It’s a terrible thing that happened to Arielle Newman, the young track star who suddenly died back in April from absorbing lethal levels of methyl salicylate from using too much Ben Gay. When you hear something like this happening to someone, especially someone who is only 17 years of age, it stops you right in your tracks. But after hearing this terrible news, it made me think of why this young athlete died. One reporter on the news stated that Arielle was using this balm on a constant basis to alleviate sore muscles and sore joints. Sure, any hard-training athlete is going to experience muscle soreness, but a 17 year old having persistent joint pain? That sends up a red flag with me and that is what prompted this commentary.
Even if the fact of her persistent joint pain is over-stated, how did this daily “need” for muscular relief go unrecognized by her coach, parents or even herself? Maybe she just thought it would aid in recovery or this is what she had to do to help her in achieving her goals, who knows, but what we do know is that soreness – muscular or joint - on a steady basis is not a healthy nor desirable scenario for any athlete at any age and these issues extend beyond topical ointments.
A lot of today’s young athletes are self-driven, others seem to have competition thrust upon them by their parents who were athletes themselves or who want to make up for their failed athletic youth by living vicariously through their children. And some kids unfortunately are “miss coached” by some well-meaning authorities who lack constructive knowledge or experience and impose unruly demands on their athletes by applying unsafe training methods. Whoever is to blame is not the gist of the matter at this time, it is the fact that there needs to be an awareness brought to everyone that there is potential for dangerous outcomes to young athletes who are subjected to this “pedal-to-the-metal” philosophy to improve performance.
What parent doesn’t want to see their kid be the best that they can, but as a parent your first and foremost responsibility is to protect your child. As a coach, you have the responsibility of nurturing these young adults for the four years, but what happens to them under your supervision can affect them for a lifetime. And as an athlete, you have to know what you want and go after it, striving to be the best is fine, that is what builds champions on and off the athletic field, but recognize that success can come with a price that just isn’t worth paying some time.
- Fred Fornicola