Making Unique Observations in a Very Cluttered World

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

At Paralympics, officials on guard for wheelchair athletes who self-harm for performance boost -

At Paralympics, officials on guard for wheelchair athletes who self-harm for performance boost - 

Some Paralympians are prepared to break a toe for victory.

Others have stabbed their legs, sat on needles and ripped out catheters, all for the sake of gaining an edge.

It’s called “boosting,” and the effects can increase an athlete’s performance by as much as 10 per cent. As a result, officials will be testing for it at the Paralympic Games, which open Wednesday in London, England.

“It’s more pronounced in the top levels, but any athlete who is competitive might want that competitive edge,” said Chris Gee, who has coached and worked with disabled athletes in Canada. The GTA-based Gee wouldn’t divulge names but said he knows of several athletes at the Games who have boosted in the past.

Simply put, boosting athletes cause themselves pain they can’t feel in order to increase their heart rate and blood pressure.

The technique only works for athletes with severe spinal cord injuries. When these athletes exercise, their heart rates don’t rise, nor will their blood pressure.

Boosting is dangerous because the athletes don’t feel anything, yet their body is reacting. The resulting spike in blood pressure can lead to a fast race — or stroke or heart attack.

“It’s an extreme thing to do and we have to constantly remind athletes it’s very dangerous,” Craig Spence, a spokesman for the International Paralympic Committee, told the Associated Press.

These athletes are, in essence, tricking their own bodies. It’s officially called autonomic dysreflexia. That is, a reflex that occurs when the lower part of their body is exposed to painful stimuli.

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