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Toxic Aspartame and Grave's Disease: Disease diagnosis doesn't deter diver

Disease diagnosis doesn't deter diver
By Vicki Michaelis, USA TODAY
Posted 6/10/2004 10:03 PM

ST. PETERS, Mo. — Justin Dumais was just so tired. Seven months ago, he hardly could muster the energy for a shower, let alone for the 10-meter dives he had been practicing more than half his life.

Initially, he thought he was overtraining. After two weeks, he went to his doctor, who detected a high white-blood-cell count and sent him to a specialist. The diagnosis: Graves' disease, which causes overproduction of thyroid hormone.

Dumais, headed to the Athens Olympics in August after winning the 3-meter synchronized event at this week's U.S. trials, was perplexed.

The disease most often strikes middle-aged women.

"A 25-year-old male elite athlete is about as far from the stereotypical Graves patient as you can get," he says.

Now, he has his doctors baffled. He began taking medication in February but continued doing his own research. He found a nutritionist who suggested he cut aspartame, an artificial sweetener found in products such as diet soda, from his diet.

In mid-March, he quit diet soda and his medication. Now, Dumais feels so much better, he questions whether he really has Graves' disease, which has no known cure.

He returned to the 10-meter board two weeks ago and will compete in the individual platform finals Saturday.

This isn't the tough part, he says. That came in January, when he and his synchro partner, his brother Troy, had to do well enough at a World Cup to earn the USA an Olympic spot in the event.

"If Troy and I weren't there, chances are we weren't going to bring back the spot, and that was our event," Justin says.

The Dumais brothers, who are from Ventura, Calif., and train in The Woodlands, Texas, have won the last three national titles in 3-meter synchro. They are considered the USA's best chance for a diving medal in Athens.

Before the critical World Cup, they decided to trim the difficulty of their dives because of Justin's condition. Going into their final dive, they were behind and had to improvise with moves they hadn't tried in a long time.

"We had to fake it," Justin says. "That was a true competitive moment because we were down going into the last dive, and we knew we needed it. We said, 'All right, this is the Olympics, right now.' And we wound up doing the best dive of the competition."

They finished fourth at the World Cup, high enough to earn the spot.

Over the last seven months, Justin and Troy haven't trained together very much. Neither considered it a handicap. Troy, a 2000 Olympian, continued training for the individual events. He leads the men's springboard going into tonight's finals.

"I have to do my dives, and I have to believe that he's going to be ready when the time comes," Troy says.

Justin was ready this week. The duo won the 3-meter synchro event by such a wide margin they didn't need their final dive for a winning point total.