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Gladiator: A True Story of Roids, Rage and Redemption by Dan Clark a.k.a. Nitro

By Josie Brown | Books | May 22, 2009 |

By Josie Brown | Books | May 22, 2009 |

Gladiator: A True Story of ‘Roids, Rage and Redemption is a far more important book than the reasons for which most will buy it. There’s been a lot of talk about steroids in the past couple years, from Barry Bonds to Roger Clemens and all the people and drugs in between. The discussion usually centers around whether or not steroids give the taker a competitive advantage, but it’s fairly unusual for the matter to be addressed as a public safety issue. Clark, who played the popular character of Nitro on the original Gladiators series, is startlingly open about his experiences with steroids in this book and I believe that in sharing his story in an entertaining portrait of a fairly glamorous life, he’s doing a hell of a lot of good in the fight against misinformed medication.

Dan Clark had a hell of a childhood. It left him always trying to meet this absolutely Herculean concept of achievement and pushing himself to the limit. Interestingly, he comes off as a pretty smart guy, though he gives the impression throughout the book he has little to offer but brawn. He pushes himself to succeed in athletic arenas…first in football and then branching into playing big guys on film and finally landing on “American Gladiators.” In his constant quest to get stronger and bigger, he turns to steroids, more or less because all of the best competitors around him are on them. It’s simply what you do to get ahead.

I really appreciate his willingness to be so unflinching in his descriptions of the effects of the drugs he’s taking…and boy, he took a LOT of shit. You name it, he swallowed it, shot it, whatever. And eventually, his body went to hell. His hamstring basically disintegrated, his sex life was a nightmare, he had flareups of roid rage, he almost got shot in Mexico while smuggling his ‘roids over the border … what a wreck. But more importantly, he shows you the addictive effects of the drugs. Clark tried repeatedly to get off the steroids for good and each time it was physically and emotionally traumatic, often to the point of bringing around a relapse. His ambition made it easy for him to talk himself into just one more cycle, over and over again, before he finally kicked the habit for good.

I personally feel that — in a vacuum — if people are willing to take the informed risk of steroids in order to succeed on the field, that’s their right, just as getting the best trainers and equipment is their right. However, before we can sign off on that philosophy, sports authorities need to decide how they feel about it and stick to it. If you want to outlaw it, do it — I can understand the rationale — but then you have to actually enforce it … test people randomly and frequently, keep your ear to the ground to catch the suppliers, actually get serious about what is and isn’t allowed and keep up on the latest and greatest evolutions in the drugs. What we have now is massively unhealthy. Maybe kids shouldn’t idolize athletes in the way that they often do, but the fact of the matter is that millions of kids want to be just like their athletic heroes and right now it’s understood that many of these heroes use steroids to succeed because “that’s just what you do.” Steriods will fuck your body up. They’ll amp your muscles until your skeletal structure can’t handle it and you’re ripping tendon off your bone. They’ll screw with your hormones to a degree usually seen outside of sex change operations. They’ll absolutely annihilate your liver and a variety of other organs. Perhaps worst of all, as Clark’s book shows us, they will suck you in just like any other addictive drug. If we’re going to allow the use of steroids, you need to put this information out there so people understand that it’s not just a consequence-free choice … it’s one with significant risks attached.

Clark’s book is a good read … it’s quick, but not poorly written. It’s a clearer description than you usually find of the true effects of steroids, both negative and positive. Clark now makes a business of touring around on steroid education programs, and he’s crafted a good book here if you have a kid in your life who you think might consider steroids or is trying them. It gives a pretty complete picture of what they can do for you and what they can’t, and what consequences go along with them. Moreover, Clark’s various careers are pretty fascinating…he’s done a lot of stuff and been a lot of places (who knew American football was big in pockets of Italy?), and he’s got a good sense of humor about his many foibles. Great beach reading, just for something quick.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of Josie Brown’s reviews, check out her blog, The Outlaw Josie Brown.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.