THE KID hatedneedles. 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 hehad there. He would scrunch up his face as if he had smelled something foul andoften close his eyes until the contents of the syringe emptied into hisbloodstream. Then he could return to his PlayStation 2. ¬∂ The injections hadstarted in 2002, when Corey Gahan was one of the top in-line skaters in theworld for his age group. At first the shots contained B-12 vitamins; soon hebegan receiving human growth hormone as well, and later steady doses ofsteroids in the form of synthetic testosterone. Both his father and histrainer, Corey says, assured him that the shots were for the best. If it stunglike a bitch when the needle pierced his skin, the payoff would come when hezoomed past the competition on the track.
This is an article from the Jan. 21, 2008 issue
The prick of theneedle 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, acharismatic and fiercely ambitious former high school wrestler. He also trustedhis trainer, a bodybuilder who acted like a big brother. Besides, what didCorey know about the substances being injected into his body? "Testosteronecypionate, it's just a word," he says. "It doesn't have a meaning. Atleast not when you're 13."
WHEN FORMER SenateMajority Leader George Mitchell presented his much anticipated report lastmonth that chronicled the widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs inMajor League Baseball, he encouraged the discussion to be broadened beyond MVPsand Cy Young Award winners. In particular he warned about what he called"the most disturbing part of my research": the prevalence of steroidsin youth sports. "Several hundred thousand young Americans are usingsteroids; it's an alarming figure," Mitchell told SI the day after heissued his report. "At that age, they're subject to hormonal change, andthe risk to them—both physical and psychological—is significantly greater thanit is for mature adults."
Had Mitchellwanted an embodiment of that risk, he needed to look no further than CoreyGahan. With his promising in-line skating career now reduced to videos and ascrapbook, and his estranged father serving a six-year sentence in a federalprison—believed to be the first parent convicted of providing steroids to hisown child—Corey, now 18, represents a chilling cautionary tale of what canhappen when performance-enhancing drugs poison youth sports.
Corey's storybegins 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 playingLittle League baseball and Pop Warner football and junior hockey, Coreygravitated to in-line skating. His face clenched with intensity and dirty blondhair 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 eventin France. Shortly after that, Jim Gahan, who had divorced Corey's mother,Patricia Johnston, five years earlier, decided that he would move with theironly son to the skating hotbed of Ocala, Fla., where Corey could trainyear-round with a prominent coach. (His younger sister, Casey, remained withJohnston.)
Corey would behomeschooled, first by a teacher and then on-line, and deprived of aconventional childhood, but Jim was sure that the sacrifices were worth it. Thegrowing in-line skating community believed that the emerging sport would soonbe featured in the Olympic Games. But even if not, Corey could always followthe path of other in-liners such as Olympic gold medalists Apolo Ohno and ChadHedrick, trading in his rubber wheels for metal blades to pursue his Olympicdreams in speedskating on ice. The Gahans had little financial incentive tomove to Florida—there is no U.S. professional circuit for in-line skaters—butJim didn't care. He had made money in an assortment of businesses, includingimporting champagne. "Every parent wants their kid to be the best,"says Jim, "but every kid wants to be the best."
In keeping with arecurring theme, Jim had a falling out with Corey's coach, and he hired PhillipPavicic, a bodybuilder and gym manager, to work with his son. Early in therelationship Jim and Pavicic mapped out a training strategy for Corey, then 12.Jim says it was at this point that Pavicic recommended performance-enhancingdrugs. (Pavicic declined repeated interview requests from SI.) "Corey and Isat down, had a little talk, and he said he wanted to do it," recalls Jim,41. "I said all right."
There'sdisagreement about who administered the shots: Corey says his dad and Pavicicinjected him, Jim accuses Pavicic and, through his lawyer, Pavicic points thefinger back at Jim. Regardless, there's no dispute among the three principalson this: 12-year-old Corey was placed on a heavy-duty regimen of HgH andsteroids.
Almost immediatelyafter the cycle began, the contours of Corey's body changed. But the effectswent beyond bigger biceps and calves. Shortly after his 13th birthday in May'02, Corey returned home one afternoon feeling wobbly and paranoid. He vomitedmultiple 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, aTampa man representing himself as a doctor. According to court documents,Miller ordered blood work on Corey and found that the kid had more than 20times the normal level of testosterone for an adult male. Nonetheless, thedocuments show, Miller would later begin providing testosterone to Corey.(Miller did not return calls seeking comment.)
