PHASE IV is Undetectable in the Blood

by Robert Forster, PT

These times of fallen sports heroes and recent exposure of widespread drug cheating in professional cycling, confirms my urgent message that it is more important than ever to use a scientific and ethical approach to achieve athletic excellence.

Whatever we might think of Lance Armstrong and his ruthless drive to keep his dark secret, the more striking truth that came to light is that he competed on an even playing field because the top riders in the Tour De France were doping. In fact, many believe that only a handful of the nearly 200 peloton riders in the Tour De France were not doped.

My fundamental disappointment in the Lance Armstrong mea culpa is that the true context of doping throughout all of professional sports has yet to frame this conversation. I believe Lance when he said the US Postal Team program was conservative in terms of dosage and duration of his drug regime. After all, he certainly would never be mistaken for a bodybuilder, an NFL lineman, he never failed a drug test and he did not win every race he entered. Informed opinions suggest that players in the NFL, NHL or NBA are not nearly as conservative in their performance drug use.

A three part New York Times expose last year regarding drug use among NHL “enforcers” was astonishing in terms of the common place use of drugs for performance and pain in that sport. There is no indication that these are isolated players rigging the system. Similar press coverage of drug use in the other professional sports leagues has not registered in the minds of sports fans that condemn Lance Armstrong as a cheat but hail their grid iron and ice heroes as gods of fair competition.

Some voices in the sports media have said that professionals know the risks of doping or competing against drug strengthened athletes and accept those risks as part of the game they get paid to play. But, what about our kids? What about young athletes who are led to believe they can achieve their dreams of Olympic or professional sports glory without cheating? Is it fair to hold up doped athletes as role models and present their accomplishments as achievable ethically? How about the young middle school and high school athletes who fall prey to the lure of performance enhancing drugs but have no chance of ever playing professionally? Is the threat to their long-term health from these drugs worth sacrificing with the disingenuous value proposition that all it takes is hard work to compete at the highest levels of sport?

For any athlete, doping exacts a great personal toll. All athletes begin building their career on an ethical platform. Athletes succeed at first by developing a healthy degree of self-reliance and personal drive. No one can do the work for them; no one else’s sacrifices are going to get them on the podium. The decision to take that first step out onto the slippery slope of drug use displaces that mode of control from what’s in their heart to what’s in the little bottle on their night stand. That is when they begin to lose their most precious strength; self reliance, and then they are truly lost.


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