There’s something about South Florida that prompts many residents to hone their physiques, without buying into that healthy living thing found in places like Southern California.I spent some time on Florida’s deep West Coast following six years in the Army and the number of guys and girls I saw on steroids was unlike anyplace I’d ever seen.
It took me a while to find someone who would talk to me about his “juicing” habit. “Joey O” only told me his story after he stopped and moved on to raw testosterone administered by a questionable physician’s assistant.
Still, he refused to let me use his real name and asked I call him Joey O. It was just a handful of months since he had stopped juicing and given up the ability to bench 555 pounds at the 190-pound weight class. Benching nearly three times his body weight, he was ranked 36th in the U.S. The whole thing left him both freakish and awesome in equal measure.
Less than a year out of the gym at 42 years old, Joey was a bit softer, but still squat solid, with a mud-thick New Jersey accent, and vaguely thinning slicked-back hair. Not long after we started talking, I asked him about one of the first major steroid side-effect: Meatloaf’s affliction from the movie Fight Club, which is referred to, graphically, as “Bitch tits.”
It’s a famous scene with Edward Norton and a defining trait of the ‘Loaf’s role in the movie, and Joey O smiled: “Bitch tits, yeah, your nipples get hard, they swell up — they hurt and you take your Nolvadex.”
He stops to grab a rag and wipe down the wooden bar between us before continuing. “Sure, you might lactate a bit, crack and bleed, but you’re ready and you take care of it before you’re needing sports bras and Band-Aids.”
Medically known as gynecomastia, the condition occurs in anabolic steroid users when their bodies compensate for an over-abundance of testosterone and start creating balancing amounts of estrogen.
Nolvadex is typically used to treat breast cancer, but also does a handy job of keeping the estrogen in check. A more common option is taking birth control, yet another cycle in the steroid user’s regime.
In the movie, Meatloaf was undergoing hormone therapy. Joey O had just started the same program: weekly doses of testosterone (“test”) and the option of more frequent human growth hormone (HGH) injections.
Whether you know him or not, Joey O comes across with a rather sizable chip on his shoulder. I was actively thinking that when I ask him about his balls.
Photo: Think Steroids
He doesn’t flinch. “Peanuts,” he says, with a snort. “Yeah, they shrink up to like peanuts.”Finally, the girl next to us, at the bar where Joey O works, until now silent and delightfully uninvolved, chimes in: “Like a piece of Double-Bubble!” Joey O nods, sanctioning her reply. “Get it? Double-Bubble…” she says, “Get it?”
Joey O smiles and says: “I started juicing after I got out of the Marines in 1992. Everybody was doing it. I saw a guy at the gym, bigger than he had any right to be, and I asked him what was up. We chat a bit; he takes me out to his car. His dad worked on horses and this guy’s trunk was full of steroids. Full. Everything you’d ever need.”
Another Fight Club juicer fact: Steroids are used on racehorses. Winstrol (“Winnie”) is a called a “cutting agent.” Those rippling, striated flanks on racehorses? That’s Winnie doing its cutting. The better the cut, the less fat and the more muscle. Winstrol was Joey O’s cutting agent of choice. Anadrol (oxymetholone 50 — or “A-Bombs”) became Joey O’s bulking agent of choice.
Bulking agents are the other half of the steroid equation. You bulk, you cut, you cycle off — on-and-on until the side effects become too much to ignore. And those effects are bigger than a juicer’s bodybuilding trophies. About another staple steroid, Anadrol: “It’s just like a bullet, right to your liver,” Joey tells me from behind the bar, jabbing his left pointer finger into his lower rib cage.
The liver is hit so hard by Anadrol that renal failure is more likely than not. Because the liver filters all the body’s fluids and this particular fluid is so poisonous, it can overwhelm the organ completely. The drug is prescribed to late-stage cancer and AIDS patients, as well as those suffering from extreme anemia.
It wasn’t the health risks that got Joey O to quit juicing, or even the “blowout,” which occurs when a steroid user is so swollen muscularly, so pumped, that his steroid injection site refuses the injection and blows out, pumping body fluids back through the hole created by the needle.
“The blowout happened in my bedroom one day: blood and steroids squirting everywhere. What a mess. All over my blankets; I had to throw them all out. I didn’t have any napkins or nothin’ and a little cotton ball wasn’t gonna stop it.”
What finally did stop Joey O from using steroids was the lifestyle that came with them. “I was headed straight to prison,” he says, smiling again. Joey O left New Jersey before that happened.
In Florida, he faced the withdrawal symptoms: mood swings, insomnia, restlessness, reduced libido, decreased appetite, and depression, which is known to persist for a year or more. What really depressed Joey was that he no longer enjoyed going to the gym; what depressed him even further was that in Florida simple possession of a steroid got you a felony with up to five years in prison. Steroid use is so widespread in Florida that it has trickled down into high schools. Florida was the third state, along with New Jersey and Texas, to require steroid testing for high school athletes.
Joey O is smiling now, though, because he’s back. And this time, he’s 100 per cent legit.
Photo: Think Steroids
It started the same way. Joey O saw physician’s assistant Doug Saville (not his real name) in the bar where he works and asked where to find something that would get him back to the gym. Saville told him that while he personally wasn’t on steroids, he legally prescribed all the drugs that helped him develop his own massive physique. “I thought he was jerking me off,” Joey O says.
Saville, 38, a competitive bodybuilder for almost two decades and a Florida state overall champion, met me in his office to talk about his practice and he said 20 per cent of his business was weightlifters.
“I work closely with the trainers from all over and they send their clients in. They see improved muscle tone, weight loss, better definition. Overall, they see dramatic gains,” he told me from behind his desk.
He shows me a bottle of testosterone and I ask how long the bottle should last. “Well,” he said, “this could last up to 12 weeks. But some of my guys will go through this in five weeks.” Patients were given the option of coming in for their injections or taking the drugs home.
I asked Saville if this isn’t perhaps skirting the laws laid out to prevent drugs in the marketplace that induce testosterone development. He says: “Not if there is documentation showing that an individual has low levels of testosterone.”
“And what about the Pill Mill Bill?” I asked, referring to the recently-passed Florida law that regulated how much and how often an individual receives a pharmaceutical drug. Saville said, “I’m not very concerned. The people that make the laws, they’re the ones benefiting most from these drugs.”
I thank Saville for his time, and leave his office thinking about everything he told me.
While there are documented benefits to treatments like the one he provided, the renowned Mayo Clinic points out risks as well: fluid retention, baldness, sleep apnea, growth of the prostate, prostate cancer, enlarging breasts, testicle shrinkage, and low sperm production.
And perhaps another risk the renowned hospital doesn’t mention, but one that Joey O shared with me in a follow-up interview. “I got a problem,” he says. “I had a blowout at the gym.”
Blowout. In this new world, I’m thinking injections, blood, steroids. “No,” he says, “my balls blew out. One is like normal; the other is rock hard and grapefruit-size.”
He must have seen a look on my face because he quickly adds, “Well, like a small grapefruit, maybe an orange. It’s an infection,” he continues, “like a head cold that just went down there, ya’ know?”
“You don’t think it’s the testosterone injections?” I ask.
With quick jerking motions, he shakes his head side-to-side: “No. No way, man. It’s just a cold. Definitely.”
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