PROVIDENCE — The drug-fueled drive to be bigger, faster and stronger — or leaner and prettier — has trickled all the way down from the pros through college and high-school athletics to kids’ sports.
“A friend of mine told me of a father injecting his 7-year-old son for pee wee football,” Don Hooton Jr. told the boys and girls of Mount Pleasant High School on Wednesday morning.
That was just one of many eye-opening anecdotes from the vice president of education for the Taylor Hooton Foundation during a fast-paced 50-minute presentation that commanded the attention of his young audience. He also said the median age of new steroid users is 15 and that kids as young as 10 and 11 are starting dietary supplements; that one energy drink can contain nearly 8 times the caffeine of a 12-ounce can of Coke; that one-fifth of anabolic steroids contain heavy metals such as lead, mercury and zinc; that non-athletes are using performance enhancers to look more attractive and feel better about themselves, and that the biggest increase in use is among high-school girls.
None of this is good, he said.
Hooton’s involvement in the campaign to educate American youth “about the dangers of anabolic steroids and appearance- and performance-enhancing drugs” stems from the 2003 suicide of his brother Taylor, an aspiring pitcher in Plano, Texas. He was 17 and going into his senior year of high school when he hanged himself. At the time of his death he was battling depression after having injected himself with anabolic steroids for weeks.
Taylor was proof that steroid users don’t have to be huge and boast 24-inch biceps. A photograph on the foundation website shows a handsome, fit-looking young man in a Yankees cap in his batting stance. And baseball was in his family’s blood. His cousin Burt Hooton pitched in the major leagues, and his brother played in college.
“He was a great kid,” Don said of his kid brother. “He was funny. He was a good student with a 3.75 grade-point average. He was popular. He was always the first one to make his friends laugh. He was an athlete. He and my father were looking at colleges.”
But Taylor wanted to be the No. 1 pitcher for Plano West as a senior, so he started using. Finding the steroids was easy; half the players on the bench used them, Don said. By the spring of his junior year Taylor’s behavior had changed. He was more aggressive. His parents arranged treatment with a psychiatrist, and after six visits Taylor confessed that he was injecting himself with anabolic steroids. He stopped, and the ensuing depression drove him to commit suicide. Three thousand kids attended his funeral.
Steroids are not the only dangers tempting young people. Ubiquitous energy drinks and pre- and post-workout mixes can be hazardous.
“Please stay away from these products. There are other ways to get your energy,” Hooton said. He posted a slide listing natural sources of protein such as eggs, chick, fish and milk.
Popular culture has contributed to the increased use of supplements. Hooton showed “then and now” photos of comic book superheroes and well-known toy figures such as GI Joe, and the change in their physiques was stunning. The same was true of the female body building champions Ms. Olympia from 1980 to today.
“Those are bodies that are not attainable without using illegal performance-enhancing drugs,” Hooton said.
“There’s no organ in your body that these drugs don’t negatively affect,” he added.
Hooton urged his listeners to make healthy choices and to tell an adult if they hear a friend talk about hurting himself or herself. Maria Ogundolani, 16, a senior and volleyball player, heard him.
“I thought those 5-hour energy drinks were the best thing for you,” she said. “I drank one, and I was all over the place. I could feel my heart beating. I was so hyper. It tasted like medicine. The taste was gross.”
She has not had another.
“I have a protein shake at home. Now I’ll think twice about it,” said Gawain Normil, a 17-year-old senior and the right guard on the football team. “This was a good program for the students to inform them of steroids and how dangerous they are and the risk of everything.”
Daisy Velasquez, 17, a senior soccer player, learned “not ever to pick up drugs or steroids and if you see a friend do it, it’s not good for them and try to get help.”
These athletes agreed that there is little, if any, talk of steroid use among Kilties athletes, but Hooton and Mount Pleasant football coach Paul Rao warned that they may confront the issue when they get to college.
Hooton’s appearance at Mount Pleasant was one of several the Taylor Hooton Foundation has made in Rhode Island in the last month. He and his father have visited or will visit Cumberland, St. Raphael, Burrillville, Cranston East, Cranston West, Central Falls, Hope, Rogers, Tolman, Lincoln, Scituate, West Warwick and Barrington.
The Rhode Island Interscholastic League has sponsored the presentations through a grant from the Rhode Island Foundation for Operation Clean Competition.
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