The Bar is Loaded (Article Banner)

I have used some humor and self-deprecation throughout the last three articles. I have placed tongue firmly in cheek as I glanced back to the eighties and compared those times with our powerlifting world today. So, I preface this article with a statement: due to the serious nature of the subject matter I will not be using sarcasm, self-deprecation or light humor. I’m not that good of a writer to adequately convey that type of sentiment with such a serious subject – the subject of anabolic steroids.

I’m not a historian. I only view experiences through my own paradigms. I can’t tell you with any authority how steroid use started in athletics. But, I can tell you why. They make you stronger – considerably. I know this first hand. I used steroids in the mid-eighties.

After I was unceremoniously kicked off the Orediggers football team for academic probation – I started weight training. In four years I had built myself up from a 160 pound defensive back to a 205 pound lean and mean gym rat. I was in southeast New Mexico and there was little-to-no guidance for lifters. Mine construction work took me to Illinois. In the mid-eighties, Illinois was one of the focal points of powerlifting. I joined a powerlifting gym conveniently located close to where I was living. I was training alone and after a set of a raw 405×4 squat, the gym owner and local powerlifter asked – “is that your max?” Of course this was my ME. Back in Carlsbad, New Mexico I was the only guy squatting. This gym owner/powerlifter took me under his wings and taught me form, leverage, a workout schedule, how to use an Inzer bench shirt and introduced me to anabolic steroids. I started a typical 80’s cycle: Eight weeks – start with an oral once a day, three weeks later stack a ‘light’ injectable, five weeks in stack a ‘heavy’ injectable, and top in all off with andro for ten days. Work your ass off in the gym, limit cardio and consume 7,000 calories a day. In 3 months (residual affects) I ballooned to 240 pounds and added 200 pounds to my squat. I was elated! I can get this strong this fast.

I wanted more. But, with my trainer’s advice, I was forced off the juice for 14 weeks. I fought valiantly to keep my strength up. I ate copious amounts of, well, everything. I lifted hard. I did manage to maintain about 30% of the strength I put on at the expense of gaining another 20 pounds of body weight. This cycle continued on and off for the next two years. By this time I was back in New Mexico looking to compete. I had bombed out of my last meet and had experienced severe migraines and nose bleeds. I thought my competition days were over and it was back to being a gym rat.  If I couldn’t use steroids, where would I lift?  Then, by the start of ’87, Rich introduced his phased approach to drug-free powerlifting. I was able to compete 6-months clean, then 1-year clean and eventually 3-years clean. It’s been 20+ years now so….. I do have a ‘take’ on the subject.

There have been significant changes in the use of anabolic steroids since 1986. The first and most significant change is legal. In February of 1991, federal law placed anabolic steroids in Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act. This simply means that the possession or sale of anabolic steroids without a valid prescription is illegal. Possession carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison – first offense. The maximum penalty for trafficking is five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 if this is the individual’s first felony drug offense.

This change of law was big – real big. It made felons out of some strength athletes. Our president even addressed this issue. In George W. Bush’s 2004 State of the Union address, President Bush asserted that athletes should not be permitted to use “performance-enhancing drugs like steroids.” One reason President Bush stated that steroids should not be permitted was the use of such drugs are “dangerous”.

 Listen, I’m in the minority on my feelings toward the job W did as president. I think history will prove he made tremendous political sacrifice to protect our safety. Think about 9/12 – the day after. Did anyone seriously believe we would and could go eight years without a credible terrorist attack on U.S. soil? No, we were confused and scared. Bush took the war to the terrorists. Period. This isn’t political – it’s fact. But, when President George W. Bush addressed the use of anabolic steroids as “dangerous” he initiated a trend of unintended consequences.  When later asked President Bush stated he was trying to reach the youth of America. Being ‘dangerous’ doesn’t deter the youths of America – it encourages them.  Don’t believe me? Results from the 2005 Monitoring the Future Study, which surveys students in eighth, tenth, and twelfth grades, show that 1.7% of eighth graders, 2.0% of tenth graders, and 2.6% of twelfth graders reported using steroids at least once in their lifetimes.  Teenagers don’t believe something is bad for them without hard and fast facts.   Take teenagers and drinking for example.

As one who has parented teenagers I know all-to-well the challenges we face when trying to keep our kids from consuming alcohol. And, we have a tremendous load of data to support the perils of drinking – over 19,100 people died in 2006 in the U.S. from alcohol consumption. This statistic doesn’t account for alcohol-related deaths – simply consumption. Couple this with the British medical journal the Lancet which reports that one in 25 deaths around the world were caused by alcohol consumption, and booze is now as damaging to global health as tobacco was a decade ago. I draw this analogy to simply point out that just saying something is dangerous is not a deterrent.

Please note that I am vehemently against the use of anabolic steroids.  I think I have effectively established this credibility over the last 23 years.  I think it was and is pandora’s box. I believe there isn’t an end in sight to the degree one may go to gain a competitive advantage. Take today’s juiced athletes – they will cycle year round – year round! Never going off. Always on something with a testosterone base. And, if you use steroids you can go to prison. Prison!  But, with all the press coverage of anabolic steroids and baseball, steroids have become a common conversation.

In the eighties conversations about steroids were few and far between. And, these conversations were always protected, whispered and held in the strictest of confidence. Today you can find an expert on just about any chat room or board that is discussing strength training and/or bodybuilding. With the anonymity of the internet, everyone has become so open about the subject. Now we have a freakin’ anabolic doctor in Powerlifting USA discussing his ‘practice’ openly. Give me a break. Even the users think he’s an idiot.

But, I digress.

I have also noticed a huge change in the sentiment between strength athletes. When I stopped using in 1986 I still had friends and a training partner who continued to use ‘roids. We all got along just fine. Of course I took particular pleasure in lifting more than one unnamed individual in our gym – but it was all in good fun. Today there are two lines-in-the-sand which tend to create real hostility between lifters: gear and the use of steroids. I’m not making any judgment on this at all – just making an observation.

My two cents – for what it’s worth – is that this is a value equation. I don’t consider those that use steroids as bad guys – they are just making poor choices. And, as long as they stay out of drug-free meets, I don’t think of them as cheater either. What I don’t get is their value equation. I just don’t understand how the risk of incarceration, the cost and the eventual health risks are worth a record, a trophy or a place on Powerlifting Watch’s top fifty list.

I know my opinion differs from some of you.  Many of you view the steroid users (today and yesterday) as cheaters. I get that.   But, I’m a big ‘values’ guy. And, values are personal. They come from upbringing, religious beliefs, family, and the choices we make – but they are very personal. As I entered the late eighties and through today my values around this subject have been clear to me: train smart, expect small but consistent gains, strive to stay injury-free, eat well, be drug-free, do not do anything whatsoever in life to become incarcerated and….lift for me.

I want to personally thank Rich Peters for his role in helping me shape these values. He was extremely influential in helping me removing steroids from my life in 1986.

Thank you Rich.

I have thoroughly enjoyed this experience and I am grateful you allow me to share.