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.
“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.
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.
“I didn’t think anybody really cared about what a 64-year-old person was taking,” he said.
But just to make sure, he contacted USA Track and Field and told them about his meds.
USA Track and Field replied with a notification that his inquiry had been turned over to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. There was no indication that anything was wrong, just that USADA would better be able to help him.
Wenzel went to nationals, and to his surprise, he finished third in the weight throw and fourth in the hammer.
But after the weight throw competition, he was pulled aside for random drug testing.
A few weeks later, he got his results. The multi-page report with all sorts of charts and graphs and numbers indicated that he’d failed because he had synthetic testosterone in his system. This came as no surprise. Wenzel had told USA Track and Field that testosterone was among his Parkinson’s drugs.
He takes testosterone because his Parkinson’s has all but eliminated his body’s ability to produce it naturally. Because of that, his energy is low, so low that he has fallen asleep twice while driving.
Still, Wenzel’s testosterone level is lower than the average man his age.
The average: 56.2 nanograms per milliliter.
His level on his drug test: 35.0 ng/ml.
So, Wenzel failed his USADA drug test even though he has to take testosterone to treat his Parkinson’s and has a testosterone level that is still lower than average.
“I violated the letter of their rules,” Wenzel admitted.
“I gained no benefit from it. I wasn’t cheating.”
Still, USADA said he was doping.
“The Therapeutic Use Exemption Committee, which is made up of independent medical and technical experts, evaluates all requests in accordance with the World Anti-Doping Cod and determined that the use of a potent performance-enhancing drug like testosterone, under the circumstances of Mr. Wenzel's case, did not meet the requirements to be granted a (therapeutic use exemption)," USADA media relations manager Annie Skinner said. "As in all cases, Mr. Wenzel is being provided the opportunity for full due process under the rules and can choose to have his case heard by independent arbitrators who would determine the outcome, but at this time, Mr. Wenzel has indicated to USADA that he is not interested in moving forward with the independent arbitration process."
What miffs Wenzel most about this whole case is that he believes USADA is holding him and other seniors to the same standard as an Olympic hopeful.
“There is no reason for these people to be out regulating old guys who are out having fun,” he said. “We're doing it for fun.” Wenzel says senior events are like a Friday bowling league.
“It’s the greatest time I’ve ever had as an athlete because it’s so friendly and fun. You’re competing against yourself. You’re trying to get a personal best. You may be doing something wrong, and the guy you’re competing against may say, ‘Do you know you’re releasing a little early?’ And they’re not screwin’ with you.”
Right now, Wenzel is resigned to never competing in senior events again. He has appealed USADA’s decision but has been denied.
With no options left for him, Wenzel has turned his attention toward helping other seniors. He has created a Senior Athlete’s Medical Bill of Rights that would prevent senior athletes from being penalized for using prescribed, necessary medication.
He has shared it with anyone who will listen.
“I’ve gotten to where my goal is real simple,” he said. “I don’t want other people to get stuck with what I got stuck with.”
Wenzel has been branded a doper and a cheater, but look at the man and the circumstances of his case, and it’s sure hard to lump him in with the Lance Armstrongs of the sports world.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.