Poland’s Katarzyna Rogowiec overcame an accident as a young child to become world biathlon champion and twice Paralympic medalist. She talks to Play True about her responsibilities on the WADA Athlete Committee, and explains how the temptations to dope are very real in Paralympic sports.
Play True: At what age did you become interested in sport and realize you had a special talent?
Katarzyna Rogowiec: It was while I was at primary school. I was multi-sport talented and I suppose I first realized it aged 14 after winning the school table tennis cup. I was at a small-town school with around 200 children in eight classes. I was fast, and I had no problems with breathing. I liked and played any kind of sport – football, volleyball, running, alpine skiing.
PT: What are the specific challenges that you have had to overcome because of your disability?
KT: There are a lot, and they start when I wake up in the morning. I can’t brush my teeth or comb my hair without a special bracelet to help me to hold the toothbrush or comb. I can’t do up my zipper without a special hook. It is hard to wear.
I can’t spread butter on a piece of bread without a special kitchen towel. Every life activity takes me a longer to complete.
But the biggest challenge in not having hands is to ask for help.
PT: How big an issue do you think doping is in Paralympic sports?
KT: With the growing level of competitiveness, it has become a bigger problem, and it is growing. There are the same rules accompanying sport disciplines as in Olympic sports. So, for example, there is more chance of doping in power lifting than there is in archery.
PT: Is doping discussed amongst the athletes?
KT: It was not discussed among my friends when I started my career in 1999, but with every year the athletes are better educated. WADA and the IPC do a good job with the Outreach programs that accompany big sport events.
PT: How would you define your role as a WADA Athlete Committee member?
KT: Most of us know that there are many different angles from which to view the same thing. On the Athlete Committee, we watch from different points and our particular point of view is not the only one and not necessarily the best and proper one. That’s why I am on the advisory body of the Committee. I am involved in the work to give a different perspective on the decision process.
PT: In your experience, are Paralympians just as likely to dope as able-bodied athletes?
KT: The decisions athletes take on whether or not to dope depend first of all on how an athlete was brought up and what values system they have been given. The key is to learn about it through education. It doesn’t depend on an athlete’s ability or disability.
PT: Would you say Paralympians are at greater risk from doping because of medication they may already be taking for their disabilities?
KT: Yes and no. The situation is comparably easy when you have treatment. You are conscious about doping, and your doctor – if you have medical help – knows you as an athlete, too. In this kind of situation it is not very hard, because you know about the TUE process and it all usually works okay.
But every athlete can take medication which is on the anti-doping list. It doesn’t matter if an athlete has a disability or not.
PT: What about access to performance enhancing drugs – are they readily available to Paralympians?
KT: I am afraid the answer to that is, yes they are. We live in the age of internet and global communication. World media is also responsible for a lot of bad influences and education.
PT: Classification is vital to Paralympic sports: does doping make this even more complicated?
KT: No, I don’t think so.
PT: Are you aware of other means in Paralympic sport to gain an advantage, such as boosting?
KT: Boosting (intentionally raising blood pressure in order to stimulate energy and endurance) is the only one I know about, and these days it is taken care of well. I don’t know any others.
PT: Are you able to spread the anti-doping message amongst fellow athletes as much as you would like or should there be more forums for this?
KT: In my opinion, the national level is the most important level in the process. It is crucial to cooperate with them in order to be more effective in reaching the sport associations and athletes.