Life-saving meds cheat Roger Wenzel out of competing

by Jenni Carlson Published: March 4, 2013
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Roger Wenzel extends his right hand and watches it shake.

Time to take his meds.

Wenzel has Parkinson’s disease, a condition that slowly destroys brain cells controlling muscle function. To manage the disease, the 64-year-old grandfather from Yukon takes numerous prescription medications. Among them is testosterone.

That’s where the United States Anti-Doping Agency comes in.

Yes, those are the folks who dropped the hammer on Lance Armstrong and many other athletes who have doped over the years.

They say Wenzel has doped, too.

Wenzel has competed in senior-level track and field events for the past few years, but now, he is facing what equates to a lifetime ban from USADA. He can’t compete if he takes testosterone, but if he doesn’t take his medication, he might die.

“This is not optional,” he said of taking testosterone as part of his Parkinson’s treatment. “I shouldn’t have to be fighting like crazy because I take meds to stay alive.”

At a time when the attention paid to catching athletes who use performance enhancing drugs is higher than ever, this is one time where the system has run amok.

Roger Wenzel is no Lance Armstrong.

Still, Wenzel expects USADA to hand down its final ruling in his case, brand him a cheater, even issue a press release about the matter in the coming weeks. His only recourse would be in the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but a legal bill expected to run in the tens of thousands of dollars is something Wenzel can’t handle.

“Part of me just wants this to go away,” he said.

But he’s fighting the system and sharing his woes — even though he knows some of his business associates as a self-employed geologist will be learning of his Parkinson’s for the first time — because he wants the sports world to know his side of the story.

The tale begins in 2000 when Wenzel started experiencing some peculiar but seemingly unrelated episodes. He would have an unexplained cramp here, a mysterious twitch there. He struggled to write the numeral 3.

The symptoms persisted for several years before he saw a neurologist.

“Walk across the room,” the doctor told him.

Wenzel did.

“You’ve got Parkinson’s,” the doctor said.

Wenzel’s condition worsened rapidly over the next few months as he lost control of more of his muscles. The neurologist referred Wenzel to the OU Medical Center and Dr. Kersi Bharucha, one of the nation’s foremost authorities on Parkinson’s treatment. Bharucha worked to give Wenzel as much of muscle control as possible.

“But that comes with a whole pile of medication,” Wenzel said.

It worked.

Wenzel, who took up martial arts as an adult, was able to continue that activity. He loved it when he’d be sparring with younger guys and one of them would tell him, “Damn, you’re strong.”

But then, a couple years ago, past knee injuries caught up to him, and Wenzel started to look around for another outlet for his athletic, competitive nature. That’s when he saw an article about the Oklahoma Senior Games, a multi-sport competition for older adults.

Wenzel had always been intrigued by track and field’s throwing events, even back to childhood when he watched them on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.” He started working out and found a coach, Jeff Bennett from Oklahoma Christian University. His results steadily improved, so he decided to attend some meets outside the state.

Two years ago, he won the hammer throw at the National Senior Games.

Pretty good for anyone.

Even better for a guy with Parkinson’s.

With results like that, Wenzel decided that he wanted to step up his level of competition last year. He eyed the USA Track and Field’s Masters Nationals. He had no designs on winning — many masters athletes are past collegians or even national team members — but he thought it would be fun.

He knew that USA Track and Field did drug testing, and since he took so many prescriptions, he wanted to make sure he was doing everything by the rules.

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by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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