Great Britain Sprinter, Bernice Wilson, shares her story to prevent others from having to go through what she had to experience. Her promising career came to an abrupt end because of domestic violence and manipulation into doping in sport.
Athletics was part of my life from an early age. I started competing as an 8 year old. Along with competing in athletics, I also played hockey and netball for the county. I loved sports. Eventually, playing all three sports at this level became too much to handle so I decided to focus and progress in athletics.
I became a well-known athlete in Lincolnshire where I lived. In 2002, I became a student at Sheffield Hallam University of a Bachelor of Science (HONS) in Sport Technology. I graduated in 2005 with a 2.2 honours degree. Whilst at university, I continued to compete in athletics and was performing to a good level with my coach at the time. After university, I lost that coach, and my performance slipped slightly. In 2007, while training at Boston athletics track, I met Dr. George Skafidas. He became my coach. I did not know that this encounter would change my career and life forever.
Manipulated into Doping
In 2008, George and I began a relationship. However, he soon became possessive towards me, and I sometimes felt trapped. At that time, he began to tell me that I needed to take performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) if I wanted to get anywhere in sport. Eventually, I gave in and started taking PEDs. I was taking steroids, clenbuterol and testosterone, and George would always say this was a “baby amount”, suggesting it was such a small amount it wouldn’t be harmful to my health and wouldn’t make a big difference to me. George would also insist that all athletes are taking anabolic steroids and are doping.
After some time, things got worse. George became aggressive with me if we had a disagreement. Soon, domestic violence was part of my life, and I felt very on my own. I didn’t tell many people about the domestic abuse. In 2011, I was banned from competing in athletics for four years as my urine sample came back positive. I was very upset – but it gave me the strength to break up with George.
At the time, I was a Sports Development Officer for the East Lindsey District Council. Naturally, I lost my job. I was now a bad example. In 2012, I secured employment with the National Health Service. George and I got back together in a relationship, and he started coaching me again. Once again, George told me to start taking PEDs, and essentially start doping again. But I said no. I was very careful with any tablets, food and drink that I was taking. After long and careful consideration I started taking multivitamins. Shortly thereafter, I learnt that I had failed another drug test. I was utterly distraught because I just could not understand how this happened. I had been careful! My Anti-Doping Agency told me that clomiphene was present in my urine. I broke up with George once again.
A new start
A few days into the investigation, George admitted to swapping my vitamin tablets for clomiphene, a substance that lowers oestrogen. That was when I decided to tell UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) everything that happened with my first ban, including the abuse and domestic violence. UKAD were very supportive and keen to help me. Secretly, I recorded George on my mobile phone whilst we had a conversation via Skype when he admitted to swapping my vitamin tables for clomiphene. I gave the recording to UKAD and my solicitor at the time. I received a 10-month ban. George received a lifetime ban. At the hearing, I was told that the substance he had given me could have killed me.
Currently, I am member of the UKAD Athlete Commission. I like to share my story to help other athletes and women so they don’t have to go through the same experiences that I went through. Although I am coaching now, I still compete just not so often. My advice to anyone in a similar situation is, first of all: talk to someone. You do not need to face this alone.
I am a lot happier now.