FitzFacts: Empathy for the Steroid Devil

Friday, January 15, 2010

Empathy for the Steroid Devil

Everyone has something to say about Mark McGwire this week. In my lifetime, I have seen the East German female Olympic swimmers, Ben Johnson, Lyle Alzado, and it seems that every sport has been affected by legal and illegal performance-enhancing drugs. Which should really come as no surprise because sports is about competition and part of competition is about looking for an advantage. Because of that, athletes are going to keep cheating and sports governing organizations have to keep trying to catch them. Somewhat coincidentally, I had something of an eye-opening experience this week that led me to a tangential thought on this topic.

Up until about 18 months ago, I considered myself to be in reasonably good physical shape for a person my age, which will be 43 in a few weeks. Not a triathlete by any stretch, but my annual doctor visit usually ended with a gold star on my chart. Then I tore my ACL. I had it repaired surgically - not arthroscopic with the pretty lasers and the freckle-sized scars, but the kind with the really sharp knife that leaves the big, bumpy stripes you can show people. It sucked, it hurt, but I did all the prescribed rehab (also sucked and hurt) and wore the proper braces and took the precautions per doctors' orders.

Once released from the formal regimen of a licensed physical therapist, I had to get back to exercising. I did some swimming last summer, but that resolve faded somewhere in mid-July. Thoughout the fall, I procrastinated about resuming any kind of real workouts because the knee wasn't supposed to be full strength until a year after the surgery, which was November. You know, then it's the holidays, snow, ice, it's too cold, I'm lazy, I think I might be getting sick, the dog doesn't like it when I sweat...

Never been much of a New Year's resolution guy, but when a desk cleaning unearthed an exercise routine I had followed and enjoyed in the past, I dragged out the dumbbells and got on the treadmill. Worked out Tuesday - felt good. Worked out Wednesday, different muscle group focus - felt good. Woke up yesterday - exhausted. Had a pretty good night's sleep Wednesday, but there was not enough coffee in the world to keep me going, and the muscles complained about doing things like driving and scratching. So I took the day off from physical exertions, but I am hoping to get back to it today.

And this is where my performace enhancement empathy comes in. I'm not talking about the 23-year old who adds 30 pounds of muscle in the offseason so he can compete for a defensive end position. I'm talking about the aging baseball player who starts to notice how much tougher it is to make it through the West Coast road trip. As the money has gotten bigger and bigger, adding a couple years to a career means millions of dollars. Weight training and conditioning have become more and more important and at some point, you just can't get the same benefits. Me, I can take a day off because I know my body needs it and not worry about losing my job, but these guys are always being pushed by the next guy.

Now, I am not saying I think that athletes should be allowed to take performance-enhancing drugs. But there's an old Chris Rock routine where he talks about the rage OJ Simpson must have felt when he saw Ron Goldman driving around Los Angeles in a Ferrari OJ had bought for Nicole. The laugh line was something like, "I'm not saying he killed her, but I could understand." So when he comes to aging athletes crossing the line so they can hang on a little longer, well, I can understand.

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