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Surviving Steroids: The Dark Side Of Performance-Enhancing Drugs

ARUN RATH, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath. Eugene Robinson is the deputy editor for the online magazine Ozy. He also dabbles in mixed martial arts fighting and many years ago was a bodybuilder. He got into bodybuilding as a teenager, and for many years competed as a natural competitor - that means without the use of performance enhancing drugs. In a recent piece, he writes about a time that I'm when he decided to become a steroid user. Eugene, welcome to the show.

EUGENE ROBINSON: Hey, thanks for having me.

RATH: So you competed in the natural category, but from your description, it doesn't sound like a lot of the competitors were all that natural.

ROBINSON: You know, I wasn't hanging out with these guys in their bathrooms near their medicine cabinets. But anytime some guy who's about 6 foot 1, 6 foot 2 starts to push the scales at about 250, you know, eyeballs start to roll, specifically mine.

RATH: So was that what prompted you to start taking, to keep up with these guys?

ROBINSON: It was the exact opposite of that. I figured, you know, if you're going to anything, you just take it because you want to take it and competing really has nothing to do with it. In fact, after I started taking it, I never competed in bodybuilding again.

RATH: So you did this just for you?

ROBINSON: Yeah, pretty much just for me.

RATH: So when you started taking the drugs, when did you first start to notice results? What was it like?

ROBINSON: You suddenly feel fantastic. I mean, you know, you need a lot less sleep. You know, you don't need any recuperation time between your sets. And I understood much more clearly why people were loathe to stop them. But, of course, there is a dark side.

RATH: Well, talk about the dark side. What was your experience of the dark side?

ROBINSON: When you completely stop, you might find yourself prone to mood swings, sleeplessness. And then, I found myself emotionally sensitive. But it only lasted about two weeks. And then it was sort of back to normal. The second time, I went to a doctor and had blood work done, maybe much more like professional athletes and tapered off gradually. And I didn't have any dark side problems on the other end of it. And I'd have to say maybe I'd done, in total, about four cycles back in my thirties.

RATH: For somebody who's not competing, what was the motivation to do this?

ROBINSON: I had gotten to 265 pounds and you get used to dead-lifting over 600 pounds. You get used to, you know, bench pressing close to 400 pounds. But I stopped doing it because I got heavily into mixed martial arts and Brazilian Ju-Jitsu and I guess fitness would be the key, things changed. I mean, I don't wear bellbottoms anymore either, you know?

RATH: With everything that's come out about steroids since you were a user, I mean, both the medical research and the disgraced athletes, do you look back on that time differently and think man, that was silly, or how do you feel about it?

ROBINSON: The disgraced athlete issue is a very separate issue. At one point my mother said well, isn't that cheating? I said it would've been if I was competing. But I wasn't competing. The cases that you hear, the abuse cases are typically terrible and have really negative consequences. But people have gotten a lot smarter about it in general.

RATH: Do you ever get the itch to use it again?

ROBINSON: (Laughter) Well, I mean, there's just something elementally attractive to me about that barge-like heft. There was just something glorious about that that for sure is something you might miss, you know. But you also realize too that these are not easy to get. I mean, it's involved. So, yeah, I don't find myself missing it.

RATH: Eugene Robinson is a deputy editor for the online magazine Ozy. Eugene, thank you.

ROBINSON: Thanks for having me man. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.