Well, where to begin. My name is John Ford, and I am a thirty-eight year old powerlifter. I have been associated with the sport for 24 years, and with steroids from 1971 to 1988. I am still alive and a powerlifter - but I am no longer a steroid user.
In the late 1960's I was an impressionable teen. I remember watching the Olympic games and wondering what Vasily Alexeev felt as he threw those massive weights overhead. I also remember the anger I felt when my friends told me that these strong men were steroid users. I just refused to believe that my idols were tarnished by drug use.
I began powerlifting myself just a few short years later, entirely by accident. A friend, by the name of Bobby Griffith, asked me to spot him during a workout. Bobby had been competing and winning, therefore, I felt quite honored that he would ask me(the town bully) to help him. Apparently, he had seen something in me that I had only dreamt. The first night was a night I will always remember. We entered the Griffith family garage where Bobby had a small gym set up for himself. He was going to bench, so we started setting up. Bobby asked me to roll some weights next to the wall. There was so much junk on the floor that I did not have room, so I picked up the weights and carried them across the room. As I set them down I noticed an expression on Bobbys face that I will never forget. At that point he informed me that I had just picked up and walked fifteen feet with approximately forty pounds under the Indiana superheavyweight deadlift record. No more dreaming for me, reality had just set in. The power I thought I had was real. There, it all began on that infamous day. Within the first year I had won my first State title. Bobby Griffith, wherever you are, God Bless You !
My stature in the lifting world continued to rise for a few years. In reading many articles on the sport, I came across a hometown story that encouraged me to leave the state in search on more lifting knowledge. Hence, I moved to Florida. There, I met one of the best powerlifters in the country. After a couple of meets this gentleman informed me, that if I wanted to further my lifting career, he would show me how to do it - STEROIDS! I said "no, thank you" and moved back to Indiana. I returned angry and somewhat discouraged. I did not believe that steroids were the only way to become an elite in the sport. So, here I was, in Indiana, winning again in my home state.
After being around so many lifters that used steroids, I realized that I could only go so far in the sport without drugs. I felt that I was up against a brick wall. I watched so many men grow bigger and stronger. I never saw anyone get sick or get hurt by steroids. It almost seemed an accepted way of life. At that time, steroids were not controlled very wellby the government and the public was very ill-informed or uninformed. As a matter of fact, the sport, at that time, had no drug testing or drug-free organizations, such as the ADFPA. At this time, I made the decision that I would regret for the rest of my life. I knew in my heart and mind that my initial feelings about steroids were right. Still, I crumbled under the peer pressure and set out on a long, terrifying journey.
Now, you know how it began. It is 1972 and I am deep in this world of aggressiveness, paranoia and deception. Oh yes, I am winning, and getting bigger, but at what price? I have now become a totally narcissistic being. It is all okay, though, because the steroids have me convinced that nothing matters except steroids. The drug has the unique ability to rule your mind, emotions and conscience. Physical illness does not happen immediately, as a matter of fact, you feel good, very good.
So, as I moved through the 1970's I am winning and not yet showing or feeling any phsical damage. Later in the 1970's I had two episodes of chest pain. I was hospitalized both times and given a diagnosis of angina (chest pain with no paticular physical origin known). I was quite young to have angina, but thereseemed to be no connection made by the doctors between the angina and the steroid use. So,of course, I made no connection between the two. Also, around this time, I began having bouts of nausea and vomiting, and severe abdominal pain. I would spend days lying in the bathtub with the water as hot as I could stand it. That seemed to be the only way to ease the abdominal pain at all. The times that I did see a doctor about this problem they would diagnose gastritis and give me Mylana. I now know that I had been misdiagnosed for years before 1988.
Here I am in Tennessee in 1988. I am training and taking my steroids, as the Nationals are coming up in Ohio. One week before the big meet I lost 27 pounds, had a bout of abdominal pain, and a body temperature of 104 degrees. But. as I'm sure you know, steroids make you feel invincible- so off I go to Ohio. Although, feeling extremely ill, I placed 2nd in the SHY class, in what was probably my my last meet of perhaps, the end of my life.
