His infraction? Receiving vitamins and fluid from an IV prior to his match. This was done in an effort to combat dehydration.
Are you confused? Did you even know that receiving an IV was considered against the rules? I bet you didn’t. Here is the language used by USADA/WADA Prohibited List (Category M2 Chemical and Physical Manipulation:
In Mayweather’s case, he was able to get a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE), which is essentially like a doctor’s excuse. This was conveniently backdated 19 days by USADA. How nice of them. I am sure the form just got lost in the mail.
What does this have to do with triathlon? Everything, now. Earlier this year a company called Pro Hydration started in Nashville. In a nutshell, it is a group of medical professionals, doctors and investors offering athletes IVs before or after a triathlon. They take a $1 bag of saline or their ‘special solution’ and charge $100 to (re)hydrate you. If you are even lucky they will offer you toradol (anti-inflammatory) or zofran (anti-nausea) even if you don’t need them.
I had a chance to talk to the CEO of Pro Hydration at the Chattanooga Waterfront Triathlon. He told me a little about their ‘product’ and what they were hoping to accomplish. On my drive home, the whole concept just didn’t sit well with me. I couldn’t reconcile how this was even ethical in the medical community. Why would a doctor provide a medical procedure without even determining if it was needed? Over the past few months, I reached out to five different medical professionals to get their opinion on such a business model. Every single one of them was astonished and thought it was against their basic values as a healthcare provider. I share that outlook.
Well, the story gets even better. The CEO followed up with me a few weeks later offering to attend one of our camps or to provide their services for our athletes. Replying to that email was one of those tasks that took me nearly a week to finish. I wanted to raise both the ethical and doping considerations without being antagonistic. Here are two excerts from my email:
“I don’t know if you guys are running into this yet. I suppose you aren’t going to get any push back from the running community. However, the triathlon community is a bit different. Most, not all of us belong to USAT through our membership. And as such USAT is a cosigner of USADA/WADA policies. The policy on IV usage is pretty clear that an athlete must possess a TUE (Therapeutic Use Exemption) or be admitted to a hospital, undergo surgery or be a part of an investigation.
So that is where my nervousness lies in regards to your business. While I don’t really think it would happen in this area, what is to stop the head referee from walking over after the race and busting all the athletes for simply getting an IV? If they are USAT members, they could be banned from competition for two years.
Now, I am sure that you guys have discussed this given that most of you are athletes. I am curious if you all interpret the WADA policy differently or structure your paperwork to help cover the athlete? Or it could be that you are simply trying to run a business and leave athletes to educate and decide for themselves (which is certainly not a judgement on my end)
Their reply? Nothing. Not a single word. I even ran into the CEO the very next week at a race and he made no attempt to address my concerns. I feel that speaks for itself.
I have spent the past few months talking to athletes, coaches and other professionals about the infusion of this business into the sport (pun intended). And I even recently saw that they will be present at Ironman Chattanooga. It makes me scratch my head and wonder if I am the only person in the world that sees this as a problem? I suspect it is more ignorance than anything.
Maybe you don’t think it is an ethical dilemma, like I do. But how do you reconcile that it is clearly, without a shadow of a doubt DOPING according to WADA? Maybe you can tell yourself that it isn’t really doping in the same regards as EPO, HGH or other anaerobic steroids. But do you know why IVs aren’t allowed? Because the history of doping includes using IVs as a masking agent, to dilute the body prior to a test. Did that get your attention?
If that didn’t get your attention, then consider that a recent study found that 13-15% of recreational triathletes admitted to doping in the past 12 months. That is 1 in 7 everyday athletes that admitted to doping. I bet I have your attention now! Doping, regardless of what ‘level’, is alive and well in the age group ranks.
Now I don’t think this is what Pro Hydration is after. I don’t think they are trying to break the rules. I honestly don’t think they care. And I don’t even think most athletes are using it in this manner. I think Pro Hydration knows it has a cash cow in triathletes and wants to provide a service. And triathletes…well…they will pay absurd amounts of money for just about anything that claims to make them better.
But that doesn’t mean that I have to like it. And it doesn’t mean that I want to see a ‘product’ like this serve as a vendor at a local race. I plan to raise this issue with local race directors, USAT and proper channels. If you want a clean sport, I think you should too. If you see them set up as a vendor, you should ask them the same questions I did. Maybe you will get answers.
So keep in mind that if it was against the rules for Floyd Mayweather, then it is against the rules for you. And I wouldn’t count on having his publicist, legal team or money to help you if the head referee walks over after the races and pops you for doping.
So this blog traveled around the Internet and social media quite well. And there was a great deal of conversation about the topic. Ultimately that was my goal…start a discussion. It wasn’t a surprise that the blog found it’s way to the team at Pro Hydration. Matt Wesseling, the CEO, reached out to me to chat about the blog, hydration and things in general.
Matt and I chatted amicably for about half an hour. And we cleared up some confusion. He stated he did not receive my email to him in July. I don’t have any reason to not believe him so I can chalk up his lack of response as a communication mishap. It’s water under the bridge and I am happy to hear that he wasn’t avoiding the questions I raised.
Ultimately, Matt and I agreed to disagree about what the guidelines state regarding IV hydration. His team simply interprets things differently and feels that the service they offer is in compliance with doping regulations. He feels they are offering a medically necessary product to athletes who demonstrate or experience dehydration symptoms. This is in the same manner that the medical tent serves athletes at the finish line. We had disagreement on whether this was in compliance or not.
In the end, I feel we had a very good, productive conversation. And one that he welcomes. As stated above, I don’t have any reason to think that Pro Hydration is trying to do anything against the rules. But that doesn’t change my interpretation of the rules. However, I will let you be the judge. The key here is the most athletes have never cracked open the WADA regulations. So this is as much about education as anything. And Matt welcomes you to contact him too with your questions. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org