What is the price of winning?
As I walked and ran the fields of Olympia, Greece that hosted more than 250 ancient Olympic Games, I felt a palpable sense of reverence. This beautiful valley city is located about 200 miles west of Athens and 40 miles inland from the Ionian Sea. The first Olympic games were held there in 776 BC as a tribute to the Greek god Zeus. Events included foot races of various distances, wrestling, the discus, javelin throws, long jump, horse-drawn chariot racing and a type of boxing called pancratium.
The Olympic Games were so important that every four years, for some 850 years, all wars or armed disputes were suspended throughout the lands so that athletes and spectators could travel to Olympia and participate in the Games in peace. More often than not, those wars did not resume afterwards. The ancient Olympic Games were bigger than today’s Soccer World Cup and football’s Superbowl combined. The Games went on for months, not weeks, and included festivals for artisans, sculptors, poets, speeches by religious and cultural leaders sharing their philosophies and ideas, At today’s Olympic Games, spectators and athletes continue this long standing cultural exchange by trading special collector pins that represent their different countries and sports.
In ancient Greece, cheating at such a revered event as the Olympics was punishable by a life-time disqualification of the athlete and his sponsoring state. This was followed by the creation of a larger than life-sized statue of the disgraced athlete, which was placed at the entrance to the Olympic Stadium to immortalize his corruption for eternity. Spectators were reminded each Olympiad of these cheaters and spat on their statues as they entered and exited the Olympic Stadium. Those original 13 statues remain at the stadium entrance today. (No, I did not spit on them.) Our sports world today is in need of this ancient Olympics’ reminder to the consequences of cheating, especially how they took action against their cheaters. Present day abuse of blood doping, anabolic steroids use, human growth hormone, stimulants, and other illegal performance-enhancing drugs (PED’s) have mocked the importance of sports’ ethics. How many statues would we currently have to errect to reflect all our PED cheaters? Do you know their faces? How many countries would still have the privilege to compete? Additionally, every athlete, coach, doctor, or chemist who supplies these substances, are modern day disgraces to professional sports, motivated by the desire to win at all costs regardless of the ethics of their methods. Today, most Olympic sport athletes have to test positive three times before they are banned for life! Additionally, the short-time gains of using PED’s are sorely outweighed by the long-term major health risks. These risks are undeniable and much more is being uncovered and understood about them as I write.
I have personally observed the gamut of these risks, from the tragic fall of a historic Olympic athlete who was stripped of her Olympic medals, to knowing a professional colleague who suffers from the long-term effects of having used anabolic steroids as a collegiate athlete. His affects include having advanced cardiovascular disease, multiple surgeries for abnormal breast growths (gynecomastia) and premature balding. Many of the drug cheats I have known over the last 20 years also now suffer from what I call Post-Steroid Rage. Clinically, I do not know if they are depressed due to their present health challenges and/or to the consequential changes in their lifestyles due to their past doping.
At long last, both Olympic and professional sports have finally begun to address many of these doping issues. However, pharmacists of some of the drug-cheats seem to still be one step ahead of the testing done by the anti-doping associations, USADA (US Anti-Doping Association) and WADA (World Anti-Doping Association). That said, mandates by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and international sport federations and enhanced testing techniques have helped. It should be the responsibility of every professional involved in sports to promote a drug-free philosophy to our youth…from doctors, to coaches, to trainers. If we all help to teach our present day athletes to understand that victory achieved by illegal methods has no worth or significance, we all win. What value do sports really have if they are denigrated into competitions amongst chemical androids?
I believe that running is a life-time sport and our body is our machine. We have just one body. We must take care of what we put into it and how we take care of it, to be able to live long and well. Most of us will probably get at least 200,000 miles out of their bodies, and many of us will hit the 500,000 mile mark in our lifetimes. A true athlete is someone who maximizes his or her best qualities to allow their body to perform at its best without jeopardizing its future. As a chiropractor, I primarily maintain the structural and functional integrity of the body through manual, non-surgical manipulation of the joints, tissues, muscles, and connective tissues. My graduate studies and clinical experience include nutrition, X-Ray and other diagnostic studies, physical therapy modalities, prevention methods, movement analysis and conditioning—rather than focusing on surgical remedies and pharmaceuticals as most medical doctors do. I support using invasive medical procedures and prescription drugs when needed, especially to correct dysfunction and to save lives.
I do not believe we are yet at the end of this era of artificial athletic enhancement; like cigarette smoking, it will take longer to eradicate. There is no question that steroid abuse and the cost burdens that the performance-enhancing drug era will have on our national health care system during the next 25 years will be alarming. Yes, we will get old, and yes we have this one body to live with. But I believe it is very important to not cheat at life or in life. That includes all the ways in which we care for this body of ours, whether we are Olympians or runners, young or old, today or tomorrow.
The father of western medicine, Hippocrates, said, “The doctor of the future will educate his patients in the health of the human skeleton.” I believe this is my calling and I will continue to carry the baton to share the important things I’ve learned over the past 35 years. I run daily, do marathons myself and have treated some of the fittest professional athletes on the planet—from athletes with the endurance to swim, bike, and run for 8 continuous hours while doing the Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii, to Olympians sprinting 100 meters faster than anyone has before. I love the challenge of helping these superior athletes maximize their physical potential. But I get the biggest reward from the work I do with young athletes. I always tell them, “99% of our Olympic Track & Field athletes receive regular chiropractic treatments and massage therapy.” My goal and mission in life is to stay closely connected to our future through these aspiring future Olympians while promoting fair drug-free competitions and global peace via the original Olympic mandates.
Let’s see how we can all help achieve these goals!
Dr. Paul R Copeskey, D.C., C.C.F.C.