This article has been updated throughout.
AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Madisyn Cox has always been competitive. She’s testing that spirit in a new way.
Cox, 23, is suing Cooper Concepts and Cooper Aerobics, claiming the Dallas-based companies “produced, distributed, and sold” a multivitamin that turned out to be tainted with Trimetazidine. The drug is known to aid in improving the cardiovascular system but is banned by competitive swimming and is not approved for use in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration.
The multivitamin, Cooper Complete® Elite Athlete, does not have the drug on its label, the lawsuit, filed 250th District court in Travis County, states. Cox said she took the multivitamin twice a day for approximately seven years at the advice of a doctor to “round out the corners” of her diet.
“I liked it,” Cox said of the results from the multivitamin. “I get my blood work done every six weeks so it was a good marker of ‘OK, I’m getting everything I need,’ and the vitamin was helping round that out.”
Supplement taken for years before ‘bad batch’ cost her
Cox began swimming competitively in her hometown of Lubbock at age four. She was on the U.S. National Swim Team and delayed graduation from the University of Texas to become a professional swimmer.
Then last year, she got a phone call after one of her blood tests.
“I had failed a drug test,” she said. “At that point I was like – confusion beyond belief.”
According to court documents, Cox’s test revealed .1 ng/ml Trimetazidine in her system.
“It was: ‘You have the wrong person, this isn’t me. Go figure whatever y’all are doing wrong out, because it’s not me,'” she said.
“There was such a low amount found in my system that it was a puzzle,” she said, recalling the confusion and anger that followed. “I had to get my contacts checked, any topical lotions. We just didn’t know. I have been taking the multivitamin for so long but I have no reason to believe it was in that. I’d been drug tested for five years or so. I have been taking the supplement for longer than that so you would think that it would show up on something.”
“It was just a bad batch and it kind of kicked me in the butt,” Cox said.
Dr. Kenneth Cooper launched the line in 1997. What began in the late 1960s as an exercise plan, grew to a healthy-living mission including six health and wellness entities providing a “variety of products and services for individuals and corporations,” the company’s website reads.
The product line was “developed by a team of physicians and scientists from leading universities alongside Dr. Cooper to address weaknesses found in many supplements,” the website indicates.
After she tested positive, the international federation governing the sport of aquatics, Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA), suspended Cox, prohibiting her from participating in international competitions and USA Swimming activity. That suspension was later reduced from four years to two.
According to her attorneys, Cox was an All-American student-athlete at the University of Texas from 2013-2017. She earned a bronze medal in the 200 IM and a gold medal as part of the 800 free relay team in the 2017 FINA World Championships. Just before her suspension, in March of 2018, she swam a world-record 200 IM time at a meet in Atlanta.
“I really feel like I was on the up and up and my career and hitting a great stride, and this just knocked off its rails,” she said.
Cox resumed competing in the fall of 2018. The lawsuit requests unspecified damages stemming from her suspension and competition times that were vacated. The suit stated she lost insurance coverage, prize money and her professional contract suffered because the finances were based on performance. Her family hired medical and legal experts to participate in the review of the testing of her blood, urine and multivitamin samples. She also claims “severe emotional difficulty.”
“Completely devastating,” she said.
“I want them to know the damage that they have done to me, to my reputation, emotionally,” she said as she teared up. “Financially, that’s just a hard proven fact of what they have taken away from me and my family, but it goes a lot farther than that.”
The company responds
Cooper Concepts issued a statement on Cox’s lawsuit.
“We are evaluating the allegations and claims in the lawsuit,” a company spokesperson stated. “In September 2018, Cooper Concepts learned of Madisyn Cox’s complaint about the Cooper vitamin supplement she had been using and immediately removed it from its product line.”
“We are saddened and disappointed for Madisyn Cox and any competitions she missed,” the statement continued. “We carefully formulate ingredients to be included in our products and expect adherence to all appropriate standards.”
Cox said removing the product from shelves was a start, but she does not view the company’s statement as genuine.
“It sounds like it’s ‘Oh, sorry you just missed the competition.’ No. This is my life. This is my job. This is what I do for a living. This is what I have worked for my entire life. It is more than just a competition. It’s more than just these couple little instances. It has really had a ripple effect much greater than that,” she said in response.
Cox, who missed the chance to qualify for Worlds, is now training to compete at U.S. Nationals and preparing for Olympic trials next year.
“I hope this at least maybe this gave me a little bit more fire for 2020, next summer,” she said.