HAMDEN, Conn. - When Bud Selig says steroid use is not widespread in Major League Baseball, Michael Dusa thinks, "Who does this guy think he's kidding?"
Dusa is a chiropractor, personal trainer and bodybuilder, and his clinic in this leafy Connecticut suburb near New Haven has become a hangout for young athletes hungry for training tips and nutrition advice. The use of performance-enhancing drugs has become epidemic at every level of sport, Dusa says, even among the amateur bodybuilders, high school kids and college jocks he works with.
Dusa says 60 percent to 70 percent of the athletes he works with use steroids.
"If I am confronted with so much steroid use with athletes who are not even of regional caliber, let alone professional level, then what's that say about the guys we watch every Sunday?" he asks.
Some of the steroid users he sees, Dusa says, juice up because they want to play pro ball - or get a college scholarship. "They don't realize you can't get talent from a needle," he says.
Others, he says, are trying to fill some kind of psychic void - the strength and the muscles that come with steroids are a substitute for direction and self-esteem. "These kids are quite depressed," Dusa says. "They have no long-term plans. They get into fights. They don't care if they get cancer."
Dusa recently invited the New York Daily News to meet some of the athletes he works with to discuss their experiences with steroids and other performance-enhancing substances. Because they have purchased and used illegal drugs, most agreed to talk only on the condition that they not be identified.
Richard, 35, is unemployed and lives with his father in Hamden. He played baseball, basketball and football in high school, and played baseball at the University of Connecticut. Richard started competing in bodybuilding contests when he was in college. He used steroids for 16 years, but now says he is steroid-free.
"I always wanted to be muscular," Richard says. "As a kid, I liked comic books and superheroes. I was impressed with their physiques - especially Superman and the Avengers. Then I saw the movie
Pumping Iron,' and that blew me away. Even the firstRocky' film left an impression - the idea of a guy pressing his body as far as it would go really impressed me."
Richard, then 19 years old, tore a muscle while training for his first bodybuilding contest. He asked a friend, a pharmacy student at UConn, for something that would bulk him up and help him heal quickly. The friend gave him a steroid, and he took first place in the contest.
More contests followed - and so did more steroid use, primarily Sustanon 250, a powerful testosterone blend he got from guys he met in gyms and through bodybuilding pals.
His new physique landed him jobs as a model and a Chippendales dancer. He appeared, bare chested, on the cover of countless romance novels. He moved to New York and lived in the fast lane, partying in clubs with celebrities until dawn.
"Supermodels would come on to me," Richard laughs. "One famous actor once tried to get me thrown out of a club because a woman he was pursuing was more interested in me than him. He had the money and fame, but I had the pecs."
The pecs didn't protect Richard from the health problems associated with steroids. Soon after his first bodybuilding win, he had surgery to remove tumors that developed under his nipples. Hair grew on his body and thinned on his head. He became aggressive.
"I always had a temper, but the steroids really exaggerated it," Richard says. He stopped using steroids in regular cycles in his mid-20s, but continued to use them to bulk up for important photo shoots or to recover from injuries.
A string of injuries Richard believes was related to steroid use sidelined his modeling career. He's now steroid-free and hopes to get a job as a high school football or baseball coach next year.
"I haven't worked in a year," he says. "I'm living off savings and I don't have a ton of money left. This has really drained me."
Still, he says he has no regrets. "If I had become a big star, this would have all been worth it. I took a gamble and it didn't pay off."
Ann was an overweight 17-year-old when she first visited Dusa two years ago. He recommended a nutrition and exercise program that helped her shed 35 pounds. But Ann was unable to get the lean, muscular look like the women in bodybuilding magazines. The community college student started taking legal dietary supplements.
"I started to take androstenedione earlier this year," Ann says. "The label says it's not for women, but I called the company and they recommended I use half the dose. It made me so much stronger. I was lifting 50-pound dumbbells for chest exercises with each hand. I could work for 12 hours, then go to the gym for five hours. I really felt good. It was the best I felt in my life."
Ann also started using ephedra to lose weight and boost energy during her workouts. She doesn't think the products burned fat as advertised, but they did give her more energy for training.
There were problems, however.
"The andro shut off my female thing," Ann says, referring to her menstrual period. "I didn't get it for three months. I started to get really thick mustache hair. It got so bad I had to go somewhere to get it lasered off."
