I was training in the Indian Senior athletic camp 2015 and my ultimate goal was to represent the country in the 2016 Olympics. I was among the top three and was training all day to make it to the big league, but then things went south and here I am, sitting in Chennai and looking back at what could have been!
My passion for hurdle race began at a very young age and I have been working hard to keep my fitness levels high and stay in form. I followed a rigorous diet and workout and did not believe in using supplements to build my fitness. I was always reliant on natural methods as I did not want to pollute my temple – my body with unnecessary substances. I was the champion all through my college days and was someone everyone was sure would make it big as an athlete. So my friends and family were not surprised when I told them that I was selected for the Indian National team.
I have always had breathing issues, meaning I develop a wheezing problem when I am out in the cold and the problem resurfaced when I had to stay at the National Institute of Sports, Punjab, Patiala for my training during the national camp. I do not like using allopathic medicine. I was a strong advocate of UNANI and had my doctor from Chennai ship medicines to me. I started getting better instantly, but then a few rashes started appearing on my body, which I ignored as bug bites. My fellow athletes found it fishy and were constantly asking if I was on steroids. I rubbished all of it and even picked a fight with a few stating how I respect myself and my sport a lot more than others. A few of my friends in the Indian camp advised me to get treated for the rashes that were popping out on my skin, which was the cause for everyone’s suspicion.
I continued training. It was like any other morning when the dope testing results of National games 2015 where I won a bronze medal in 400 hurdles came in, I was probably among the least anxious people about the results as I was sure that there would be no possibility of any drug whatsoever in my blood. But then, the results showed otherwise. There were traces of steroids found in my urine – a drug called betamethasone, which is a glucocorticosteroid.
I was shattered, it felt like the world was slipping from under my feet and everything was like a nightmare from which I was struggling to wake up but in vain. Since it was not an Anabolic steroid I was given an Optional Provisional suspension instead of a mandatory provisional suspension.
I was sent back home from the camp, my Olympic dreams shattered, and my office asking me for an explanation on the drug test results – I secured a government job in sports quota so my drug test posed a threat even to my job. I was depressed and clueless on the way forward. I didn’t know whom to seek help from because people started talking in hushes and whisper when they saw me and all those who were proud of my achievements and wanted to be associated with me until a few weeks ago were suddenly ashamed to even mention my name. I was declared a national shame!
I looked upon the internet to see what betamethasone was used for and was shocked to find that it was a drug that was used sometimes to treat asthma and wheezing. I found a lot of articles on how betamethasone was used in a lot of ayurvedic, Unani, and Siddha medicines too, to offer instant relief to the patients. I went on to confront my doctor, after a lot of persuasions and crying to him about how this has ruined my life and career, he accepted having compromised with my medicines and added betamethasone to it. He argued that he wanted to treat my breathing problem instantly and steroids were the only way to do that. I am sure I would have preferred to suffer from breathing problems then feel so suffocated under the burden of being blamed for drug use.
I researched and found that I was not alone. We all sure remember Gomathi Marimuthu, the Indian Runner who was banned from the sport for having used steroids, I know her personally and she hails from a family where she could not afford even normal allopathic medication leave alone steroids. She was victimized just like me and many others.
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