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."
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.
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 Troph�e 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
Corey would be
homeschooled, first by a teacher and then on-line, and deprived of a
conventional childhood, but Jim was sure that the sacrifices were worth it. The
growing in-line skating community believed that the emerging sport would soon
be featured in the Olympic Games. But even if not, Corey could always follow
the path of other in-liners such as Olympic gold medalists Apolo Ohno and Chad
Hedrick, trading in his rubber wheels for metal blades to pursue his Olympic
dreams in speedskating on ice. The Gahans had little financial incentive to
move to Florida—there is no U.S. professional circuit for in-line skaters—but
Jim didn't care. He had made money in an assortment of businesses, including
importing champagne. "Every parent wants their kid to be the best,"
says Jim, "but every kid wants to be the best."
In keeping with a
recurring theme, Jim had a falling out with Corey's coach, and he hired Phillip
Pavicic, a bodybuilder and gym manager, to work with his son. Early in the
relationship Jim and Pavicic mapped out a training strategy for Corey, then 12.
Jim says it was at this point that Pavicic recommended performance-enhancing
drugs. (Pavicic declined repeated interview requests from SI.) "Corey and I
sat down, had a little talk, and he said he wanted to do it," recalls Jim,
41. "I said all right."
disagreement about who administered the shots: Corey says his dad and Pavicic
injected him, Jim accuses Pavicic and, through his lawyer, Pavicic points the
finger back at Jim. Regardless, there's no dispute among the three principals
on this: 12-year-old Corey was placed on a heavy-duty regimen of HgH and
after the cycle began, the contours of Corey's body changed. But the effects
went beyond bigger biceps and calves. Shortly after his 13th birthday in May
'02, Corey returned home one afternoon feeling wobbly and paranoid. He vomited
multiple times. "I think I crashed on a cycle really hard," he recalls.
In the aftermath of this episode, Pavicic took Corey to see John Todd Miller, a
Tampa man representing himself as a doctor. According to court documents,
Miller ordered blood work on Corey and found that the kid had more than 20
times the normal level of testosterone for an adult male. Nonetheless, the
documents show, Miller would later begin providing testosterone to Corey.
(Miller did not return calls seeking comment.)
ambivalence Corey may have had about injecting steroids, he says it dissipated
when he first visited Miller. Hanging alongside various diplomas suggesting
that Miller was a doctor—he, in fact, was not—were framed photos of prominent
athletes from a variety of sports who, Corey assumed, were all seeing Miller.
Corey did a double take one day when he saw 420-pound Paul Wight, better known
by his WWE stage name, the Big Show. (In October 2003 Wight told Hillsborough
County investigators that he received steroids and the painkiller Nubain from
Miller.) "Wow, what's going on?" Corey recalls wondering. "Is
[this] really how everyone does it?"