The Tao of Poo: Professional Sports Stars' Dirty Little Secret

Serena Williams, LeBron James, Maria Sharapova: Everybody poops.

I have embarrassed myself plenty during workouts. I have fallen flat on my face while running and wiped out in a pool of my own perspiration in Step class. I have farted on the Bosu ball AND on the Pilates reformer. I’ve held entire conversations with gym friends, only to glance in the mirror and discover eye boogers smeared across my cheek. My nipples have poked through my sportsbra with unforeseen fierceness and I match large men, bucket for bucket, when it comes to sweat produced while on the Stepmill.

But at least I have never pooped my pants. Which, according to a fabulously gross story in this week’s ESPN The Magazine called “It Happens,” is somewhat of a minor miracle considering how many athletes have had an “Oops, I crapped my pants!” episode.

“Athletes poop their pants (or shorts) far more often than you realize,” writes David Fleming. “And once we kick open the stall of shame and secrecy that surrounds the topic, it turns out most of them have a poop story (or two) to tell.”

The author interviewed marathon runners, NFL players and athletes of all ilk who have involuntarily gone to see a man about a dog while in the middle of their sport of choice. Michael Jordan, Serena Williams -- no one is immune to poop’s pungent power.

Runners seem to have the most trouble: “In 1996, Boston Marathon winner Uta Pippig hit the tape tanned from tummy to toes in diarrhea, the after effects of what marathoners lovingly call runner's trots…British distance runner and Nike spokesperson [Paula Radcliffe] was four miles from winning the 2005 London Marathon when she stopped suddenly and darted to the side of the course. Radcliffe had been losing time for several miles because of gastrointestinal disturbances -- the kind that, according to one study, affect 83 percent of marathoners and that are usually preceded by gaseous outbursts that runners call walkie-talkies. Radcliffe's solution? She simply placed one hand on a metal crowd barricade for balance, used the other to curtain her shorts to the side and perched, precariously, over her shoes. Then, as they say in England, she proceeded to ‘have a poo’ right there on the street and in broad daylight, within two feet of a startled spectator…Radcliffe finished her pit stop, adjusted her shorts and floated through the next four miles to win by more than five minutes and set a world record for a women-only marathon.”

The reason for the ill-timed loss of control? During exercise, the body begins to divert blood away from nonessential systems, like digestion and waste, to fuel the heart, lungs and muscles with nutrients and oxygen. When blood is removed from the colon by exercise, water and other material that should have been absorbed along the way instead pass rapidly to the rectum, explains Michael Dobson, the director of a colorectal surgery center in Charlotte, N.C. “There, spikes in volume and pressure trigger nerves in the sphincter that emit urgent warnings to the brain. In less scientific circles, this is what is known as prairie doggin',” Fleming writes. When the rectum fills past the point of no return, not even Superman has the power to hold it back.

I asked a few friends about their most embarrassing gym moments and the answers, while fairly cringe-worthy, were hardly scatological in nature. Theresa told me, “I have tripped while running (more than once) -- and by tripped, I mean full on laid-out on the ground with bloody knees. Not pretty. I also puked at the gym.” Kristina had the disconcerting experience of having her “foo foo” fall asleep on a stationary bike. Someone accidentally mooned her entire gym where her black bike shorts became threadbare and transparent…just in time for her to hit the hamstring curl face-down. But nobody has worked out alongside Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo. Not yet, at least.

What's the most embarrassing thing that's ever happened to you at the gym? Chime in below.

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