Living a lie
Once a steroid user, trainer now spreads clean message to his clients
By Lisa Marshall, Camera Staff Writer
March 26, 2005
Seated in his living room six years ago, Rick Jones considered ending it all. In a large box in front of him were 300 little blue Dianabol tablets, 20 cc's of Deca-Durabolin, several vials of human growth hormone and insulin, assorted pills, and a pile of syringes. For the previous decade, Jones, a Boulder High grad with a dream of being a professional bodybuilder, had reached for the drugs to help him get there.
By age 28, it hadn't happened.
Instead, he had overdosed twice, had a police record for smuggling and dealing anabolic steroids, and his fiancee was leaving him after discovering his secret. A plea from his father that morning had convinced him to stop.
But could he?
"I sat there thinking of just shotgunning it, of doing everything I had left," says Jones, now 35 and drug-free for years.
As Major League Baseball players testify before Congress about steroid abuse, and Jose Canseco publicizes his new tell-all book about the miracles the drugs have brought, Jones says he fears that the media onslaught may have an unintended effect.
"The more the media hypes up the big paychecks, the more the kids who haven't tried it want to try it," he says.
The true story, he says, is anything but glamorous.
Close to home
The numbers are small, relative to those of other drugs of abuse, and have declined among some age groups since 2002. But in the wake of a string of steroid-related suicides by teen athletes, and one arrest this fall of a Boulder High School football player for dealing them, government and school officials say they are on alert.
According to police records, a Boulder High School football player was arrested Nov. 18 for possession of a controlled substance. His mother had found a vial of nandrolone decanoate, an injectable steroid, on the couch at the home and had taken it to the school.
A search of the student's house uncovered several more vials, and the student told police he had purchased $1,200 worth of steroids over the Internet using his mother's credit card.
Police also found steroid pills and a pellet gun that looks identical to a Colt handgun in the student's drawer.
The student was charged as a juvenile and suspended from school, police said.
School officials say the recent events in the media have opened their eyes.
"We have our antenna rays pretty high on this right now," says Monte Sutak, director of athletics for the Boulder Valley School District. "We don't want to see this stuff like we see it in the professional ranks right now."
To some degree, it's already there.
In 2004, according to a survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 3.4 percent of 12th-graders, 2.4 percent of 10th-graders, and 1.9 percent of eighth-graders reported having used anabolic steroids, and the fastest growing group of users is high school girls.
In September 2003, 10 varsity football players were suspended from Buckeye High School in Arizona for using steroids.
On July 15, a 17-year-old Plano, Texas, high school student named Taylor Hooton hanged himself while withdrawing from prolonged steroid use.
In 2002, Rob Garibaldi, a 24-year-old college baseball star from California, shot himself in the head after years of struggling with steroid use.
Boulder County Drug Task Force Lt. Steve Prentup says he knows of only two local cases in the past two years involving anabolic steroids. But that's not because they aren't out there, and prevalent in some areas.
"They're pretty underground," he says.
To Mexico for more
A slight 5-8, 128 pounds, Jones often felt invisible walking the halls of Boulder High his senior year. He'd grown up watching "The Incredible Hulk," and "He-Man," and he idolized a professional body builder who lived down the street.
Jones joined a club and worked with a personal trainer, but results were slow to come. When a friend offered to get him some Dianabol, he didn't hesitate.
"It seemed like the bigger, more muscular guys got more respect. I wanted that kind of respect. I wanted people to walk by and go 'wow,'" he says.
He put on 10 pounds in a month and was soon trading tips with friends at the gym and flipping through underground steroid books that told in great detail how to mix them for maximum benefit.
Then came the needles, and the trips across the border to Mexico to buy more. At his worst, Jones says, he was injecting 1,000 milligrams of testosterone and growth hormone into his shoulder and buttock each week, creating throbbing knots in the injection sites and disabling cramps in his muscles.
