Gary Wadler, the Long Island physician and early authority on performance-enhancing drugs in sports whose extensive resume of titles, appointments, memberships and honors included the International Olympic Committee’s President’s Prize, died Tuesday morning. He was 78.
Nancy Wadler said her husband had been suffering from Multiple System Atrophy, a rare neurodegenerative disorder, for more than five years and most recently had been in hospice care at their Port Washington apartment.
“He was a great physician,” Nancy Wadler said. “He never saw a patient for 15 minutes; he saw them for an hour. And he never told a patient bad news on a Friday because he didn’t want to ruin anybody’s weekend.”
Wadler’s 1989 book, “Drugs and the Athlete,” was a seminal work in its field and was followed by scores of articles, and regular participation in international conferences, dealing with sports doping. When the World Anti-Doping Agency was founded in 2000, Wadler became the only American on the organization’s committee to determine the official list of banned substances. The 1993 IOC president’s award was in recognition of his work in that area.
After 16-year-old Texas high school pitcher Taylor Hooton’s 2003 suicide, which his parents believed resulted from steroid withdrawal depression, it was Wadler who encouraged Hooton’s father to create a foundation to raise steroid awareness among young athletes, coaches and parents. In 2005, Major League Baseball formed a $1 million partnership with the Taylor Hooton Foundation to further that cause.
Wadler also created a drug treatment center at North Shore University Hospital and a drug-education program for Nassau schools. In July, North Shore named its dialysis center for Gary and Nancy Wadler.
Beyond his private practice as an internist in Manhasset, Wadler served as associate professor of clinical medicine at NYU, as medical advisor to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, as a trustee for the American College of Sports Medicine and chairman of the American Ballet Theatre’s medical advisory board. In 2008, he edited the book, “The Healthy Dancer” as an ABT guideline.
Gary Irvin Wadler was born Jan. 12, 1939, in Brooklyn, the second of three boys. His father, an immigrant from Austria with no formal education, was a window trimmer in small shops throughout the metropolitan area. His mother was a part-time teacher. Wadler graduated from Samuel Tilden High School, Brooklyn College and Cornell Medical School.
Never a competitive athlete, Wadler nevertheless became a key player in the elite sports world after volunteering to serve as U.S. Open tennis tournament physician in 1980.
In his role with the Open, he made two especially newsworthy diagnoses — of the mysterious toxoplasmosis, a viral infection caught from her pet cat that derailed No. 1 Martina Navratilova’s 1982 title bid, and the solution of Jimmy Connors’ cramping from dehydration by prohibiting Connors’ soda intake, augmenting Connors’ surprising run to the 1991 semifinals at 39.
But it was an unexpected 1986 request by representatives of the pro men’s tennis tour, that Wadler submit to a urine test to demonstrate that no one associated with the Open was exempt from drug screening, that triggered his curiosity in doping issues.
Wadler also was board chairman and president of the Nassau County Sports Commission which, among other activities, won the 12-city bidding that placed the Women’s Sports Foundation at Eisenhower Park in 1993. In the mid 1990s, in a rare Wadler project that didn’t materialize, he worked to relocate the Mets to Nassau County, with a new stadium envisioned adjacent to Belmont Racetrack.
Along the way, Wadler met Jackie Robinson, who had lost his son to a drug-related death, worked closely with tennis great Billie Jean King, and became so widely known during his global travels that he once got a Christmas card from Sweden’s Queen Silvia.
Besides his wife, who works in intellectual property law, Wadler is survived by his son David, daughter Erika and two grandchildren. Funeral services will be Thursday at 11:30 at Riverside Nassau North Chapels in Great Neck.