Ann eventually stopped using andro and ephedra. Her period has returned, and she's eager to pursue her training without chemical assistance. One experience, however, remains fresh in her mind.
"I went to a truck stop to buy ephedra and the manager said he could only sell two bottles at a time. He said this stuff can be dangerous. Looking back at it, the guy at the truck stop was more responsible than the guy at the andro company."
John, 22, has big dreams. He wants to be a movie star. He wants to be rich. He wants to be famous. But he's got a long way to go. John says he's done some modeling - he says he was even an extra in "School of Rock." But mostly, John works as a gas-station attendant and hangs out with his friends as they drink and use cocaine and other drugs. When first interviewed, he claimed he has always been drug-free, but later acknowledged using steroids, although he insists he doesn't use recreational drugs.
"I think a lot of guys use steroids because of the tough guy complex," says John, a short, muscular man who wears sunglasses even indoors. "You see these guys walking around clubs, everybody is hard, everybody has a tight shirt and tribal tattoos. They're covering up their insecurities."
John's height became a handicap when he started entering bodybuilding competitions at age 17. He blamed his poor finish in several contests on his height and decided he needed to use steroids to compensate.
"I wanted to get big and strong quick and not wait to grow, so I asked around at the gym," John says. "I met a guy who said he could get something for me."
A week later, John met his connection late one night in an empty parking lot and purchased a two-month cycle of Sustanon 250. He didn't have any bad physical reactions. But the anger that had burned in John after his parents divorced when he was young turned into a wildfire.
"I was always upset about the divorce," he says. "I've always been like the Hulk - most of the time I'm cool, but if I'm pushed, the rage builds up fast. When I threw the juice onto that, it was like throwing gasoline on a fire. I got crazy. Luckily, I didn't get into any fights. I'm glad I didn't hurt anybody."
His then-girlfriend learned about the steroid use.
"She told me I had to choose between the steroids or her," John says. "To me, having a girlfriend and (having sex) all night was more important than being big." But when the girlfriend broke up with John, he went back to the juice. Two years ago, he started using Equipoise, a horse steroid. People began to notice - but not the way John had hoped. He stopped using the Equipoise after several months. "I looked bloated. I started thinking about my career and my future," he says. "Tommy Hilfiger doesn't want a short, bloated kid in his ads. It also made me edgy. Even if you're a calm person, the juice can send you into a rage. You go from cool person to jerk, just like that."
Bennett Streets, 27, is a bodybuilder and personal trainer whose clients include several NFL and Major League Baseball players. Streets competed in track and played football when he was a student at Ohio Wesleyan University; now he competes in the World Natural Bodybuilding Federation, which administers drug tests and polygraphs to keep steroid users out of its contests. He says he's never used steroids, though he has used legal supplements, such as andro and creatine.
"There are a large number of people in athletics who depend on steroids," says Streets. "They have this perception that steroids will give them ability they've never had before. They're influenced by the fitness magazines. They want what they think will make them bigger. But these same people don't train properly and don't eat properly. They think they can get everything they need out of a bottle."
Streets is adamantly opposed to doping, but he also fears public outrage over steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs will go too far.
"There is a lot more wear and tear on athletes' bodies than people realize, and what's happening now is that people who have never hit a home run or scored a touchdown are weighing in," he says. "Athletes are bigger and stronger than ever before, and we expect a lot more out of athletes than we ever have. We have linebackers who can run as fast as running backs. People get injured a lot more often.
"Athletes are now paid millions of dollars a season, and they will do anything to perform and honor their contracts. But if the World Anti-Doping Agency had its way, you wouldn't even be able to have a cup of coffee in the morning."
Larry Lazaroff is the father of two teenaged boys who play baseball at North Haven High School. His sons stay away from performance-enhancing drugs, but some of their teammates do not.
"I'm scared of what I see out there. There are a lot of kids using steroids," he says. "We were at a party and there were kids I hadn't seen for three to six months. I noticed a change in their physiques - they're much bigger. They're still respectful to me, but I can see they have very different attitudes toward their peers. The kids who are using steroids hang out as a clique. They don't hang out with anybody else.
"I ask my kids, `Don't their parents see what I see? Don't the coaches see what I see?' If my kid came home with bulging muscles and pimples all over his back, I'd haul 'em off to a doctor right away."
(c) 2004, New York Daily News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.