Originally created 07/25/99

Offering athletes guidance



Butter my bottom and call me a biscuit.

-- Coach reacts to heat (1967)

Today's issue of your newspaper is filled with photos of Georgia Games athletes.

Some will be straining.

Some will be sweating.

But all will probably be doing a lot better than they would have several decades ago.

You see, when it comes to athletic performance, we've gotten a lot smarter.

Take the heat (to Maine would be nice), for example.

Thirty years ago, in my athletic prime, heat was considered just another adversary to conquer.

You did not give in to it, any more than you would have pulled out an umbrella if it began to rain in the middle of a track meet.

Sports drinks were considered a passing fad.

Remember Georgia's answer to the University of Florida's invention of Gatorade?

It was called "Bulldog Punch" and tasted like a salty, red Kool-Aid.

And water?

Well, let me tell you (as dozens of coaches told us), drinking water when you were hot "made you sick."

This advice seems to have come from the same school of general medical knowledge that told us: "Don't eat anything for (fill-in-the-blank) minutes before going back in the water. You'll get cramps and drown."

Now, no one seemed to know anyone who had actually gotten sick from drinking water, any more than they knew Marilyn Monroe's home phone number, but it was a rule rarely violated.

The only defense allowed against blazing sun and high temperatures seemed to be salt tablets -- freely distributed aspirin-sized pellets -- which, we were told, would help us retain fluids.

"It seemed to make sense," said Dr. Larry Mellick, chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the Medical College of Georgia.

Then he charitably added, "Someone made an inaccurate assumption."

I probably don't need to tell you that salt tablets are not easy to find anymore.

I called several drug stores Friday afternoon before finding Rae Guy, a CVS pharmacist in North Augusta, who reported she did indeed have "Thermo-Tabs," a product now kept behind the counter because of the latest health concerns with salt.

(And to think, we used to wolf them down like after-dinner mints.)

Hot people are going to lose electrolytes, going to lose sodium, Dr. Mellick said, but clearly, "water is the first place to start."

He agreed with me that perhaps it came from all those old Westerns where the guy found in the desert can't be offered a canteen without being warned, "Don't drink too much, Tex, it'll make you sick."

It's a wonder Roy Rogers didn't reach into his pocket and pull out a couple of salt tablets to bring his parched sidekick back to life.

It's also a wonder so many of us are still around to laugh about it.

Bill Kirby can be reached at (706) 868-1222, Ext.107, orbkirby@augustachronicle.com.