My last blog discussed the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and the logistics of preserving the integrity of sport through random drug testing. Doping is cheating and everyone hates cheaters. And if they get caught we tie stones to their feet and throw them into the sea of shame, while we ponder the ethics of cheating to keep up with all the cheaters. Regardless, a positive drug test equals a ban from competition relative to the offense. But that’s not the only way to receive a doping violation.
Previously, I glanced over the three strikes rule USADA has regarding whereabouts filing. This can occur one of two ways: 1) You fail to file your quarterly whereabouts forms that state where you will be at what time, every day of the calendar year. 2) You are not where you said you would be in that whereabouts filing. Three strikes may sound forgiving, but even outside of the constant travel of a competitive lifestyle, consider the little nuances of life that just happen.
When USADA selects you for testing, they come and knock aggressively on the door (remember — a missed test is always on the line!) of whatever address you gave three months prior, usually around 6 a.m. So imagine now all the times where you were at a friend’s place, stayed up late talking and decided to just stay the night. Or you saw a flight sale that was too good to pass up and went home for the weekend. Perhaps you sleep with a fan on and didn’t hear the knock. USADA is required to call you — but what if your phone died? If you cannot meet that USADA officer within one hour of their initial attempt to find you, X marks the missed test.
Luckily we have the ability to text or email USADA as our schedule changes, the problem is just remembering to do this! Predict where you will be three months from now and see if you can remember on that day if you were correct. As you can tell, I’m not the best at it. I have had my fair share of missed tests over the years, and they usually are some culmination of unfortunate events that stack up against me. That or I just plain forget to update — this bobsled brain of mine has been knocked around!
One time when I was training in Huntington Beach, Calif. and I decided to visit my sister for the weekend in Los Angeles. Of course I forgot to update, which shouldn’t have been a big deal since I would have theoretically been able to meet the officer within an hour of calling me. That is unless you plug your phone into a faulty outlet and it dies. It takes a village, and the village that day tried desperately to get a hold of me. The friend I lived with called my mom, who called my sister, who was at work and called her roommate, who woke me up… just in the nick of bad time — five minutes late outside the hour.
It may just be because I travel so much, but there is this weird timing streak happening where I forget to update and USADA shows up at my door the very same day I hopped on a flight. This has happened multiple times now, and multiple strangers have had to hear me cuss up a storm on a layover as I listen to the voicemail from the doping officer.
Yes there are those times you barely miss it, but I’ve also had plenty of times where I barely made it. I’ve met officers in the most random of places. One time I hopped down to San Diego for the day when I was training in Huntington Beach, and the only way to get to the doping officer in time was to meet halfway. I ended up giving a urine sample at a discount mall public restroom just off the freeway. Happy weekend deal-seekers washed their hands and stared curiously as I poured urine from one jar to another.
Clearly tests can happen anywhere, at any time. When I was sponsored by Home Depot, I gave numerous samples in their public restroom, creeping out many a home improvement shopper. Lucky for me I pride myself on being one of the fastest urine-testers in the west and can usually complete the process in 17 minutes or less. Unfortunately, others are not so lucky and cursed with “stage fright.” Their tests can go on for hours, as they drink bottle after bottle of juice, waiting for their body to have to purge badly enough to get past the paralysis of urinary stage fright. As per the rules, the doping chaperone cannot leave the athlete’s side until a viable sample is given, so there is a lot of quality time spent with our friendly local urine collectors. One unlucky doping officer had to follow an athlete up the infamous Incline in Colorado Springs, Colo., a staircase that rises 2,011 feet over the distance of just one mile.
Most USADA testing sessions are pretty standard, but as you can see a lot of effort is put in, on both sides, to ensure the integrity of competition. It’s not glamorous, nor convenient, but it is a constant reminder to all athletes, doping or not, that someone else is watching, even if your conscience isn’t.