My Experience of Doping Similar to Maria Sharapova and Whether I Liked It or Not
Here, I want to share some personal news, and the main one is that Iโm doping, including performance-enhancing drugs. They got Maria Sharapova (tennis celebrity) banned from her professional touring for longer than 1 year. Just like Maria, I use Meldonium. She needs such tournaments as the US Open to get wildcard entries to be able to compete in general.
Well, I donโt play tennis professionally, but I played it in college and won money that I had to give back to stay eligible for my full athletic scholarship. Nowadays, I keep competing in the US tennis association leagues, and they donโt test drugs. I realize that my perfect and strong playing days are in the past.
Iโve never considered the intake of any performance-enhancing drugs. My personal ambitions arenโt that big, and Iโm too lazy to face any relevant problems. However, Iโm a publisher of one popular and independent tennis magazine, and people often ask me about the ban of Maria Sharapova. They want to know whether it was fair and if these drugs really helped her boost her performance. When one of my good friends (after a trip to Riga) gave me Mildronats, which is a local brand of generic Meldonium, I used it to find out the truth.
Itโs worth mentioning that this drug isnโt scheduled or illegal in America, and itโs not banned by the USTA. However, Meldonium is a heart medication that I donโt require, and it has label instructions written only in Latvian. I was happy to receive English recommendations for use from one of those people who follow my podcast about tennis. They indicated that I needed to use 2 capsules containing 250 mg on days with highly intensive training. This dose had to be doubled during the competitions. I followed these recommendations for use to find out that this drug really works.
Meldonium is a medication that was developed and is still manufactured in Latvia, but consumers can buy it anywhere in Eastern European countries. Its initial purpose was to enhance growth in livestock and poultry. When it comes to human beings, its basic use is to treat ischemia, a medical condition where the plague buildup restricts the blood from flowing properly through the body and to the heart. The intake of Meldonium dilates blood vessels, and this means that it can improve recovery and endurance, and thatโs why many athletes like using it. I donโt have any ischemia, so the main reason to take this drug for me was its performance-enhancing qualities.
I talked to one qualified and experienced cardiologist who decided to stay anonymous because he recommended an immoral plan. His words explain that the heart chooses to burn fatty acids as primary fuel. Meldonium works by hijacking the mechanism allowing fatty acids to enter the cells. This is how it allows glucose to be the main energy source. Itโs a bit more effective compared to fatty acids because it uses less oxygen. Thatโs why many doctors started considering it as an efficient drug for athletes.
I also asked him why Meldonium wasnโt manufactured or prescribed in the US. He mentioned different reasons, including an underestimated commercial potential and a lack of confidence about animal studies during Soviet times. This drug may not be available in the US because the market doesnโt like the idea of spending money on its development, and the main reason is that pharmaceutical companies donโt believe that they can get profit. Besides, itโs hard to predict its safety. Remember what happened to asbestos.
According to Sharapova, her family doctor prescribed her this drug in 2006 to treat such medical conditions as a family history of diabetes, irregular EKGs, and magnesium deficiency. In 2015, the WADA added Meldonium to the list of banned substances, and this decision took its effect at the beginning of 2016. After the drug test at the Australian Open, this drug was detected in her system. After that, the whole story was less plausible because this famous tennis player stated that her team had failed to review the latest updates in this list. This mistake cost her 2-year ban from the ITF, but this term was later reduced to 15 months.
Prickett wrote her essay about this situation where she claimed that Maria Sharapova had only a few defenders. For example, Serena noted her heart and courage, while Wozniacki said that athletes needed to ensure that there was nothing that could put them in bad situations. Mladenovic claimed that most players thought that Maria was a cheater.
Although Sharapova canโt be called a locker room favorite, other people in the modern tennis world were less harsh in their comments compared to her fellow players. For instance, they argued that such a drug as Meldonium couldnโt boost her performance that much. They also noted that no one had bothered to estimate or find out for how long this medication stayed in the body system. This kind of defense worked in overturning the bans of many other athletes.
