My first impression of Anthony Beron was shaped by the fact that he continuously smiled while chatting with a guy I was eating brunch with, then walking away and swiping into Lag dining and returning alone with a plate of food. The smile never left his face.
Although he tells me later that he’s very shy, you’d never guess it by the number of times he pauses to call out someone’s name and say hello during our interview. He has bright green eyes and bushy brown hair, an orange marmot puffer vest over a yellow t-shirt, a dog tag necklace of a shark and a square diamond stud in each ear, all of which give him an aura of contented enthusiasm.
But this energy wasn’t reflective of Beron. During his senior year of high school, Beron experienced an existential crisis so severe that he became an insomniac, spending hours trying to come to terms with the impermanence of human achievement and reflecting on the mortality of all living things.
“It reframed my perspective on life and how to look at other beings,” he recalled. “I’d think back to all those times where, as a kid on the playground, I’d step on ants for fun, or stupid things like that, and think ‘Oh man, that’s terrible!’”
As a result, Beron found himself being more sensitive toward those around him. He eventually found his way to spirituality and Hinduism. Believing in a religion with a quest for the attainment of a higher consciousness was greatly appealing to him.
But during the first stages of his crisis, Beron’s parents became concerned about his sleep schedule. They suggested that he try working out to exhaust some of his energy, and Anthony remembered how he used to love riding a bike as a kid. By the time he came to college, he was fit enough to race for Stanford Cycling.
“Cycling was great in the sense that I developed a real sense of discipline,” he said. “That ability to tell yourself to enjoy something you know is going to be hard, not only because the process itself might be fulfilling, but because after it you know you’re going to end up in a better state and a better place, was super important.”
A routine training ride involved cycling over two mountains for an altitude gain of at least 5,000 feet. This meant waking up at 6:30 a.m. to start riding by 7 a.m., riding 20 miles toward the coast, riding 20 miles back, then arriving back on campus around 9 a.m. to eat breakfast (if the dining halls were still open), showering and finally heading to a 10:30 a.m. class.
It took more motivation than merely imagining the beauty of the scenery he might encounter to commit to such regular, arduous rides.
“You get this weird feeling in your legs when you’re really into a training ride,” he said. “It’s not a typical burning from doing a couple wind sprints or a bunch of squats. It’s a borderline burn where it’s very warm, and you can kind of feel your muscles metabolizing and growing and festering … I’d sometimes feel that when I went really really hard, and that pushed me to get out there.”
There were also less enjoyable sides of the sport. Beron was particularly struck by how serious dieting was.
“Big names like Lance Armstrong … they would literally measure their food in grams, look at things like the number of grains of rice,” Beron said. “When you actually start getting competitive, you see where they’re coming from.”
Beron is 5’11, and professionals of his height clock in at around 150 pounds.
“You end up getting a lot of interesting body types where you have these really skinny upper bodies and pretty fit lower bodies,” Beron said. “That sort of imbalance wasn’t all too appealing for me.”
Beron also noticed that once he started caring more about the competitive aspect of the sport over its physical benefits, he received diminishing returns. It wasn’t until the Westerns Conference Championships in April of freshman year that Anthony began seriously considering stepping away from the sport.
“It had just been snowing, and what they do in those cities is they sandblast the roads,” he said. “It wasn’t the best for turning. We went around this curve going 20, 25 miles per hour, except [the guy in second] took it at a different angle and clipped my rear wheel.”
Anthony slid out and landed directly on his shoulder, snapping his collarbone. Though he returned to cycling, another crash led him to wonder why he was racing and to re-evaluate the dangers and benefits of speeding along asphalt roads on delicate machines.
“I stopped taking turns as risky as I normally would which really affected my racing,” he said. “I took into account the dangers and said enough is enough.”
Beron laughs. “Now I can eat to my heart’s content. My new lifestyle has contributed to a more healthy look.”
He still exercises at least an hour a day, playing tennis, swimming, weight lifting and running. He also has time now to engage fully with his classes and explore courses just for fun. In addition, he visits his family in Oakland on the weekends so he doesn’t “accumulate angst,” as he jokingly dubs it, from school.
The meditations he does nightly before bed hold the sleeplessness at bay, and though Beron sometimes misses cycling, he doesn’t regret switching from gravitating toward being a full-time athlete, to being a full-time student.
“It feels right,” he said. “It fits right.”
And when I ask him what was his best periods of time at Stanford have been, he can’t decide. This quarter, when he’s been almost 100 percent immersed in classes, or last fall quarter, when he was putting in the most miles and “felt sort of like Superman.”
Cycling taught Beron self-discipline, a skill that he can apply to anything. Other areas of life don’t require life and limb to be put at risk in the process of pursuing excellence.
“If I did have the choice to become a really competitive athlete again, I would,” he said. “I just wouldn’t pick cycling.”
Contact Katiana Uyemura at kuyemura ‘at’ stanford.edu.