A grieving mother has said she never expected her son’s quest to have the perfect body would end in his death.
Sarah Cooney, from Baildon, West Yorkshire, said she hadn’t seen any harm when her son, Oli, started dedicating his time to the gym as a teenager.
But he soon developed a bodybuilding obsession which led to him taking dangerous anabolic steroids to beef up his appearance further.
The misuse of the class C drugs led to him having a heart attack and three strokes and he was killed by a second heart attack at the age of 20 in September 2013.
Mother-of-three Sarah admits she had known about her son’s use of the drugs and was ‘mortified’ that he had been taking them.
She revealed her tragic story to Reggie Yates on his BBC3 documentary Extreme UK: Dying For A Six Pack.
He had ignored her pleas to give them up but she admits she didn’t realise how serious it was until he ended up in hospital.
‘I thought he’s going to the gym, he’s lifting weights, he’s not going out every weekend getting drunk.
‘He was just going to the gym and trying to keep fit.
‘I didn’t see it as a problem until he had his first heart attack,’ she said.
The fitness fanatic was warned after his first heart attack to stop taking the drugs, which he did, but irreversible damage to his heart had already been done.
He also continued to keep pushing his body in grueling workouts, even returning to the gym ten days after having a stroke.
She said: ‘His death certificate says “misuse of class C drugs”. I never thought my son would have anything associated with drugs and I didn’t expect to get a death certificate.
‘I feel mad, I feel angry over the fact of what he has done to himself and what he has done to us. I don’t think he meant to do this.’
She said Oli’s obsession with the gym began when he was 16 and soon ‘took over his life’.
She believes he was fueled by low self-esteem due to his 5ft 3in stature.
Sarah said she doesn’t believe her son, who leaves father Simon and two younger sisters behind, intended to push himself to the brink but he didn’t know where to draw the line as he battled to improve his body image.
‘I think he had an issue with his height, everyone used to call him “little Ol” and he didn’t want to be “little Ol”,’ she explained.
She added that after bulking up through weight training, ‘what he lacked in height he made up in width, he did it for him for extra confidence.’
The inquest into his death in April 2014 heard how Oli had been told by doctors when he was 18 that he was putting his life at risk if he did not limit his weightlifting but he refused to listen – and told his family he was ‘invincible’.
Recording a verdict that Oli’s death was from substance abuse of anabolic steroids, Assistant Bradford Coroner Dr Dominic Bell told his family they were not to blame themselves.
He said: ‘He had this weakness that he was driven to alter his body image to become more confident in society.
‘For most people what had already happened to him would have been a wake-up call but he was not willing to listen to or learn from the heart professionals.
‘If he would not listen to them, he would not listen to you – it does not reflect any shortfall on you.’
Sarah shared his story again on the BBC3 documentary to warn other young men against taking steroids, as a rising number are turning to them in their bid for a toned physique.
Young men Reggie interviewed said they were driven to achieve a perfect body thanks to the images of ripped six packs they have seen in men’s health magazines, on footballers like Cristiano Ronaldo and on reality TV stars.
One young man told Reggie: ‘On all the MTV shows like Geordie Shore they are going out and looking good and that is a big part of it. Lads see it and want a piece of it. Those with the physique get more attention and then it becomes a lifestyle choice.’
Roy Jones, a team leader at the charity Turning Point in London who help those with substance abuse problems said they are seeing an increasing number of young men with a steroid addiction.
He said: ‘It used to be guys in their late 30s, people who have been bodybuilding for a number of years but now it is guys age 22 and 23.
‘What is more concerning is I have guys coming here who haven’t been to the gym and want to get the body without putting in any work.’
He said most of these men don’t know how to inject steroids correctly and are oblivious to the long-term effect it can have on their health.
Explaining these, he said: ‘You end up on a hormonal rollercoaster, own body will stop producing testosterone as your brain senses it has too much from the synthetic injections and shuts natural production down, you lose sex drive, and they can make your blood thicker and effect cholesterol levels so long term it can have an effect on your heart.’
Reggie hopes one of the men he meets when filming the show will take heed from Roy’s warnings and Oli’s story.
Kyle Johnson, 24, a builder and part-time stripper from Swansea, admits he has taken steroids as he is ‘obsessed’ with having a muscular physique.
‘I go to the gym every day. It is an obsession, I have been going to the gym for four years and obsessed for about 18 months, he said.
His punishing regime involves three to four miles cardio on a bike before doing push ups and sits ups and then using weight machines – all with his body wrapped in cling film to make him sweat out excess water.
THE SIDE EFFECTS OF REGULAR ANABOLIC STEROID USE
As well as potentially lethal conditions such as heart attacks and strokes, taking steroids regularly can lead to a range of physical side effects in men and women, according to the NHS website.
In men they include:
Reduced sperm count
Increased risk of developing prostate cancer Splayed teeth and overgrowth of the forehead (giving an ‘Incredible Hulk’ appearance)
Facial hair growth and body hair
Loss of breasts
Swelling of the clitoris
A deepened voice
An increased sex drive
Problems with periods
‘I have got to keep pushing, go harder to sweat more, use more water and get more ripped,’ he tells Reggie.
He even takes this one step further by working out wrapped in cling film in a sauna despite this risking dehydration and heat stroke.
‘This isn’t fitness this is something else, this is punishing your body,’ Reggie tells him.
Kyle said he can’t stop as he still doesn’t believe his body is good enough.
‘My stomach may be flat but it is not good enough, too much water here, not defined enough here, it’s not enough cuts for a six pack,’ he said.
‘I see a s*** body, when I look in the mirror I am unhappy with what I see.’
On taking steroids, he admitted: ‘I have tried steroid injections and I have taken tablets to strip the water down. They are for people who have asthma and for animals like cows, they do give me cramping.’
He said he would reconsider taking them after hearing about Oli.
‘I do want my body to be better but I want it to last me as well, I want to see my 30th,’ he said.
Meanwhile, Reggie meets another man going to different extreme measures to get his perfect six pack.
Father of two Lee, from Leeds, spent £3,500 on an operation for a permanent surgical six pack in Turkey.
He admitted his obsession with the gym cost him his relationship with the mother of his children but that hasn’t stopped him in his desire to have a perfect body and the surgery was his latest bid to achieve it.
He said: ‘I would like it more defined and to be able to put more size on. I was brought up in the Eighties with all the wrestlers in the public eye so I picture the ideal man as having a six pack.’
A man needs to have low body fat in order to have the operation in the first place and it involves breaking down what little fat they have with ultrasound and then sucking it out to make the muscles more defined.
The surgeon warned that the operation carries the risks associated with all surgery and Reggie admitted he thinks it’s a crazy thing to do for the sake of a more toned looking body.