The US Open marks the first Grand Slam appearance of Maria Sharapova after her return. Unfortunately, Wimbledon and French Open refused to provide her wildcards into main draws. Itโs the best time because the USTA leagues culminate in both national and regional championships. I decided to be the one in a qualifying USTA team who wants to get rid of myths, preconceptions or concerns about taking a non-FDA regulated and non-prescribed heard medicine manufactured in Latvia.
For this reason, my recreational team took the first place in New York, so we got a place to compete in the sectional tournament against many regional winners. Since there arenโt many players at my current level, this sectional tournament had only 2 matches played in Albany. The team that wins will represent Eastern during the national competition that will take part in Orlando. This means that my stakes were quite high.
I made my decision to take this box of Meldonium tablets strategically. I took my first dose of 500 mg per day for 5 days before this important competition. When I understood that I needed to practice quite intensively, I doubled this dose, especially when I had 2 sessions in one day. This schedule is quite similar to winning Grand Slam if you live in Manhattan and youโre a parent who has 2 jobs. I also took the same dose of Meldonium during the competition.
I explained to as many participants in my league as possible that I took this performance-enhancing drug. I did that to ascertain if it was banned or not and to check if people would consider me a bad person for using it. To be honest, there was one important subconscious reason. Basically, if I had any cardiac event on the court and I was rendered speechless, my partners would be able to inform paramedics about that. Itโs interesting that no one thought that I was a bad person because of taking Meldonium, but they all considered me an idiot. One of my partners with whom I played many games this season called me really stupid for doing that.
In the first few days of taking this drug, I didnโt notice any fitness or performance boost. Perhaps, I was a bit less winded than normally, but I couldnโt describe this effect as excellent. As I continued playing, I started noticing another significant effect of taking Meldonium because I felt neither stiff nor sore at all.
In most cases, playing a few days in a row is enough to make me tired and exhausted enough to schedule my next appointment to a kinesiologist and relax. A year ago, MRI showed that playing tennis a lot in addition to doing such things as running regular half-marathons or carrying strollers resulted in 3 slopped back discs. Thatโs why I often suffered from stiffness and soreness. When I took Meldonium, these symptoms disappeared.
According to my cardiologist, this effect makes sense as the intake of this drug makes the body more effective due to using more oxygen during exercises. Furthermore, I experienced this effect of Meldonium because of the reduced production of lactic acid. However, the science behind the role of lactic acid in muscle stiffness and soreness isnโt settled.
I felt really optimized when I went to my Albany competition because I knew that I put a lot of time on courses to improve my game and skills. I also felt quite fresh to be extra confident that I wouldnโt be outworked. Itโs important in many sports, including tennis. In the end, I played well and I felt really amazing. The main reason is that I didnโt feel my usual back fatigue and my neck or shoulders didnโt stiffen up. This Meldonium effect felt just like a revelation. I liked it so much that the first thing I wanted to find out was how to get the next box with pills after securing my teamโs spot at nationals.
What was the lesson I learned? Is it true that such performance-enhancing drugs as Meldonium are good and patients should use them? I think that this medication is effective, but other people I talked to, including my anonymous doctor and fellow players in my league, didnโt think that I was serious when considering the benefits of this experiment. They all said that I experienced a placebo effect.
My cardiologist also claims that 30% effectiveness of any medication is placebo. People are the ones who decide if it is effective or not, and this statement is hard to argue with. Iโm sure that the intake of Meldonium helped me, and itโs difficult to imagine that it doesnโt help high-level athletes in one way or another, including increasing their cardiovascular facility or confidence.
However, this information still canโt change the fact that Iโve never felt upset because of the news about the doping of Maria Sharapova. I think that many athletes may use different things that are considered legal in the way that blues a line. Just think what differentiates legal supplements and the illegal ones or relatively untested drugs, like Meldonium. Some unlucky players are turned into examples as they arenโt liked a lot or only because they can be used to scare others without forcing such responsible bodies as WADA to do their hard work of testing and studying the effects of different supplements that are legally sold all over the world. Professional sports leagues should dare to face the idea that the doping science is always ahead of all testers.
Since Maria Sharapova takes the court this week, Iโll support her only because she paid a high price for something she admitted. Another reason to support this tennis player is that we share the same deep sacred bond โ we both took Meldonium that made us feel like invincible players on the court.