Growing up, Scott Lowell hated it when people cheated, whether the arena was sports or board games. Today, he fights scofflaws professionally as a doping control officer (DCO) for the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
USADA agents make unannounced visits to test for banned substances among amateur and professional athletes competing in Olympic, Paralympic and Pan American sports. In 2008, Lowell and 69 other DCOs nationwide conducted more than 8,500 sample collections for drug testing; banned substances were found in only 24 cases.
Q: How did you become a doping control officer?
One of my friends in the MBA program, John McKenney, was USADA’s doping control agent for the Boston area. He asked if I wanted to go along on calls as a chaperone — you need a witness for every collection — and chaperones make $100 per call. So I started going with him. John was a DCO for three years; when he stepped down, I applied and got the job.
Q: What are your responsibilities?
I’m one of two DCOs in Boston, and we’re responsible for about a 200-mile area. We’re charged with testing Olympic-level athletes, which means collecting urine or blood samples. That definitely was a little weird at first, but now it doesn’t faze me.
Q: Do you also test the sample?
No. I actually can’t handle the sample until the athlete separates it into two containers — one to test and one for backup — and seals it. Then I ship it to one of the labs that USADA uses.
Q: Is being a DCO a full-time gig?
It can be, but for me it’s strictly part time. I’m actually an account manager with ProMedical, a medical billing company located in Lexington [Mass.]. My company has been very flexible and understanding about my work with USADA. I do about 20 collections a quarter. People who are full time, say, if you were out in Colorado near the Olympic Training Center, do about 100.
Q: Is there a connection between your work at ProMedical and USADA?
In some respects, yes. Both are about relationship management: establishing and maintaining good communication and learning how to deal with a lot of different people. Another similarity is that when I go out into the field to test athletes, I’m the face of USADA, just like when I go on-site to see clients, my actions represent ProMedical.
Q: How do you think about the impact of your work with USADA?
It’s important because it keeps the integrity of the sport true — making sure the playing field is level for everyone. People think it’s about going after the bad guys, but that’s not really the case. It’s more about being an ally with these athletes. USADA is here to ensure that their individual sports are clean, and that all their hard work is worth it.
Q: What do you enjoy about the position?
USADA is the gold standard in doping control. It’s an independent nonprofit not affiliated with any particular sport. They’re all about maintaining the integrity of sport, and they work with the different sports’ governing bodies to do that.
As a DCO, I like meeting the athletes. It’s a whole world I wasn’t aware of before I started doing this. They’re up training from 5:00 to 9:00 a.m., then they go to work a full-time job, and then they’re back in the evening to work out. I have a huge amount of respect for them.
Q: Why is that?
People don’t realize what these athletes go through. They have to provide their whereabouts all day, every day, to USADA. They have to list their primary training location and their home address, and provide a one-hour window of where they’ll be every single day of the year. So if they decide to go to the Cape for two days, they have to log on to the USADA web site and update their schedule. Otherwise, they’ll be in violation if we make a test visit and they’re not there.
Q: Take us through a typical collection call.
Every call is different. Sometimes it means being at a boathouse on the Charles River at 5:00 a.m. Other times, it’s knocking on the door at someone’s home in Connecticut at 8:00 a.m. Once we’ve met, I have to stay with them until they provide a sample — we’re basically handcuffed together. So I’ve gone out to breakfast with people, watched their kid’s softball game, hung out while they’ve played video games. Most of the time, it takes one to two hours, but on occasion it has taken as long as five or six.
Q: What kind of reaction do you get from athletes?
The visit is not a surprise. When you get to be an elite-level athlete, you understand that getting tested is part of the deal. For the most part, they respect what we have to do. They know that what we’re doing is for the betterment of their sport.
Q: Why did you earn an MBA and how are you using it now?
I wanted to take on more responsibility at work, and I knew that getting an MBA would give me more skills, more leverage. I’ve been with ProMedical for 10 years. Now, with my MBA, I’ve been able to take a more active role in project management, operations, re-engineering processes, relationship management, and analytical thinking — looking at an issue from all angles. Also, I went to Bentley part time, so working full time and going to school at night taught me a lot about time management. That definitely helps with my work for USADA.
Q: Doping in professional sports is much in the news lately. What’s your take on the problem?
On a personal level and as a fan of some of the teams affected, I’m embarrassed. It’s disappointing to think that all they’ve accomplished is tarnished by cheating. But there is a lot of money in pro sports, and people will do a lot for the sake of money.