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Paralympics: Some athletes use pain as a performance enhancer

August 27, 2012|By Houston Mitchell
  • Torchbearer Simon Richardson lights the Paralympics caldron outside City Hall in Cardiff, Wales, on Monday.
Torchbearer Simon Richardson lights the Paralympics caldron outside… (Tim Ireland / Associated…)

OK, enough talk about Lance Armstrong and his possible use of drugs or blood doping as a performance enhancer. It turns out some athletes in the Paralympics, which begins Wednesday in London, use pain as a performance enhancer.

Paralympics officials said Monday that, along with testing for banned drugs, they will be on the lookout for something called "boosting" among wheelchair athletes.

What is boosting? Pain.

In able-bodied athletes, physical exercise raises the heart rate and blood pressure, which helps you perform better during an event. Athletes with a severe spinal cord injury don't get that boost.

So, to get a rapid rise in blood pressure, some wheelchair athletes try to raise their heart rate and blood pressure by causing pain in the lower parts of their body, such as sitting on a sharp object, hitting their feet with a hammer or giving parts of their body an electric shock.

"There have been times where I would specifically give my leg or my toe a couple of really good electric shocks," Brad Zdanivsky, a 36-year-old quadriplegic, told the BBC.

"That would make my blood pressure jump up and I could do more weights and cycle harder — it is effective."

Athletes suspected of boosting at the Paralympics will be asked to undergo blood-pressure checks, but Zdanivsky says that won't prove too effective.

"There is no real solution," he said. "It is an ugly can of worms that no one wants to open it and talk about."


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