It's not every afternoon that a weekend-warrior cyclist like me finds a stranger wearing a blue polo shirt bearing the USADA logo at his front door. But recently that's what happened, and after having been in the United States Anti-Doping Agency's "International Testing Pool" for quite a while without having been drug-tested, my curious side had wondered if this moment would ever come. It finally did, and I'll tell you this: Drug tests are weird.
"Andrew Tilin?" the guy asks. I nod.
"Steve Voskuhl, doping control officer with USADA," he says, and at that I swing open the door of my Austin, Texas home for him rather reflexively and reverently, like he's an FBI agent. It's an understandable reaction: Voskuhl is here to make sure that I have, in a USADA kind of way, nothing to hide. I really don't. I haven't cheated since 2008, when I took the banned substances testosterone and DHEA in order to write a book about doping.
We quickly arrive at my declaration that, yes, I can pee right now, and thank God for this morning's second cup of coffee! A doping control officer, or DCO, will hang around your place for as long as it takes you to produce a urine sample. He'll wait hours.
"Bathroom?" says Voskuhl, showing some reverence of his own by kicking off his shoes to avoid dirtying my floor. Holding a full-looking duffel bag, Voskuhl, a sixtyish, veteran urine collector who's as squat as a fire hydrant, gestures for me to lead the way. But now he's not being gracious. I can't leave his sight, presumably to prevent me from engaging in any monkey business, like sticking a bladder of "clean" urine up my sleeve. Crazier things have happened.
Voskuhl unzips the bag, which holds several cube-shaped pieces of Styrofoam, as well as an iPad and a few plastic bags, each containing a plastic cup and matching lid—I mean, each containing a "collection vessel."
"Inspect these and pick one," says Voskuhl, and I chuckle. All I can think of is paper bands looped around everything that declare Sanitized for Your Protection. But then I stop and appreciate the weight of the moment. The ability to race my bike ever again could hinge on the precision of this procedure. I might become yet one more athlete who squawks that my "positive" was a result of a test gone wrong.
I look over the collection vessels carefully.
I rinse my hands—no soap, because its residue might tweak the test—and ready for the moment of truth.
"Push up your sleeves," says Voskuhl matter-of-factly. He's a registered nurse who's been conducting drug tests for about 15 years. He does admit that I'm his first 48-year-old writer.
Voskuhl tells me to push down my pants to mid-thigh, and to pull up my shirt to mid-chest. Finally satisfied that I can't tamper with the test in any way, he green lights me to fill the collection vessel.
"Keep going keep going keep going," urges Voskuhl, as if he was a drill sergeant and I was doing pushups. But I do want to please him. The alternative could be Voskuhl sticking around until I need to pee again.
Afterwards there's much more procedure—breaking seals on foam boxes, pouring the sample into separate "A" and "B" bottles, and packaging everything in such a way that UPS will ship urine. Voskuhl checks boxes on his iPad and then, before leaving, tells me that I'll get my results within a month or so.
Fortunately USADA emails me good news—the test came back negative—within two weeks. I'm thrilled to know that I'll race another day and, with any luck, won't see Voskuhl or his ilk again before I'm excused from the drug-testing pool next spring. One test, I assure you, is plenty.