Friday, 24 August 2012

Paralympics - Deadly Hidden Harm

The Greek hero Achilles was given a choice. Go to the battle of Troy, win great victories and have his fame live forever or stay at home, live in anonymity and have his name be forgotten. That same choice is being made here and now as London gears up for the 2012 Paralympics.

News agencies are reporting a cheating scandal far more drastic than the doping of regular olympic athletes.

Known as 'Boosting', Paralympians with spinal injuries are causing stress to their bodies which increases the heart rate and blood pressure because this can enhance their performance, giving them a greater edge over other competitors. Those who have spinal injuries may have difficulties raising their blood pressure and heart rate naturally with physical activity, so in order for them to maximise their performance they practice Boosting, which was banned in 1994. 

These same paralympians would go as far as to break bones in their feet, strangle their testicles, electrocute their scrotum (Yikes!), legs and/or feet, or sit on pins and use tight leg straps. 

These are only some of the techniques which have come to the attention of the authorities and it is likely there are more that have not yet come to light. It should be noted, however, that due to their condition, they are insensitive to the pain this would cause.

Boosting can lead to heart attacks, strokes, hypothermia, epilepsy, hypertension and and you could end up bursting blood vessels. All of this to win a medal? Good grief.

Nevertheless, all this raises some questions.

Would you live a mediocre life of everyday struggles and pleasures if you had the chance of immortal glory? Wouldn't it be worth the risk of throwing in all away for that? Just imagine you name in lights forever!

Is Boosting really cheating? Aren't they just manipulating their own bodies to achieve its full potential? 

How about Boxing, Formula One and Free Diving, recognized sports which have cost people their lives? Why can't paralympians have the same right to decide for themselves what risks they wish to take in their pursuit of excellence?

Not everyone will have the chance to go for olympic gold in this way, but is there anything that you would consider risking your health for? Isn't this what firemen, police and soldiers etc. do everyday?

Whatever your views, I would love to hear them.


  1. We are going to see much more of this kind of straddling the line cheating as we go into the future. With the man from South Africa that ran with the prosthetics in the regular Olympics, we can see the game is changing. Is modifying your body, possibly doing damage to it, going to be the next thing?

    Personally I think anything that you do to modify should be outlawed, because its the same thing steroids do.

    Its funny you mention Achilles as he was 'modified' as well. In the end, its a shame that this is what sports have become. Look at Lance Armstrong and what just happened to him....

    As far as comparing people competing in sports to Firemen, Police, and Soldiers, there is no comparison. Those people risk their lives for the benefit of their society, and they don't modify their bodies to do it.

    Well, that was rather a rambly comment there, but maybe I got my point across....

    1. Yes, I thought the man with the prosthetics may have had an advantage in the race so I wasn't happy about that one.
      I think the olypmpics / paralympics would just be a really good fair competition if everyone just trained and did their sport to their natural good ability and may the best man win, so to speak.
      You didn't ramble at all Dan and thanks for commenting.

  2. That is an interesting and very difficult topic.
    I think it is weird what these people do to their body and I am definitely against cheating in any way.

    I do judo, which is a very fair sport and there are very few cases of people taking drugs or cheating in any other way. I participated in a few competitions and although I am far away from being good enough for the olympics, I know what people do to their body. I know that there are people that eat absolutely nothing for a whole week in order to lose weight for the day of the competetion. This isn't cheating and nearly everybody does that in a less extreme way, for example for one day only. Of course sometimes you are so weak because of eating nothing that it didn't help you anyway. What I wanted to say is that sometimes you don't understand the reasons for people doing such strange things unless you are in their position. Most people not doing judo think that it is totally crazy to eat nothing because of a competition. But for the people that do it, it is not just sports, it is what they're living for, it is their dream.

    Don't get me wrong here, I really don't approve of these practices you mentioned. I just wanted to explain and understand it for myself. But I think it is crazy to risk your life for a medal and it should be considered as cheating.