At one point, after working out and injecting a vial of insulin, he fell asleep without eating, and woke up so disoriented and dizzy he couldn't walk down the hall. He says he thinks he was slipping into a diabetic coma. Another time he was rushed to the doctor with chemical poisoning.
On Aug. 29, 1996, after selling $21,000 worth of steroids to a wired police informant on four separate occasions, Jones was arrested in Boulder for distribution and conspiracy to sell a controlled substance.
"I was looking at six years in prison, and it still wasn't enough," he says. "I still wanted to get bigger."
He was sentenced to probation.
To look better
Bruce Gottlieb, a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in sports medicine, says that in Boulder he seldom works with athletes with anabolic steroid problems. But he has worked with several men who use them purely to look better.
He says that in many ways, a steroid addiction is more like an eating disorder than a drug addiction. There is no sense of euphoria nor any buzz with steroids. Instead, they offer a false hope of physical perfection.
"People use recreational drugs to take themselves away from reality. Steroids are all about physical appearance," Gottlieb says.
In many ways, experts say, steroids deliver the opposite.
Prolonged use of anabolic steroids can lead to enlarged breasts, male-pattern baldness, acne, reduced testicle size and reduced sperm count. Long-term effects include higher risk of heart attack and liver cancer, and for those who share needles to inject, a greater risk of HIV/AIDS.
Being on them, and trying to get off them, also can wreak havoc on a person's emotional state, causing mood swings, violent tendencies and suicidal thoughts.
"For me, that 128-pound kid really never went away," says Jones. At his largest, he weighed 205 pounds, with just 5 percent body fat. But he was far from satisfied.
"It was like I had little voices in my head saying, 'You are never going to amount to anything. You're a loser,'" he says.
Jones says he has had one friend who had a heart attack, and another had a tumor removed from his buttock, where he injected steroids. Another developed so much breast tissue, he had to have it surgically removed.
So far, Jones says, he has suffered few physical side effects. But the mood swings and the lies cost him his relationship with his fiancee and drove family members away.
"He would radically switch from being a nice person to a nasty person," recalls his mother, Judy Jones, who didn't know of her son's steroid use until years later. Her advice to parents: "Watch those signs. Hindsight is 20/20, and they were there."
Signs of progress
This month, the National Institutes on Drug Abuse will roll out a disturbing television ad campaign urging teens to steer clear of steroids.
In July, the U.S. Air Force Academy began random steroid testing of everyone from cadets to employees, after five students there faced charges of using them.
And the NCAA recently expanded its year-round drug testing program to include more college teams, including the University of Colorado.
Boulder Valley athletic director Sutak says the school district has tightened up its codes to assure that steroids are given the same penalty as any other illegal substance, and every athlete, regardless of sport, receives the same penalty.
"What we see in the colleges and universities and professionally is very enticing to these kids," Sutak says, referring to the fame and cash associated with elite sports. He calls Conseco's book, which many say glorified steroid use, "troublesome."
"We have to heighten our awareness," Sutak says.
The final straw for Jones, after more than a decade of planning his life around enlarging his physique, was a breakfast conversation with his then-fiancee.
He'd just mixed two potent steroids and could feel his heart racing. He lost color. His speech was slurred, his vision foggy.
"I couldn't even talk to her," he says. "She was like, 'Would you look at yourself? You're a bodybuilder and you are supposed to be healthy. How is this healthy?'"
When his father asked him to give up the drugs for his mother's sake, he threw out his box of pills and vials and never went back.
Today, he owns Customized Nutrition and Exercise, a Boulder business designed to help bodybuilders and weightlifters get big without the drugs. He also is writing a book about his experience. He competes in drug-tested, or "natural" bodybuilding competitions, and for the first time is starting to place.
"You can achieve some pretty incredible stuff without steroids," Jones says. "I lived a lie for 10 years. There is no magic pill."
Contact Camera Staff Writer at Lisa Marshall at (303) 473-1357 or firstname.lastname@example.org.