomed dietary. Thus while promoting metabolism and increasing energy the blood current is at the same time kept free.”
“The custom of the Andean is to measure distances by the length of time that the influence of a chew of Coca will carry him – equal to a period of some forty minutes – and during which he will cover nearly two miles on a level ground or a mile and a quarter up hill. Taking the suggestion from this a preparation of Coca made in Paris known as “Velo-Coca,” is purposely intended for the use of bicyclists, a given dose of which is calculated to sustain the rider through forty kilometres – twenty-five miles. The advantage of Coca in long distance contests has long been known to certain professionals, who have endeavored to keep their use of this force sustainer a secret.”
Velo-Coca – don’t you love it! Peddle onwards – up and over that mountain!
So let’s all pause a moment and feel some compassion for both Rob Ford and Lance Armstrong – clearly two men who were born a hundred years too late for their own good.
And for many more intriguing tales of the role of Coca in societies of the past, check out my new ebook “The Coca Leaf Papers”.