Self-harming to win a gold medal?

Of all the things we do to avoid one of the worst side-effects of a spinal cord injury, Autonomic Dysreflexia – checking our skin (and checking it twice), checking our bladder, bowels, checking the tightness of our clothes, making sure our toes are straight when we put on our shoes, why would anyone want to cause this nasty condition on purpose? Turns out, Paralympic athletes.

It’s called “boosting” and it’s a bizarre trend that continues, even though it’s been banned. By actually making oneself dysreflexic (despite all the nasty side-effects that it comes with, including a pounding headache, profuse sweating, feeling like you’re “reeling” ug ug ug) there’s actually a bonus to the condition: It can make you play better. And by “play better,” meaning you get stronger, faster and even have more endurance, all by becoming dysreflexic. Don’t get it? I don’t either.

It’s confusing how boosting enhances performance that much, but studies say it can help as much as 10%. Autonomic Dysreflexia in it’s most simplest explanation is an elevation of the body’s blood pressure, so by elevating our blood pressure, that gets our bodies to perform better? It feels better when our blood pressure is elevated, sure, but physically perform better?

Experts say it increases our heart rate, and because our heart rate increases, the amount of oxygen getting to our muscles increases, helping us perform better. But the dangers if you take it too far? You can stroke out.

Athletes have been known to shove needles into their testicles, overflow their bladders and (get ready for it) insert oversized catheters just to turn on AD during a game. Craziness. It’s a ton of work making sure our paralyzed parts are all safe and tidy. To do the opposite would not feel right to me.

The International Paralympic Committee banned boosting in 2004, but experts say about 30% of competitors with spinal cord injuries still do it (most are quad rugby players). And they definitely expect it to be prevalent in the upcoming London games.

Sad, sad, sad. The stupid things we do for glory.

– Read more about boosting: Fears Paralympians with spinal injuries will self-harm in bid to boost their performance during the Games

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