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Sins of a Father

Corey Gahan was a champion in-line skater at 13. Then his dad put him on a regimen of steroids and HgH

Posted: Tuesday January 15, 2008 10:22AM; Updated: Tuesday January 15, 2008 2:12PM
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Corey suspected that he was
Corey suspected that he was "doing something wrong," but he trusted his dad and his trainer.
Andrew Hancock
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By Luis Fernando Llosa and L. Jon Wertheim

The kid hated needles. But it hardly mattered. About once a week he'd roll up his sleeve, expose his shoulder and feel the cold metal plunge into what little muscle he had there. He would scrunch up his face as if he had smelled something foul and often close his eyes until the contents of the syringe emptied into his bloodstream. Then he could return to his PlayStation 2.

The injections had started in 2002, when Corey Gahan was one of the top in-line skaters in the world for his age group. At first the shots contained B-12 vitamins; soon he began receiving human growth hormone as well, and later steady doses of steroids in the form of synthetic testosterone. Both his father and his trainer, Corey says, assured him that the shots were for the best. If it stung like a bitch when the needle pierced his skin, the payoff would come when he zoomed past the competition on the track.

The prick of the needle was accompanied by a pinch of guilt; it felt, as Corey puts it, "like I was doing something wrong." But he believed in his dad, a charismatic and fiercely ambitious former high school wrestler. He also trusted his trainer, a bodybuilder who acted like a big brother. Besides, what did Corey know about the substances being injected into his body? "Testosterone cypionate, it's just a word," he says. "It doesn't have a meaning. At least not when you're 13."

When former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell presented his much anticipated report last month that chronicled the widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball, he encouraged the discussion to be broadened beyond MVPs and Cy Young Award winners. In particular he warned about what he called "the most disturbing part of my research": the prevalence of steroids in youth sports. "Several hundred thousand young Americans are using steroids; it's an alarming figure," Mitchell told SI the day after he issued his report. "At that age, they're subject to hormonal change, and the risk to them -- both physical and psychological -- is significantly greater than it is for mature adults."

Had Mitchell wanted an embodiment of that risk, he needed to look no further than Corey Gahan. With his promising in-line skating career now reduced to videos and a scrapbook, and his estranged father serving a six-year sentence in a federal prison -- believed to be the first parent convicted of providing steroids to his own child -- Corey, now 18, represents a chilling cautionary tale of what can happen when performance-enhancing drugs poison youth sports.

Corey's story begins in Grandville, Mich., a town of 16,774 outside Grand Rapids. Early on, it was clear that he was a natural athlete, but as his peers were playing Little League baseball and Pop Warner football and junior hockey, Corey gravitated to in-line skating. His face clenched with intensity and dirty blond hair matted inside his helmet, he zipped around the track at more than 20 mph; at 10, he won his age group at Le Trophée des 3 Pistes, an international event in France. Shortly after that, Jim Gahan, who had divorced Corey's mother, Patricia Johnston, five years earlier, decided that he would move with their only son to the skating hotbed of Ocala, Fla., where Corey could train year-round with a prominent coach. (His younger sister, Casey, remained with Johnston.)

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