Three days later, I asked my wife to take me to the emergency room on Nashville General Hospital. As we were preparing to leave the house I realized that I couldn't stand up. My legs completely gave out and I collapsed to the floor. I was somewhat delirious and knew that I was going to die. An ambulance came and delivered me to the emergency room. My wife informed the doctors that I was a powerlifter and a long time steroid user. Many tests later, I was diagnosed with a partially functioning liver and a completely disfunctional pancreas. I was in a great deal of pain butpain medication was out of the question with no liver functions to metabolize the medicine. My pancreas was so inflamed that it crushed my stomach and I could not eat or drink anything, as it just came back up. I had hiccups for two months, as my pancreas pushed on my diaphragm causing erratic breathing. My blood sugar was incredibly high because my pancreas was not producing insulin. For months I just rolled around in my hospital bed wishing I would just die so the pain would stop. I was placed in a medical ward at first, the doctors tried very hard to stabilize me, but with blood sugars running rampant, and extremely high fevers plaguing me, intensive care became a necessity. By this time, approximately 45 days into hospitalization, I had lost over 100 lbs, had taken in no nourishment except IV fluids to combat dehydration, and had begun to bleed internally, still had severe pain and had actually not been able to be stabilized at all. I was jaundiced from my liver malfunctioning. My muscles were atrophied from the weight loss and very painful. My hair was falling out from lack of nourishment. The CAT scans that were perfomed on me daily were very painful and showed absolutely no change in my condition.
It was at this point that a surgeon by the name of Dr. Lemuel Yerby was called in. He immediately transferred me to the SICU. I was started on IV therapy of whole blood, insulin drip and saline. Surgery was not indicated at this time, but more agressive treatment was called for. Dr. Yerby discussed everything with my wife. He got her permission for special life saving procedures that had to be considered. Surgeons placed a subclavian IV line for feeding. The CAT scans continued. Now sixty days, NO change! Dr. Yerby discussed using a small feeding tube placed in my nose. I didn't like that idea very much. So, at this point they started to give mr Isomil - 2oz. 3x per day by mouth. By this time I had lost 157 pounds. I asked to be sent home, but my body began to reject the Isomil. They started me on a new nutritional supplement called Citrutine. I did well on this particular supplement and was released. On my first visit to see Dr. Yerby, after being home one week, I was informed that I would be an insulin dependant diabetic. I also had to take digestive enzymes, a my pancreas was so badly damaged it could not produce these life saving products.
Well, I can live with this, but when can I start lifting again? I was told that I would never lift again, bucause of the severity of what I had done to myself with steroids. I was eventually taken off injectible insulin and told I could control my sugar with diet and micronase(oral insulin). BUT, I still had aspirations of that National Platform. So, I began doing some research. I am taking micronase and insulin and controlling my diet. This has allowed me to gain my weight back up to 290 lbs. I have started training again. Once again lifting, after 4 1/2 years away from the sport I love so much. I now lift and am California State Chair for the Organization that I love with all my heart, the ADFPA. I do Q & A sessions at schools and gyms on steroid use. I do this primarily in the hope that my experience will open peoples eyes to the dangers and horrors of steroid use. If I can turn the heads of young people coming up in this sport, then I will have turned a very negative experience into a positive one.
I now reside in Daly City, California and am leading as normal ann existance as possible for a lifter. I thank god for the ADFPA , as much as it has allowed me to compete in the sport I love, without a mask of steroids. The 600-700 lb lifts are so much more rewarding than the 2000 pound totals with steroids.
Anyone with a power team thay would like me to speak to , please contact me. I now take great pleasure in assuring lifters that all they need to compete is ability and good training.
In closing, please stay drug-free or get drug free. My thanks got to GOD, my strength., to my wife, who made me fight back, to Andy & Donna Finn and everyone at World Class Gym in Nashville. To Mark Challait for trying to slow me down and last, but not least, Aaron Pete, my new training partner, whose natural ability has pushed me to a new and higher meaning of life.
DEEPSQUATTERS NOTE: This was written in early 1994. John has since returned to the National Platform successfully. He now is the national secretary of the AAU powerlifting organization. He has set several more records since his return and has led his team, the Pacific Power Outlaws, to many victories. Though no longer a member of the ADFPA, John still supports the Drug Free ideals that they started and is willing to help any lifters, regardless of affiliation.