Bodybuilder tells of steroid dangers Suspect in ring admits own use

November 20, 1992|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,Staff Writer

He could have been the "before" picture in a Charles Atlas bodybuilding ad.

"I was the little guy who always got laughed at, pushed around, when I was a kid," said the man, who was charged Wednesday as a principal in what U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials described as a nationwide black-market steroids business that was smashed by a DEA task force based in Baltimore.

The suspect, who has agreed to cooperate with authorities, asked that his name not be published. In turn, he agreed to discuss his use of steroids and the damaging effect the performance-enhancing drugs have on competitors he has known on the amateur bodybuilding circuit.

On advice from his attorney, the man would not talk about his arrest or details of the case. He said he had used steroids for five years before his arrest.

He is described by authorities as the middleman who placed orders for the drug Systenon-250 -- the trade name for an anabolic steroid -- to a connection in California.

While making arrests, agents and police seized steroids and other types of drugs, including human growth hormones and chemicals used by bodybuilders to trim water and fat before competition.

"If you lift for competition, you use 'juice' [steroids] because you just can't compete without it," the man said. But there's no doubt about it, he said, some of his weightlifting friends paid a severe price for developing competitively muscular physiques.

"One friend of mine who used steroids heavily developed severe kidney problems," he said.

"Another had one of his testicles removed, and others have experienced heart trouble, at a young age," he said. "Taking steroids has not given me any physical problems, yet. Even the women bodybuilders in competition use them and eventually develop deep voices, facial hair, mood swings.

"But everybody, and I mean everybody, uses them at that level, if you want to get bigger and stronger, to get that winning definition," he said.

He says that he reached the pinnacle of his brief career in February 1991 when he captured first place in the light heavyweight category of the Mr. World Classic. That same month, a law went into effect making the possession of steroids without a prescription a federal offense.

The man said that three months before an event, he started using both injectable and oral steroids. He also ate five or six small meals a day and spent long hours in the gym.

"I was using 1,000-1,500 milligrams a week, but that was on the low side for a lot of people," he said. Some competitors were injecting or orally taking up to 7,000 milligrams a week, he said.

"Prior to show time [competition], I'd train two to three hours a day, two days in a row with a day off," he said. "The steroids helped me recover more quickly and train more frequently. Other drugs helped me loose fluid and develop more muscle definition."

When the bodybuilder was arrested, the undercover DEA agent from Baltimore said that the suspect had a curious reaction.

"Rather than being concerned about his future or shocked about his arrest, he was only worried about how he couldn't get big with steroids anymore," the agent said this week.

Anabolic steroids are synthetic derivatives of the male hormone testosterone. Both men and women produce testosterone in their bodies.

There are legitimate medical uses of steroids including treating the effects of chemotherapy, asthma, arthritis, breast cancer and inflammation injuries.

Government research shows that the darker side of steroid use was evident in the early 1940s when German officials gave Adolph Hitler's elite forces, the SS, anabolic steroids to increase their aggressiveness.

Eastern European athletes, even up to the Olympic level, began using steroids in the early '60s, and others in amateur and professional sports eventually followed suit.

Since the deaths of professional athletes Lyle Alzado last May and John Matuszak in 1989, both reportedly steroid users, illegal steroid use and the devastating health consequences of the drug have become more of a public concern.

But the lengths to which athletes will go to win in spite of the dangers of steroids was underscored dramatically when Canadian runner Ben Johnson surrendered a gold medal won in the 1988 Olympics after testing positive for steroids.

"The saddest part of taking steroids on the competitive level is that motivation for success is that it brings lots of bucks," said Dr. Ed McFarland, director of the Sports Medicine Department at Johns Hopkins University.

"What we have so far is mostly anecdotal evidence about the effects of steroid use, but why take the chance?" Dr. McFarland said. "Users have to ask, 'Is my heart muscle going to stop working, are my hip bones going to collapse'?"

Another local specialist says an alarming trend is the use of steroids by teen-agers.

"There are as many kids who are not athletes using steroids because they simply want to look good," said Dr. William Howard, director of the Union Memorial Hospital's Sports Medicine Clinic.

"They want to gain muscles quicker, build a body beautiful, but not play sports because they don't want to injure their bodies, their shrines.

"The bottom line is that while more athletes are educated about the hazards of steroids, people still are using them. You can't guarantee anything about steroid use except that it can hurt you. . . . It's nothing but a crap shoot."

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