Whateverambivalence Corey may have had about injecting steroids, he says it dissipatedwhen he first visited Miller. Hanging alongside various diplomas suggestingthat Miller was a doctor—he, in fact, was not—were framed photos of prominentathletes 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 knownby his WWE stage name, the Big Show. (In October 2003 Wight told HillsboroughCounty investigators that he received steroids and the painkiller Nubain fromMiller.) "Wow, what's going on?" Corey recalls wondering. "Is[this] really how everyone does it?"
The Big Show hadcompany. On a sign-in sheet from Aug. 27, 2002, obtained by SI, Corey's nameappears between that of Randy Poffo (a.k.a. the since-retired professionalwrestler Macho Man Randy Savage) and that of the late wrestler Brian Adams(a.k.a. Crush). SI also obtained invoices and receipts for drugs from Miller'sclinic, signed by Poffo, who could not be reached for comment. Records indicatethat other Miller clients included former major league pitcher Anthony Telford,who admitted to investigators that he had purchased testosterone from Miller,and late WWE wrestlers Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero, who was paying Miller$300 to $400 a week for testosterone and HgH. As one investigator told The PalmBeach Post in October, Miller was "the Victor Conte of professionalwrestling."
Seeing Corey'selevated testosterone level, Miller advised him to stop using steroids for awhile, then put him on a more controlled cycle. The results wereunquestionable. In addition to the added bulk—within a year, Corey's 5'5"frame swelled from 120 pounds to 160—he was breezing through his workouts andimproving his times. "Steroids completely change your mind-set," hesays. "They turn you from being an athlete into a monster. A monster in theeveryday world is not a good thing, but when you are trying to win a1,000-meter race against five of the best guys in the world, monster is a greatmind-set to have."
Patricia Johnston,a hairdresser, had little contact with her son after he left Michigan. As muchas she wanted him to stay home, she knew how much skating meant to him. Whetherit was being 1,200 miles apart or, as she believes now, the moodiness caused bythe drugs, their relationship chilled. "I remember he used to call everynow and then and be very angry, and I couldn't figure it out," she says.Still, she would try to watch him skate in big competitions. When she glimpsedher son at a 2002 meet in Watertown, Wis., she gasped. "I couldn't believehow different he was," she recalls. "I said, 'Wow, you really grew.' Hewas overly muscular."
Corey says thathis relationship with his dad would move in lockstep with his results. When hewon, he claims that he was rewarded with televisions, PlayStations and even anAmerican Express gold card. On the rare occasions that he lost, he says, hisdad wouldn't speak to him. "We had our bouts because I very much wanted adad and he wanted a business-type relationship," Corey says. "At ayoung age it's hard to understand why winning all the time matters somuch." The father dismisses this complaint: "I'm not some raging animalstanding outside throwing stuff against the wall."
Meanwhile, Jimentered a business partnership with Miller to offer laser hair-removaltreatments. The two had a falling out in April 2003, however, and Jim set uphis own business in Orlando selling anti-aging drugs, including testosteroneand human growth hormone. But first he blew the whistle on Miller, alerting theHillsborough County sheriff's office that Miller's clinic was a front forillegal steroid distribution and that Miller was providingperformance-enhancing drugs to a minor—Corey. Jim neglected to mention his owncomplicity.
NOT LONG after,Corey, then 14, left Florida to train with a team in High Point, N.C. He movedin with Tracy Patterson, who had gotten involved with in-line skating throughher two children. Patterson's husband and 11-year-old son had recently beenkilled in an auto accident while returning from a meet. "I was lost and tohave Corey in the house was a relief," says Patterson. "He's just anincredible kid, a great guy."
Still, Coreycontinued his steroid and HgH regimen, locking himself in the bathroom toinject the drugs that his father mailed to him. To help get through hisworkouts, Corey says he was supplementing his performance-enhancing drugs withpainkillers, particularly Nubain, procured through a Florida doctor. "Whenyou are jamming yourself with a thousand milligrams of testosterone cypionate,your body is running high, [and] to sleep at night you either have to beextremely exhausted or you are going to have to use something to comedown," he says. "It's so easy to get sidetracked and take other thingsbecause if you are doing one, why not do them all?"
For all thetension in Corey's life, his skating kept improving. At 15 he was a nationalchampion at 500, 1,000 and 1,500 meters. In July '05, Corey, then 16, competedat the U.S. Indoor Speedskating Championships. His time of 2:26.39 in the 1,500meters shattered the national record in the sophomore men's category by morethan two seconds, remarkable given that most speedskating marks are eclipsed bytenths if not hundredths of a second.
