Local doctor fought steroids in sports

Luke Torrance

Dr. Gary I. Wadler, a world-renowned expert on performance-enhancing substances in sports and a resident of Port Washington, died on Sept. 12. He was 78.

Over his long career in medicine, Wadler became one of the country’s leading experts on doping in athletics. His 1989 book “Drugs and the Athlete” was one of the first deep examinations of an issue that was becoming increasingly prevalent in sports. It won him the International Olympics Committee’s President’s Prize in 1993.

He also testified before Congress about the impact of steroids in baseball and football.

“It was funny; he wasn’t an athlete and he didn’t watch sports,” his wife, Nancy Wadler, said of his interest in sports medicine. “He was interested in sports from a physiological perspective. He always liked a challenge and needed a stimulation beyond his medical practice.”

Wadler was born on Jan. 12, 1939, in Brooklyn. He graduated from Brooklyn College and Weill Cornell Medical College, and received training in internal medicine at New York Hospital.

Wadler came to the area to work at North Shore University Hospital, where he served as chief of medicine. During his time there, he established the hospital’s inpatient dialysis unit, which was named for Wadler and his wife earlier this month. The couple married in 1972.

In 1979, Wadler left the hospital to establish his own practice in Manhasset. After attending the U.S. Open and determining that medical services available to tennis players were insufficient, Wadler offered to assist the players, pro bono. He was the tournament’s physician from 1980 to 1991.

It was during this time that Wadler became interested in doping. While working at the Open in 1986, Wadler was required to take a urine test to demonstrate that even those working around the athletes were clean. Wadler was curious; he wanted to know more about doping. Three years later, he published “Drugs and the Athlete.”

“You know the expression, put your money where you mouth is? He said he was putting his urine where his mouth was,” Nancy Wadler joked. “As a family I think we’re honest and straight and do things the right way, and I think the idea of cheating really bothered him.”

That book, and the acclaim that followed, made Wadler highly sought after by governments and sport governing bodies. He helped to establish the World Anti-Doping Agency in 1999 and served as the agency’s chair of the Prohibited List Committee, which determines what substances are banned for Olympic competitions.

In the United States, Wadler was the medical advisor to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 1999 to 2009, for which he received the Director’s Award for Distinguished Service. He was also an advisor to the Justice Department.

He was a trustee of the American College of Sports Medicine and vice president of the Women’s Sports Foundation. He was a founding chairman of the Nassau County Sports Commission. He helped to create medical guidelines for dancers as chairman of the American Ballet Theatre’s Curriculum Medical Advisory Board.

In his own community, he served as a board member of Residents For a More Beautiful Port Washington.

He was also sought after by media outlets for his expertise whenever doping was in the news. Wadler was interviewed on NPR and was quoted in such publications as Sports Illustrated and Time magazine, among dozens of others.

But Wadler’s focus on doping in sports was not strictly limited to professional competition. In 2003, a 17-year-old high school pitcher in Texas named Taylor Hooten hanged himself during his withdrawal from steroids. Hooten’s father contacted Wadler, and Wadler helped to convince Hooten to found the Taylor Hooten Foundation, a nonprofit that educates parents and young athletes about the dangers of steroids.

Even with his involvement with all these organizations, Nancy said he never appeared overworked.

“We knew he was busy but we didn’t know it was this intense,” she said. “I think it was because he was so happy about” his work.

Wadler died from complications of multiple system atrophy. In addition to his wife, he is survived by a daughter, Erika, a son, David, and two grandchildren.

About the author

Luke Torrance

Luke Torrance is a reporter for Blank Slate Media covering the Port Washington area.
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