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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 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 Johnston.)
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."
There's 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 steroids.
Almost immediately 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.)
Whatever 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?"