    1. You raised a good point here in saying that some people have not eaten for a day to lose weight but it didn't even help them. That's important because all the damage these athletes do in the short and long term and a majority of those that abused themselves did not even win or at times qualify - so it was all a waste of time.

      It would be great if someone would divulge the reasons why they felt the need to cheat in order to win, just so that we could hear it from the horses mouth (directly). Thank you Kleopatra.

  3. Interesting topic, Before I was crippled, I used to partake in a number of sports. One was boxing and being at the upper edge of the light heavy band I used to have the option of boxing at heavy weight or skipping in a plastic bag until I had sweat-ed enough fluid from my body to put me in the light heavy weight. Whichever option I took used to disadvantage me and potentially put me at risk in the fight. Skip in the bag and be dehydrated and tired or fight at heavy weight and face an opponent who was a foot taller than me. Having now been crippled by pain as a result of a car accident, my personal view is we all make decisions which affect our lives, I feel that all is fair in terms of achieving your personal goals, with two exceptions, using drugs to enhance performance and causing harm to others.

    1. John, I see you were in a major dilema with the boxing category and not sure how I would have tackled this either.

      Just to clarify, are you saying you agree with boosting because it does no harm to others and is not a drug?
      Thanks for commenting.

  4. I feel as a flatfish in this subject, down to the water bed, and under a lot of dirt!

    Outside from rowing I didn't, and I don't practice almost any sport, I had, and have no time to dedicate to fitness.

    I climb up and down stairs, walk a lot, transport heavy bags from an airport to another and talk a lot to stewardesses, flight attendants, and air hostesses, I do not know if that count as practising exercises, but it seems to keep me fit enough, so I cannot follow the thought processes of an athlete, and much less a Paralympics performer.

    I can guess that from the viewpoint of a competitor, and remembering the words of the swimmer Mark Spitz's father, Mr. Arnold Spitz, supposedly said many year ago, "there is no runner up, only winners", the pressure to be the first in a classification is huge! BTW Mark won seven gold medals at the tragic Olympics Games in Munich, 1972.

    If we transfer this situation to Paralympic Games, it seems as if the odds are enhanced in the mind of the athlete and there is only one acceptable outcome: to win!

    Knowing the competitive trait of human species there is no surprise in the use of any mean that can ensure that outcome. Sometimes, over the consideration of the life value in itself.

    A friend from Malaysia taught me a saying from her people: "A tiger dies leaving its striped skin. A human dies leaving a name". This seems to underline many people feelings.

    I must say I do not share this thought, I think that the less you are known, and the less you are remembered, the bigger your reward
    in this pitiful world of us, but I know I am pretty alone in this feeling. I guess the Greek hero Achilles would have chided me for this, but I had no Thetis as a mother to hold me into the Styx from my ankle.

    In the end, I think that if I do not condone some attitudes from my fellows human beings, I can understand their motivations, which is a lame ending to my already lame post.

    1. Hi Untony, this is Alex (From last week)

      On the subject of Achilles, it's interesting to note that Homer makes him speak again, this time in the Odyssey. But now he's in Hades. And what does he tell Odysseus? That he would rather be the lowest of servants, eating poor and scarce food than to reign as a shade in the realm of the dead.

      So, far from chiding you, with the perspective of hindsight he would agree with you!

      I do too. I think there's some ancient wisdom there for us to savour.

      My approach to achievement is holistic. If maximising my potential in one aspect of my life comes at the expense of another important area, I would tend to shy away from that kind of imbalance.

      I realise that this will most likely relegate me to the ranks of the mediocre, but hey.

      As I look round, I don't see many happy achievers. Is this because their discontent is what drives them to succeed, or is it that the price of success is higher than they expected?

      In short I agree with all the comments so far. The atheletes that do this go way, way too far.

