Any serious bodybuilder or physique athlete who tells you he or she hasn’t considered using performance-enhancing drugs, particularly steroids, is probably lying. Think about it this way: muscle is what they’re after, and that’s exactly what this stuff gives you, so why wouldn’t someone want to use them? I admit that, back when I was younger, it certainly crossed my mind.

But wanting and doing are two different things. I can’t speak for everyone who decides not to use drugs, but, for me, there were four main things that happened in the early to mid 1980s, when I was much younger and training my hardest, that helped me see that getting into drugs wasn’t something I wanted to do

The first occurred was when I was 19 – a friend in the gym who was about the same age contracted a rare form of cancer and died not long after. I remember the week he found out, because he was complaining about a sore shoulder that wouldn’t go away. Days later, he went to the doctor. About a month later, they had to amputate his entire arm. Six months later, he was dead. I have no idea if he used steroids, but I don’t think so – we were both young guys in the gym who were naïve to the bodybuilding scene. That said, as I’ve learned over the years, when it comes to bodybuilders, you just never know. Still, I don’t think it was drugs that caused his cancer – I think he was simply very unlucky and he was likely probably predisposed to it. Even so, his death taught me that one shouldn’t take their health for granted – and that someone probably shouldn’t screw around with drugs, such as steroids, because we knew back then, just like we know now, they can wreak havoc on your health, which includes causing things like cancer cells to grow faster than they might if the drugs weren’t there.

The next two instances involved people who were definitely on steroids. One was a guy in his early 20s who never bragged about juicing, but everyone knew, since within a few month he’d gained about 50 pounds and became one of the biggest and strongest lifters in the gym. Supposedly, he wanted to be a police officer. However, one night he flew into a rage at a bar he worked as a bouncer at – likely a roid-based rage – and beat up a customer, resulting in an assault charge against him, followed by a criminal record. I never saw him in the gym again not because he was in jail, but because shortly after it all happened, he had reportedly fallen into a deep depression and committed suicide.

Similarly, there was another man in the gym who had started dating a woman who was a nurse. They were quiet and kept to themselves, but from what we could tell, he and she both got on drugs because they both started gaining a lot of muscle a lot quicker than anyone else there. After about six months of dating, both stopped coming to the gym, which no one thought much of until we found out the reason – from what we learned, he’d flown into a rage over a domestic matter, killed her, then killed himself, so a murder suicide.

What I just described is heavy stuff. Still, I’m well aware you can’t directly blame steroids for suicide and murder; but, to me, I also knew that it could be a a contributing factor, because when someone starts taking performance-enhancing drugs such as steroids, they’re not only changing the muscles in their body, they’re changing their entire physiology, including their mind. Not only is roid rage real, so is depression from steroid use, as well as other mental problems. This has been proven to me time again since, because over the years I’ve watched steroid users wrestle with the mental issues that come with their use. As you can imagine, after seeing that many deaths in such a very short time, using dangerous drugs was about the last thing on my mind – I wanted a life ahead of me

It was around that time that the fourth important thing happened – something more positive this time. I started following a well-known trainer named Vince Gironda, who had a gym in North Hollywood, California. I discovered Vince while reading MuscleMag and was so taken by the things that he said that, when I was 22, I hopped in my car, drove straight to his gym, and trained with him for four days. I think he was 68 at that time, but could still trainer harder than guys one-third his age. I learned more about training from Vince than from anyone else in my life.

Vince GirondaVince Gironda (standing behind bench press) in his gym

Vince was vehemently against drugs – he wrote about that all the time in MuscleMag – but he never preached to me that I shouldn’t use them. Instead, he said something when I was there that I always remembered: Once drugs come in, all knowledge is lost. What he meant by that is that once you start using drugs, you start relying on them and stop learning about proper training and nutrition. Over time, this is something I’ve also found to be true – drug users worry mostly about what drugs they can get, as well as how much they can take, rather than the other things such as how they train and what they eat.

Denis PedneaultDenis Pedneault

On the flipside, I’ve seen great things happen with people who, like me, decided not to use drugs – and a lot of that has happened on the Physique Canada stages in the last five years. Since 2012, when the organization began, we’ve seen truly great male and female drug-free competitors showcase amazing physiques and make lasting impressions. A few who come to mind are Denis Pedneault and Nadia Moussa, who I knew when I worked the IFBB/CBBF physique scene years back. They looked great when they competed in the IFBB and CBBF, and they looked even better at Physique Canada.

Nadia MoussaNadia Moussa

More recent examples are Julie-Anne Landry and Winston Johnson, the women’s athletic physique and men’s bodybuilding Tier 1 Pro winners at last year’s Canadian Championships – they looked absolutely sensational on the stage last October. All told, these four athletes have incredible physiques, proven to be drug free (all have been tested by Physique Canada multiple times), arrived at through proper knowledge of training and nutrition. Therefore, if you’re looking for encouragement, forget about looking to the drug users – look at drug-free competitors of this caliber instead.

Julie-Anne and WinstonJulie-Anne Landry and Winston Johnson

Then there’s young Virginie Roy, who I wrote about last August, and Olivier Martel, who was featured last month. Respectively, they were only 20 and 18 years old when they competed with Physique Canada last year, which makes them complete youngsters compared to Denis, Nadia, Julie-Anne, and Winston, who are well into their 30s and 40s now. These young competitors, and others like them on the Physique Canada stage, have so much time to create even more amazing physiques, it’s likely they can one day probably surpass what Denis, Nadia, Julie-Anne, and Winston have achieved – and when they do, they will likely be remembered and admired for longer than any drug-using physique competitor would be.

Virginie and Olivier

When I was around Virginie’s and Olivier’s ages, I witnessed some tragedies that helped to keep me head on straight and steer me away from drugs. For these two, they’ve achieved such great things at such young ages, they don’t need to see tragedies to keep them away – their early successes should be reason enough to reinforce in their minds that remaining clean is the right thing to do. In fact, it’s what everyone should do if they truly value their health and the life they have right now. 

Doug Schneider Founder and Publisher