Saving our young athletes now is safeguarding the future


Sunday, April 14, 2019

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Approximately six years ago Dr Paula Dawson, Jamaica's first physiatrist, and I came up with a research plan on how we could monitor some young, emerging elite athletes to ensure they make an effective transition from the junior to senior level.

Dr Dawson was recently recruited to the University Hospital from one of the famed rehabilitation institutes in Chicago. I had done years of extensive sports science research and was frightened by the data on some young athletes I had studied who had recurring sport injuries and just could not get back to the peak they were previously at.

Names like Dexter Lee, Jazeel Murphy, Fabian Hewitt, Javon Francis, Ramone “Batman” McKenzie, Yannique Thompson, Anneshia McLaughlin, Ristinnana Tracey and Everton Clarke will always have a 'what if'.

We had found in previous research that some of the energy systems in these athletes were reacting metabolically like someone with a chronic condition. Their basal lactate level before exercise was abnormally high, and remained as high after exercise as someone who does not exercise regularly.

Their insulin reaction to food was not what it should be, indicating that their sensibility to a hormone very critical for energy and running was diminished. What was most frightening was that one of the Troponin isomers or units implicated in cardiac ill health was higher in the blood of these athletes with recurrent injuries than it was in persons with long-standing diabetes mellitus who were at increased risk for a stroke.

The study had pulled in a then-14-years-old Christopher Taylor and started to monitor young “Chubby” with a cardio-metabolic analyser. His metabolic response was almost perfect at that time, as we followed him by cardio-metabolic GPS. A few months later in Cali, Colombia, at the IAAF World Youth Championships, he delivered a stunning 45.27s, a World age-15 best in the 400m.

With this data and more in hand we approached the Sports Development Foundation (SDF) in 2015 and 2017 for some funding to improve on the body of work. We were turned down by the board twice. I have heard cries from sports enthusiasts about injuries prevention and management of young athletes.

People are voicing outcries at the frequent injuries seen in Christopher Taylor, Kevona Davis, Dejour Russell, etc. These injuries seem to be derailing their transition. Defibrillators are now common in schools. Whilst there is a need for defibrillators, by the time the athletes reach that stage cardio-conversion has already taken place and their heart and muscles are often too damaged to continue a meaningful athletic career.

There exists a general profile of the biochemical parameters and muscle enzyme-imaging characteristics of young Jamaican athletes. I have presented some of the data recently to the Jamaica Sports Medicine Association. My conclusion was that specialised muscles linked to performance in these athletes are so critically damaged, based on biochemical analysis, that it has become impossible for these athletes to have a meaningful career at the senior level.

We have the data, and are willing to sit with the stakeholders in sports to work on a performance metabolism profile entailing a medical/scientific plan for the smooth transition of Kevona Davis, Tia and Tina Clayton, Ashanti Moore, and others.

Editor's note: Dr Irving is a senior lecturer in the Department of Basic Medical Sciences, Faculty of Medical Sciences, The University of the West Indies, Mona.

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