His Expertise on Doping, Wadler Has Become the . . . Steroid Detective
By John Jeansonne.
November 13, 2003
Another steroids-in-sports crime scene means another flurry of forensic
work for Manhasset-based physician Gary Wadler. No sooner had a new
designer steroid been discovered, and publicly unveiled as the center
of a widening scandal last month, than Wadler was flying into action on
Almost simultaneously, he was educating himself about the just-decoded
chemical substance - armed with computer, medical-reference tomes,
decades of diagnostic experience and worldwide connections - even as he
was serving as expert witness on the science of performance-enhancing
Posthaste, Wadler was explaining - to news outlets from "Nightline" to
USA Today to German national television - that the new steroid,
tetrahydrogestrinone, or THG, is closely related to two previously
known steroids, gestrinone and trenbolone.
He was describing how THG, obtained by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency
(USADA) in a syringe, apparently is taken not by injection, but in
droplets under the tongue. And that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)
has the means for retroactive suspension of THG users in international
competition, because WADA bans the "entire family of anabolic steroids."
Wadler, 64, is one of five people, and the only American, on the
committee that determines WADA's official list of prohibited
substances. He is a charter member of the organization, founded three
years ago as the global entity to police the use of
His 1989 book, "Drugs and the Athlete," was a seminal work in its field
and earned him the International Olympic Committee's "president's
prize." (Copies of the book, in Japanese and French as well as English,
sit in Wadler's office bookcase.)
He really is the go-to guy on doping. Expert witness for the U.S.
Department of Justice, author of scores of articles and participant in
various international conferences, he is the articulate voice for the
medical and ethical aspects of doping.
"It's an aspire higher deal," he said. "I grew up believing that our
sports heroes were genuine, that they were great athletes because they
had special skills and trained harder. I try to deal in the notion of
fair play. That's why I think we need national introspection on this.
Ethics, values, a level playing field. And I firmly believe that good
policy has to be built on sound science."
A resident of Sands Point, he grew up in Brooklyn. His father, who came
from Austria with no formal education, was a "window trimmer" in small
shops throughout the metropolitan area. "Always in the car," Wadler
His mother was a part-time teacher and Wadler was the middle of three
sons, interested in being a doctor from a young age, though he has no
idea why. He never was an athlete.
"I'm the classic two left feet," he said. "I'm still struggling on the
tennis court. I have absolutely no athletic skill."
Nor does he follow sports as a traditional fan. "I don't know who's in
first place; I don't even know who's in the lineup," he said. "I do
relax by watching sports sometimes."
He did meet Jackie Robinson twice, the second time when he was summoned
to a meeting by the state government looking into drug addiction,
shortly after Robinson lost his son to a drug-related death.
Graduated from Samuel Tilden High School, Brooklyn College and Cornell
Medical School, Wadler had just left North Shore University Hospital in
1979 to set up his own practice in internal medical when he happened to
attend the U.S. Open tennis tournament as a guest of Hy Zausner.
Zausner was the commerical real estate developer who was both Wadler's
landlord at his first Manhasset office and a builder of the recently
opened National Tennis Center.
Convinced there was a lot more to the medical needs of tennis players
than "joints, twisted ankles and surgery" handled by an orthopedic
surgeon, Wadler offered his services, pro bono, as the Open's
tournament physician from 1980 through 1991.
It was Wadler who diagnosed the mysterious toxoplasmosis, a viral
infection caught from her pet cat, that helped lay low No. 1 player
Martina Navratilova during the 1982 tournament. It was Wadler who "took
away Jimmy Connors' cola" and thereby aided the aging star's glorious
run to the Open semifinals at 39 in 1991.
"He was a cola freak and drank a lot of it the night before he played,"
Wadler said. "There's caffeine in cola, and caffeine in a diarrhetic.
If you're playing five-set matches in the heat, you're going to have a
real problem with dehydration. Without the cola, Connors' cramping
Between those two incidents, in 1986, Wadler got a fateful "tap on the
shoulder" from a representative of the men's pro tennis tour,
requesting that Wadler submit to a urine test. It was meant to
demonstrate to the players that no one associated with the tournament
was exempt from drug testing, and it triggered Wadler's curiosity in
the doping issue.
His book on the subject was published three years later. A 1995 Duke
University conference on drugs in sports "really opened the door" for
Wadler to meet like-minded scholars and scientists.
A tireless, restless soul, Wadler said he didn't marry until he was 33
- he and wife Nancy, who works in international property law, have a
son and daughter both in the publishing business in Manhattan - because
he had spent so much time on his various jobs and related undertakings.
He has a resume of titles, appointments, memberships and
accomplishments too extensive to fit on this page - ranging from his
role as associate professor of clinical medicine at NYU to his position
as chairman of the board/president of the Nassau County Sports
Commission, which, among other things, won the 12-city bidding that
placed the Women's Sports Foundation at Eisenhower Park in 1993.
At one point, in the mid-'90s, Wadler even was working to relocate the
Mets in Nassau County, with a new stadium envisioned adjacent to
Belmont Racetrack. That was the rare Wadler project - among other
things, he founded the drug treatment center at North Shore University
Hospital and created a drug-education program for Nassau schools - that
As for the anti-doping campaign, occasionally in the public eye with
headlines such as with the THG scandal, there remain cynics who lament
that the drug fight never will quite reach critical mass. Even the fact
that name athletes from Major League Baseball and the NFL have been
subpoenaed for grand jury testimony tied to the THG investigation
hardly has stirred widespread outrage.
But Wadler is not discouraged. "Look at what public education has done
with seat belts, smoking, the designated driver," he said. "In every
case, it's had an impact. You can influence these behaviors.
"You can't scare people with false information," he said, noting that
medical evidence does not tie steroid use to deaths, though there are
clear health dangers. "But there are not inconsequential numbers of
young people - boys and girls - on steroids. With WADA and USADA, we
now have mechanisms to deal with this. Never before have we been able
to do the detective work so rapidly and follow through with
international education. This is a public responsibility."
He is one steroid detective who will continue plugging away.