The misadventures of drug testing
I believe being an athlete is the best job in the world. But sometimes it presents unique challenges, such as the not-so-glorious requirement of drug testing.
Most people know athletes are tested for performance-enhancing drugs to keep a sport clean and fair, and I'm a full supporter of that. But most people, including even my close friends and family, don't know how intrusive the process can be.
Even though I have been in the registered testing pool for years now, it's still a strange and awkward process. Every athlete in the United States who competes at an Olympic level has to be in the registered testing pool of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA, the official anti-doping agency for Olympic, Pan American and Paralympic sport.)
I'm a ski jumper, and my sport is very technical. It doesn't rely on endurance and strength as strongly as other sports. Doping in ski jumping simply isn't prevalent -- there's no real advantage gained in our sport.
Athletes in USADA's testing program are subject to both urine and blood testing 365 days a year, and tests can occur at any time and place. This seems reasonable until you break it down:
• I have to let USADA know my location every hour of every day.
• If I go camping, for example, I have to give my GPS coordinates in case I need to be tested. My whereabouts are very important because if I miss a test, it can result in a doping violation.
Once you are notified that you are subject to a test, you are shadowed by the USADA tester. They have to watch you at all times until you "produce a sample." They can show up at your door at 6 a.m., during training, at the grocery store, during special or personal occasions -- any place at any time. If you are unable to produce a sample right away, the tester will wait.
Sometimes, I actually get "pee anxiety" because I can't produce a sample on the spot. I'm pretty sure it's a response to one of my first drug-testing experiences.
In 2009, I won World Championships in Liberec, Czech Republic. I was experiencing a lot of emotion after winning when I soon realized a woman with a clipboard was following me. She didn't say a word at first. Then, in broken English, I was informed she was with doping control and would be following me until I produced a sample. I could only drink water she supplied.
At that point, producing a sample was the last thing on my mind. I had just won the biggest competition of my life and I was being asked to urinate in a cup. I was nervous and scared as I chugged water the entire ride to the testing facility. I just wanted it to be over.
When we arrived, I was ushered into a bathroom. We stopped near the sinks and I was told to wash my hands with only water (Huh?) She gave me a paper towel and pointed toward a bag full of cups in plastic wrapping and told me to pick one out.
She opened a stall door for me to go in and came in right after me and said I had to pull down my pants below my knees and pull up my shirt above my belly button. I was so ashamed and embarrassed that I began to shake. I sat down, did as I was told, but ...
I sat there for at least 20 minutes with this lady shouting instructions at me and me shouting back that "I just can't do it!" I took some deep breaths and tried to relax and convince myself that I had to pee, but it was not happening. Not a drop. I had new empathy for toddlers going through potty training.
I was finally allowed to get up, go into another room and wait. I tried three more times -- go sit on the toilet, half naked, and try to go. Finally, on the third go-around, and an hour and a half later, the deed was done. Well, not really. I then had to pour the sample into two different A and B bottles for testing. I was still shaking, trying to pour the urine into the two small bottles. The tester tried to help me, and I accidentally spilled some on her. She yelled a few obscenities at me in broken English and Czech.
Yeah, it's kind of funny now, but I still have "pee anxiety" every time I am tested. Every weird or embarrassing thing you could think of in a testing situation has probably happened to me or someone else. That time of the month? Check. Too much coffee resulting in a stomachache? Check. Could you at least turn on the fan?
If I'm experiencing the anxiety, some testers will even sing the "Tinkle, Tinkle, Little Star" song. I am not kidding. I assume the whole process is just as uncomfortable for the testers, or maybe they have seen it all and more.
I strongly support drug testing and think the system keeps the sport clean. Believing in it and being tested are very different, though. Every knock at the door still stops my heart just a wee bit -- pun intended.
Lindsey Van is a member of the Visa Women's Ski Jumping Team and represents the United States on the World Cup circuit. She made history in 2009 by becoming the first women's ski jumping world champion. Van has helped lead the charge to get her sport into the Winter Olympics, where it will debut in Sochi in 2014.