Lashinda Demus: ‘They know I’m clean’
Lashinda Demus, the reigning world champion in the 400-meter hurdles, is blogging about her journey to the London Games for espnW. Click here to read her first blog.
I’m not sure what the average morning looks like at your house, but at mine, the cast of characters often includes me, getting ready to go to practice; my husband, getting ready to start the day; our sleepy 4-year-old twins; and, amidst the usual chaos of barking dogs and backpacks and gym bags and breakfast dishes, a drug-tester, who shows up unannounced and demands that I produce a urine sample.
It’s bizarre, but drug testing is a necessary evil of making a living as a track and field athlete. You have to give them a location, anywhere on earth, where the USADA (U.S. Anti-Doping Agency) testers can find you for a one-hour window for all 365 days of the year. I give them my home address and an early-morning window because, let’s face it, where else am I going to be at 7 a.m.?
Of course, you can’t always account for travel to competitions or vacations in advance. No one in their right mind can really know exactly where they’ll be every day of the year. So if you have a change of plans or an emergency, you can send the testers an update, via email or from your phone. If you forget to do this and they show up when you’re not there, that counts as a missed test. Three missed tests is the same as testing positive in USADA’s book. I try to remember to send in updates, but sometimes I forget. And knowing that I have a chance of getting a positive test without doing any drugs at all — it’s ridiculous.
When in Rome…
Most Americans only think about track and field once every four years during the Olympics. They don’t realize that professional track athletes actually compete every year on the European circuit, which is where we make most of our money, both in appearance fees and prize money. Now that I’m the reigning world champion, I will be commanding higher appearance fees than I did before, because the meet directors can promote the competitions with the name “Lashinda Demus.”
This year, I’ll be heading over there in late May to race in Ostrava, Czech Republic (May 25) and in Rome (May 31). Then I’ll come home for the Olympic trials, and then head back to Europe to do two or three more tune-up meets before the London Games. Sometimes you only see the airport, the hotel and the track, but in the nicer or more alive cities, I make time to go out and have fun. Rome, which I’ve been to five or six times, is one of my favorite spots. There’s not a single restaurant I’ve been to there where the food wasn’t good. I also love Athens — they have great food and great shopping. It’s a pretty good life. I’d much rather do this job than have a 9-to-5, I guarantee you.
The testers show up at my door at least once a month and sometimes every couple of weeks. If they’re taking a blood sample, the tester might be male or female, but if they are taking a urine sample, the tester is always a woman. She goes into the bathroom with you, makes you pull up your shirt to prove there’s nothing hidden there, and then watches you pee in the cup. The first time I did this, when I was 18 and still in high school, it made me really uncomfortable. But after 10 years of testing, I’m used to it. Now I just try to make the testers feel more comfortable. You get to know them by name, and we’ll share stories about our kids, and say we should all go someplace together.
You also usually get tested at major competitions. Last summer in South Korea, as soon as I crossed the finish line in the 400-meter hurdles final, they whisked me and the other medalists off to doping control. But you don’t care at that point; you’re laughing straight to the bank. I was so euphoric over having finally broken the American record that my attitude was, take what you want, do what you want. I’m the world champion!
You are informed of your test results, positive or negative, and my tests have been negative my whole career. I know I’m clean, so I’m pretty chill about the whole process. The only thing that can trip me up is medication from the doctor. So if the doctor ever prescribes anything for me, I go right to USADA’s website and enter the medication, and it tells you if it’s banned or not. That’s how simple it is.
Even though the drug-testing process is no more than an inconvenience for me, I do have some philosophical qualms about the system. What bothers me is this: I feel they don’t test the people that stand out, the athletes who have had dramatic improvements in performance, enough. I’ve been running professionally for eight years now, with never a positive test, so why are you still at my door every month, or even every two weeks? So that I can find out 10 years from now that one of my competitors, someone who wasn’t getting tested as often, has been using illegal drugs all along?
I wonder if they test the athletes that they know are clean more often, just so they can say they collected this many clean tests for such-and-such a year. I do have those thoughts — are they testing me because they know I’m clean, and it will help them meet a quota? I’m here working my butt off, getting tested all the time, and then I see athletes making out-of-the-ordinary improvements, and they don’t get caught until years later. If you’re going to have a drug-testing program, then really do it. Test everyone, and test them often. If you’re not going to do that, then leave me alone.
For more on the anti-doping policies of the IAAF, track and field’s international governing body, click here.
For more on this story, click here.