Rude awakening


Considered by many to be the greatest Olympic athlete of all time, the legendary Mark Spitz made a visit to Old Town last week as part of an effort to educate Americans during American Heart Month.

The 11-time Olympic medalist visited with us at Perk Up coffee shop to talk about the importance of properly managing health care in the face of chronic health challenges.

I had a rude awakening at the age of 38 when I learned how high my cholesterol was, said Spitz, whose seven gold medals in a single Olympics remains more than any other athlete in the history of sport.

I was training to make a comeback in swimming, had 2% body fat and was told that I was a prime risk for heart disease or even a heart attack, said Spitz, who retired from competitive swimming after his historic achievement at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.

For the first time in my life, I realized that diet and exercise alone were not enough to manage my health, said Spitz, still vibrant at 58.
Along with Olympians Peggy Fleming, Bruce Jenner, Jackie Joyner-Kersey and Greg Louganis, is part of a 15-month Tour of Champions sponsored by Medco Health Solutions in an effort to educate the public about advances in specialized pharmacy care for chronic and complex diseases.

Joining Spitz in Alexandria was his personal pharmacist, Steve Naeger, a Medco cardiovascular specialist who concentrates in helping patients like Spitz manage high cholesterol.  More than 60 million people have access to the same specialist pharmacists as the Olympic athletes through Medcos program and dont even know it, said Naeger, who collaborates with physicians to help maximize a patients drug therapy.

Taking a proactive approach and dealing with one pharmacist who can monitor potential drug interactions can potentially eliminate doctors visits and hospital stays, added Naeger. The government isnt going to solve the health care crisis so individuals need to pay attention to the details of their care and I do that for them.

Spitz, who still swims at least three times a week as part of a masters program (albeit not competitively), was in town the same day that Congress asked for an FBI probe into whether Roger Clemens lied under oath about his use of steroids.

I havent heard about that yet so I cant really comment, he said. But for a long time, there has been no guiding light on the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sports so now athletes are getting caught.

As the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing approach this summer, Spitz did take time to reflect on how the games have changed since he competed.  I didnt have the same pressure to compete because I couldnt have sponsors or be a professional athlete, he said. Now the pressure and demand from sponsors is the driving reason to gain any advantage.

Asked about the political controversy surrounding the Beijing games, Spitz commented: Beijing is moving in the right direction by hosting the games, along with the international body of press, athletes, spectators and media that will be there.

He added, Will this only be a snap shot of a country behaving themselves? I dont know. But we need to respect each countrys standards even if human rights are not observed in places where we have the same freedoms.

When asked about his astonishing 36-year-old record, one that eclipsed even Babe Ruths feat in baseball, and which many say will never be broken, Spitz didnt hesitate.

I absolutely believe it will be broken this year, he said. And Michael Phelps will be the one to do it this summer  where I expect to see him win nine or ten gold medals. He’s an amazing athlete.

No one knows that better than the legendary Mark Spitz.