      Lastly, thanks to everyone who participated last week. I appreciate every contribution, and thanks, RumPunch for having me as your guest.

    2. Hi Alex, nice to "see" you again!

      You are right!

      Homer delighted himself making all kind of new ways to describe his tales, he even recount about the killing of Achilles by arrows through his chest not his heel! This is what makes this storyteller a great writer of Mythology, you never know where you stand. :)

      I agree that if you find yourself in Hades, being that place what was described by several dwellers, it is not surprising that a living slave was a better choice than a dead shadow, even if you own the place!

      It is a sage way to make life a holistic entity. There is an obviously clear demonstration that the whole is more that the sum of the parts, and that any mishandling of any of these parts will affect awfully the whole, if I may write this iterative obviousness.

      To be relegated to the mediocre rank, is meaningless unless you define exactly what you mean by mediocre rank, and demonstrate it is a bad thing! :)

      You won't find many happy achievers, no matter if one thing drove to the other or vice versa, from my viewpoint, achievement is as an assertive force that has not way to stop. It takes you to nothingness!

      Thank you for your comment, it is always nice to chat with you!

    3. Must admit you gave me a good laugh here. Yes, I guess that would qualify as exercise as luggage is not always light :) and stairs are not always few.

      "the less you are known and the less you are remembered, the bigger the reward" this sentence does actually say a lot to me. Sometimes those that really do the most are unknown to the majority and their reward is not for any to see.......

      As always Untony, thanks for you comments.

    4. Alex thanks for your comments. I appreciate you guest writing for me which was well received and hope you will be able to do another post for me again.

      I would agree that 'the price of their success is higher than they expected' in regards to your reply.

  5. I do not think it is because of the harmful effects, but that it is, in fact, cheating. No different than pumping steroids. I am all for people's rights to do what they want with their bodies, but in competition it is about a level playing field. Doing things to give you an unfair advantage have no part in competition.

    As for immortality, psht. Highly over-rate. Give me a boring happy life:)

    1. I agree Jamie. You do need to have a level playing field when it comes to competition, or what is the point.

      Thanks Jamie. From what I've read on your blog your life seems far from boring :)

  6. Hi Rum-Punch-Drunk, I was totally unaware of “boosting” by those with spinal injuries at the Paralympics and that is so dangerous. Yikes! to all those things you described that they do, and even worse if they cannot feel the pain and therefore not thinking about the long-term damaging effects on their bodies. And all for the glory of winning a medal?!

    To answer your questions: 1) The chance to discard a mediocre life of everyday struggles for a chance at immortal glory is, I will admit, tempting. But I am cautious by nature, I would examine all the options and in the end I would just Not risk it. 2) Yes, I think boosting is really cheating because although they are manipulating their own bodies to achieve full potential, the act of doing this gives them an unfair advantage over others who do not “boost.” 3) You make an excellent point about sports like boxing and Formula One racing where people risk their lives. The risk they take participating is their individual choice but boxers and racers don’t usually do anything to their bodies ahead of time to give them an advantage, because they take great pride in the actual achievement of naturally being better than those they are competing against. And 4) I greatly admire firemen/women, police, soldiers, doctors, nurses, and those in occupations that can risk their health and their lives because they are helping others. It is very brave and noble. Since I am not in any of those occupations, I cannot think of anything worth risking my health. Here’s a quote I think applies: "Your health may not be everything, but if you lose it, everything soon becomes nothing."

    1. Thanks, JerseyLil, for giving your views on each point. Brilliant quote because it's true that, if we don't have our health, it's hard to enjoy anything else we do have.

  7. I never heard of boosting. It sounds dangerous and stupid not only that but risky. If you injured yourself with boosting you wouldn't get a metal anyways so why do it?

    1. I guess the fact is, that some may get away with boosting and some won't. But it is a dangerous thing to do. Thanks Tamron.

