The Godfather (cont.)
Posted: Tuesday March 11, 2008 12:07PM; Updated: Tuesday March 11, 2008 3:47PM
Fitton went to a teacher training college in Liverpool to become a biology instructor but dropped out after two years and found work back in Rochdale at a foundry lab testing the purity of various metals. There he developed some of the chemistry skills that would help inform his new interest in performance-enhancing substances. Fitton was off on a grand experiment, the kind he grew to love, tinkering with his training and drug regimens to see just how much power he could squeeze out of every limb. In his early 20s he was appointed powerlifting head of the British Amateur Weightlifting Association and in '76 briefly held a world record in the 242-pound class when he squatted 815 pounds. When his marriage crumbled in the late spring of '75, the British tabloid The Daily Mirror ran a story headlined, "Wife Gives Champ the Big Heave." In the article Fitton said, "I have become completely devoted to powerlifting, and my only interest in life is lifting more than I did yesterday."
The following year Fitton placed third at the World Powerlifting Championships in York, Pa., and in 1978 he moved to the country at the forefront of powerlifting -- and Dianabol use. "I wanted to learn from [the Americans], beat them and become world champion," he says. Fitton landed in Sidney, Ohio, and went to work for Larry Pacifico, a top lifter and head trainer at a dozen gyms riding the burgeoning fitness craze. Pacifico tasked Fitton with selling gym memberships and devising training regimens.
Salesmanship, however, bored Fitton, who got his reprieve less than two years later. Terry Todd, a prominent lifter who also wrote on the subject (and a former contributor to Sports Illustrated), had founded the National Strength Research Center on the campus of Auburn. An acquaintance of Todd's from weightlifting circles, Fitton received a faculty position at the center that he says consisted of little more than helping Bill Kazmaier, a sort of strongman-in-residence, with training. "I didn't even have a bloody typewriter," Fitton says. Kazmaier, who acknowledged using steroids to SI in 1999, was the first man to bench-press more than 660 pounds in competition and later worked as commentator for ESPN's World's Strongest Man broadcasts.
Fitton's passion for lifting competitively had long since cooled, but his fascination with steroids had grown. He read books and research papers late into the night, and armed himself not only with pharmacological reference books from Italy and Mexico but veterinary medical texts as well. He welcomed the chance to experiment, and found no shortage of willing subjects in the lifting community. When, for instance, he read that users of the blood pressure medication minoxidil reported that their eyebrows would grow together, Fitton crushed some up, dissolved it and rubbed it on a buddy's bald head. Sure enough, hair sprouted. (Today minoxidil is the active ingredient in Rogaine and other anti-hair-loss drugs, a multibillion-dollar business.) "I liked figuring stuff like that out," says Fitton.
Word quickly spread beyond powerlifters about Dr. Hormone, the mad scientist with the lilting accent. While sports physicians and administrators were losing credibility (and wasting time) telling athletes that steroids were worthless, Fitton was telling them otherwise and proving it. "He seemed to [always] know what to do and how to take this and that, safely," Pacifico says. "I think that's why he had a great following." Fitton says that he never actively recruited clients, but when he attended competitions lifters would approach him for training advice. If the discussion turned to drugs, well, Fitton was happy to make some recommendations.
Soon, Fitton was working the phones night and day, interviewing doctors and advising trainers and athletes about performance enhancers. A ledger documenting more than a year of his steroid business, which SI obtained in court records, showed orders from bodybuilders, gym owners, college and pro football players, a deputy police chief and a University of Virginia strength coach. Fitton designed a complete steroid training program for several Oakland Raiders that included regular doses of Dianabol and Deca-Durabolin. Inquiries were constant. "The only check I did was, 'Who told ya?' " Fitton recalls. " 'Who mentioned my name?' If it sounded right -- if the person they said, I knew them -- it was all right."