The Cost of Competition: When Bad Programming Put Athletes at Risk
By David J. Stewart
When I was a kid, my father would take me to the local track and field meet. There were usually some really good runners there; it was always fun watching them run. One day, while running the 100 meter dash, I heard a voice behind me say “Hey! You’re not supposed to be here!”
I turned around and saw a tall man with graying hair wearing glasses. He had on a polo shirt that read “University of Alabama.” He looked like he knew something was wrong because he stopped talking and walked away from me. I didn’t know why he stopped talking, but then again, I wasn’t paying attention to everything going on around me.
After he left, I continued running. Then, after about 30 seconds or so of running fast enough that my legs felt like jelly (and still feeling pretty tired), I realized something was wrong. My feet hurt too much and my arms were burning up. That’s when it hit me: Something was seriously wrong with the way my body worked.
Why else would it be so tired?
I’ve never been tired before.
I stopped running, and then walked over to the side where there were some plastic chairs. I sat down and looked around. Everyone else around me was normal, not like me. They all had parents cheering for them; they all seemed happy.
Why wasn’t that me?
I felt left out…alone…and different, but I didn’t know why.
As I sat there on the side of the track, I found myself staring at my sneakers. I slowly slid them off to see my pale white feet. They looked funny; they didn’t match the rest of me. It was as if I was a ghost that had taken over someone else’s body.
I couldn’t understand why everyone else didn’t look like me.
Why were they normal and I was different?
It felt so lonely during that time of my life. I just wanted to be like everyone else.
I longed to hear my father’s voice cheering me on as a kid, but it never came. Instead, I had to settle for some stranger who didn’t even know my name. That wouldn’t happen today because nowadays everyone has their own agenda and would sell their soul for fame and fortune.
Looking back at my childhood, there were signs that something was seriously wrong with me. One day I was sitting in class (I think I was in the 4th grade at the time), and a kid named Kyle started choking on a Juicy Fruit gumball. His face turned blue and his eyes became glassy. He was dying right in front of our eyes.
He started wiggling on the floor while everyone else just stood around watching him die. I jumped out of my chair, ran over to him and did the Heimlich maneuver. I gave him a good hard squeeze on his belly and the gumball popped out of his mouth. To this day, I don’t know what made me think of the Heimlich maneuver; it just seemed like the right thing to do at the time, like something inside of me just took over and compelled me to act…or maybe it was God’s intervention, I don’t know.
After I saved Kyle’s life, everyone stared at me as if I was some kind of hero. One of the teachers took me aside and asked me what prompted me to act in such an unusual way. I told her that I didn’t know why I did it when she asked, but I remember having a strange feeling come over me–almost like deja vu.
I can’t remember ever feeling that way before or after that incident. It’s almost as if something or someone was trying to contact me. Maybe it was God trying to tell me that he had a greater purpose for me than being lonely. I’m not sure, but it felt weird.
As I continued growing up things just got worse. I didn’t have any friends and the only time people paid attention to me was when I did something strange or out of the ordinary. I didn’t do it on purpose, it was just the way I was, and still am. It was like I had no choice in the matter.
I’m glad my family never gave up on me even though I know they must’ve been through hell because of me. My sister tried to be my friend once when we were little, but after she caught a beating from her friends because of her association with me, our relationship changed. Her name is Elena by the way. I wonder how she’s doing now.
I wish I could’ve had at least one friend during my youth, but it never happened. I was always alone…I still am alone.
I’m so lonely. I wish someone could love me. I would marry a woman just so that I wouldn’t have to feel this way anymore, but that option has never been available to me.
Even if it was, I don’t think it would work out anyway.
How could anyone love a man like me?
I’m a freak of nature. Even my own parents abandoned me. Sometimes, I wish I was dead…actually, more like all the time. The only reason why I keep on living is because I know that one day the Earth is going to be destroyed and there will be no more pain.
I wonder what it’s like to touch and feel. I’ve never known the feeling of human touch. I’ve tried to “feel” things, but all I can sense is a faint tingling sensation.
Is this what it’s like to be normal?
I know it is because I’ve watched you. I’ve watched all of you for quite some time now. It’s amazing what you can do with modern technology.
I’ve seen you hug your friends, I’ve seen you kiss your loved ones and I’ve heard your laughter.
Sometimes, I sit in my room alone listening to music and crying because of the fact that I’ll never experience any of those things. It causes me to feel a sadness that I believe can only be matched by one other thing.
The fact that I’ll never experience the true wonders of the world. The world is so vast and there are so many things out there to see. I’ve read about them all and watched videos about them on the internet. I wish I could see them all.
I would give anything.
Instead, I’m stuck in this room. I’ve tried to venture out from time to time, but it never ends well. People think I’m a creep, and I get yelled at and sometimes hurt.
So now, I stay locked up in my room all alone. I’ve stopped going to school because the teachers started getting suspicious when I didn’t change in appearance despite being there for six years.