  8. For someone with a spinal cord injury that's T6 or higher, boosting is a terrible idea because the of the risks of developing autonomic dysreflexia, the array of life-threatening cardiovascular and neurological events which you alluded to in your article. It's a phenomenon we worry about when these patients have surgery...something as seemingly benign as a full bladder can trigger this devastating physiological cascade of vasoconstriction, rapidly leading to sustained arterial and intracranial hypertension, cerebral and retinal hemorrhage, intractable seizures, and death. Boosting may not technically be considered cheating, but it is an appalling practice, nonetheless. You can't win a competition if you kill yourself trying.

    1. Ah, that's it and well said. What if you do all of this 'boosting' only to live but for a moment? Not worth it I say. From what you have said it is clear that there are many medical risks to doing this sort of thing which I think people know but don't believe it would happen to them. I value the in-depth medical insight you bring to this.

      Thanks Helena.

  9. This is horrible! I had no idea! You hear of athletes taking steroids to improve their skills and their strength, but this is even worse! The glory of winning could never be worth a lifetime of pain!!

    1. Thanks for your views menopausal mama. A lifetime of pain is something that should be contemplated when they do this, as conditions can get much worse than what they have now.

  10. You always bring out these lively discussions through your posts. I learned a couple of things in this one. Never heard of boosting. Also, I never imagined that paralympians were resorting to such extreme measures to boost their performance.

    Who wants to be a loser? No one. Everybody wants to win. Even some of the high profile pro athletes have been found to cheat to come out on top. I think they must share some of the blame for the current culture in the world of athletics since aspiring athletes idolize these prominent athletes. Performance-enhancing drugs are a problem among pros, college sports and high school sports, and now I learn among the physically challenged athletes.

    My bottom line is that a person can do whatever he wants to do to his own body, but when athletes compete they must do so according to the rules. Any other way constitutes disqualification.

    1. Yeah, you're right in the sense that nobody wants to lose or be a loser.

      But then again, what satisfaction is there in cheating? Have you really won?

      Therefore, I quite agree that it should always be on a level playing field, as that way you will really know who has won without question.

      As always Frank, thank you for your comments.

  11. Not had coffee yet, so brain not fully functioning. Wondering whether I should have the coffee now... or is it cheating?

    In one sense, electrocuting your balls is no crazier than the thousands of hours spent in painful training to become a top athlete. How is taking a performance enhancing drug different from drinking an energy drink, or eating pasta the night before?


    1. It really depends how much coffee, the strength and the overall advantage it will give you from the non-coffee drinkers. This will then determine whether or not it constitutes cheating :)

      I would say that electrocuting your balls is much much more crazier than painful training. Would you be willing to demonstrate for me? otherwise I don't believe you, ha ha ha.

      Robert, need I answer the last question, as I know how you like to joke a lot! :) Thank you for your words of wisdom Robert, I do appreciate it and will be visiting you soon.

  12. In my opinion, the greatest wealth that a man/woman can have, it that of good health... or the closest to it as possible!

    Fame and Wealth are the most outwardly visible manifestations of success. Yet celebrity and fortune can be achieved just as easily by a drug dealer who makes the news or a heart surgeon who saved a life. Achieving your place of distinction in the world by doing things the right way will enable you to truly enjoy the prosperity that it brings. Doing things the right way means doing things in a way that allows you to maintain your health and sanity as well as your family, friendships, morals and dignity.

    Some people may believe that wealth and fame are the pillars of living a successful and balanced life. I choose to believe that good health, strong happy relationships with others and a strong sense of pride in oneself are the essential measures of a live well lived.

    I wouldn't trade my health for no 15 minutes of fame... eventually all the hype dies off and we are once again just ordinary people. Your health, that's something I would expect that a person would ALWAYS want.

    1. I really liked your comments Daily Dose of Musings. Health is a very important factor to always consider throughout our whole life. All the money in the world can't buy your health back. You are so right. Thanks.


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