By that time,Corey had already failed his first drug test. A month earlier, at the U.S.National Road Championships in Colorado Springs, his urine sample indicatedelevated testosterone levels. He was allowed to keep skating, but when he gavea follow-up sample on Aug. 1, that test also indicated the presence of19-norandrosterone, revealing yet another banned steroid.
Jim Gahanprofessed shock to anyone within earshot. He hired a lawyer to protest thetiming of the appeals process while asserting that Corey's testosterone levelwas high because he was tested shortly after a long-distance race. As for the19-norandrosterone result, he suggested that it was caused by a taintedsupplement. Privately, Jim was stunned. He believed the steroids he'd beenprocuring were undetectable. (His source was Signature Pharmacy, the Orlandocompound pharmacy that was the target of a high-profile raid in February '07.)"Corey should never have tested positive," he says.
In April '06 theUnited States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) recommended a two-year suspension forCorey and he was ordered to forfeit results dating back to May 2004. Corey'sreinstatement was contingent on his getting counseling and receiving a medicalevaluation. "This case shows the extent to which drugs have infiltratedyouth sports," says USADA chief executive officer Travis Tygart. "It'sa grave societal problem. In my view it's just as pernicious as crack cocaineand meth abuse, though some people might think it's more acceptable. It washard to punish this kid. Yes, he cheated and unfairly beat other competitors,but he was under his father's influence. The kid was a victim."
ACTING ON JimGahan's tip, the Hillsborough County sheriff's office ran surveillance onMiller's office. "We started seeing large males show up in nice cars,"says detective Mike Gibson. "They'd stay a short period of time andleave." In October 2003 the clinic was raided. Among the boxes of evidencecarted away were Corey's medical file and the log entries that indicated he hadvisited Miller. The following summer Miller and Pavicic pleaded guilty toconspiracy to distribute steroids to a minor. Pavicic served a six-monthsentence in federal prison starting in '05. Miller's sentencing was delayedbecause he was cooperating in wider steroid investigations and because he had aliver disease. Last fall he received an 18-month sentence for his role inCorey's doping.
When authoritiesconfronted Miller and Pavicic the two men fingered Jim Gahan. At first Coreyrefused to implicate his father, but by December 2006, after being banned fromcompetition and with the evidence mounting against Jim, Corey decided tocooperate with the investigators. According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony,the lead prosecutor in the case, Corey's cooperation was a key element inforcing his father's guilty plea. On Jan. 7 Jim was sentenced for providingsteroids to his son. "Even though I kept trying to tell him he didn't doanything—he just did what he had to and Jim put himself there—how could he notfeel [bad]?" asks Corey's mom. "Because of what he said, 'Wow, now mydad is in prison.'"
During aninterview at the Hernando County (Fla.) Jail in November, Jim maintained thatCorey's testosterone was abnormally low, providing a bona fide medicalrationale for his son's use of performance-enhancing drugs. "If you're apro athlete and you get caught, you get three strikes," says Jim. "Inamateur sports you get caught once, you get laid out for two years. Your careeris over. But are kids willing to take that risk to get to that level where themillions of dollars are? They're doing that every day."
But on furtherreflection, he is contrite: "Am I sorry? Absolutely. One hundred percent.It started out as an innocent thing and blossomed into a nightmare. It wasn'tlike I was trying to distribute steroids to all the little speedskaters and heand I were making a profit from it. It was just him and me trying to make himthe best at what he was doing."
As for Corey, he'sback in Grandville, living with his mother. He says it has been more than ayear since he has spoken to his father. Now 18—and 15 pounds lighter than hewas as a 15-year-old—he works on the loading dock for a department store. Histwo-year USADA ban has elapsed, but he's unsure whether he'll return tocompetitive in-line skating. As Corey tries to scrounge together enough moneyto get his own place, one point still gnaws at him: He firmly believes he couldhave been a champion without pharmacological enhancement.
Soft-spoken andreserved, Corey wavers among embarrassment, regret and awe when he reflects onhis fractured teenage years and his experiment with steroids. "People makeit sound like these medications are only performance-enhancing, but they have ahuge mental impact as well," he says. "By the time I was done, I was awreck. When kids get a hold of this stuff, damn...."
The Next Chapter
David Epstein reports on baseball, Congress andsteroids—and what's ahead.
ONLY AT SI.COM