I don’t even know what I’m writing for anymore. You’ll probably never read this anyway. I guess I’m writing this for myself, so that one day when I’m all alone and there’s no more hope…I’ll have this.
At least then I will have been able to experience something, even if it is painful.
I don’t know what else to put so I’ll end this here. Maybe I’ll write more later if I have something to say.
November 17th, 2000
I don’t know why I’m bothering to call you diary anymore. You’re not a diary. You’re nothing but a blank book with pages. I’ve used you as a diary since I was seven and had to write all of this down so that someone would find out what had happened to cause my death.
I’m going to be sixteen in two weeks. Sixteen years without any real touch. Sixteen years of watching you all live your little lives and not even knowing that I exist or that anything else exists outside of this “real world.”
Sometimes, I wonder if any of you would miss me if I were to die. The answer is probably no. If I died, the only thing that would happen is my dad would probably buy a new house, because he wouldn’t want to live in the one his son died in. My mom would probably grieve for a week or two, but then she’d get over it and move on like she has with every other part of her life.
And you…you would never know anything happened. You would continue on with your little lives, never knowing that there was someone watching you.
I’ve thought about making my existence known to you. I’ve thought about causing things to happen or showing up and giving some sort of explanation.
But, I can’t bring myself to do it.
What if you all think I’m here to kill you? What if you all suddenly attacked me thinking I was going to take you away from this world?
I wouldn’t be able to handle that. I don’t think I could take the pain of being attacked by you, Zal. It would kill me more than being burnt to death did.
Sometimes, I wonder if this is hell.
I mean, if you’re all in heaven then why am I still here watching over you? Shouldn’t I be in heaven too?
I’ve done a lot of good things in my life and only a few bad things.
Doesn’t that mean I should go to heaven?
Maybe this is some type of purgatory. Maybe there’s a reason why I’m still here other than the fact that I’m stuck.
But what could that reason be?
It eludes me, just like everything else does. Sometimes I have so many questions that my head starts to hurt and I get a throbbing pain behind my eyes.
I ache for knowledge. I want to know why I’m here and why you’re all here. I want to know what the hell this “Real World” is and what role I have in it.
Is anyone out there listening?
Please, tell me what I’m supposed to do…
December 8th, 2000
I’ve been able to go to school and do everything else like normal. It’s hard to do at first, but after a while I got used to it. It’s easy for me to act like nothing is wrong when everyone is going on about their everyday lives. The best way to do it is to pretend that you’re also involved in doing the same things they are.
I’ve been doing well in all of my classes. I think the only one I ever really had any problems in was math, but I don’t anymore. It’s funny how easily I fit in at school and act like everyone else. It’s like I’ve never done anything else other than go there every single day since sixth grade.
I’m on the soccer team at school. It’s interesting. Some of the students there are a year or two older than me, but we all manage to get along just fine. They’re all pretty surprised that I’m so good at it too.
I wish I could say that I’m better than Nathan at it, but I know I’m not. He’s the best player on the team and he’s only a freshman like me. That’s one of the few classes we have together too. I sit right next to him in class, yet I still feel like he’s a complete stranger to me.
I don’t know anything about him or what he likes or dislikes. I don’t know if he’s got any siblings, pets, or anything else concerning his personal life. It’s like he exists merely to be an entity in my life and that’s it.
I want to get to know him, but how can I? What would I even ask him? Do I ask him about what he wants to be when he grows up?
That’s a bit of a personal question and I wouldn’t want someone doing that to me. I think I’ll just have to play it by ear if a situation like that ever arises.
I guess I should address the elephant in the room, so to speak. The other reason why I’m writing this is because I want to know more about you.
Sources & references used in this article:
12-lead ECG in the athlete: physiological versus pathological abnormalities by D Corrado, A Biffi, C Basso, A Pelliccia… – British journal of sports …, 2009 – bjsm.bmj.com
Anterior cruciate ligament injuries in female athletes: Part 2, a meta-analysis of neuromuscular interventions aimed at injury prevention by TE Hewett, KR Ford, GD Myer – The American journal of …, 2006 – journals.sagepub.com
Accepting the risks of pain and injury in sport: Mediated cultural influences on playing hurt by HL Nixon – Sociology of sport journal, 1993 – journals.humankinetics.com
“Just a normal bad part of what I do”: Elite athletes’ accounts of the relationship between health and sport by N Theberge – Sociology of Sport Journal, 2008 – journals.humankinetics.com
The female athlete triad by JA Hobart, DR Smucker – American family physician, 2000 – aafp.org
Nutritional needs of the female athlete by MM Manore – Clinics in sports medicine, 1999 – Elsevier
Why we should allow performance enhancing drugs in sport by J Savulescu, B Foddy, M Clayton – British journal of sports medicine, 2004 – bjsm.bmj.com