A Father's Choice: Teen Athlete Starts Steroids at 13

Corey Gahan was a champion skater, but that wasn't enough.

February 9, 2009, 2:11 PM

Jan. 30, 2008&#151; -- At his hometown skating rink, Corey Gahan is still a legend.

Other skaters stop and watch in silence as the former national teen in-line skating champion whizzes by in the place that launched what once seemed to be a promising career as a speed skater.

The only person missing on a recent family trip was Corey's father, his one-time mentor, promoter, training partner and best friend. For years, driven by his determined father, Corey was one of the top speed skaters for his age group. But those titles are now tainted, his accomplishments tinged with embarrassment after he tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

The drugs were provided to Corey starting at age 13 by Jim Gahan, a man so obsessed with winning that, he now admits, he lost sight of what it meant to be a good parent. The drug regime not only derailed Corey's future as a world-class athlete, but it also eroded the trust between Corey and his father. Corey cooperated with a federal investigation that put Jim Gahan in prison for six years -- thought to be the first person convicted of supplying his own child with steroids.

"It was really difficult because he's still my dad. And it is tough to do something like that when I have a brother and sister at home. But at the end of the day, you have to do what's right. And that was definitely right," Corey said today on "Good Morning America." "It is painful. It is painful. It's hard to think of good times and then see that because there were good times."

But, Corey said, he doesn't think his father is sorry about what happened.

"I think he's sorry that he got caught. I don't really feel sorry [for him]. I don't think he feels sorry that it happened," Corey said.

Illegal steroids are still mostly used by men in their late teens and 20s, said Dr. Harrison Pope, director of McLean Hospital's Biological Psychiatry Laboratory, which specializes in steroid abuse research. But, the drugs have crept into youth sports as well. Former Sen. George Mitchell, in his report on steroid use in Major League Baseball, warned that hundreds of thousands of high school age teens are illegally using performance-enhancing drugs.

"Every American, not just baseball fans, ought to be shocked into action by that disturbing truth," the report said.

Corey, now 18, moved with his father to Florida when he was 10 to train full-time. He was home schooled and spent hours at the gym.

He was especially close to his father, who traveled the world with him. "I was his safety blanket," Jim Gahan said of his son.

Gahan planned for Corey to move from in-line skating to speed ice skating, an Olympic sport that carried the possibility of fame and endorsements. Corey's first coach, who trained him before he began using steroids, said he had the athletic ability to win without the drugs.

"He had what we call the kill instinct," said Doug Kraii. "His dad pushed a little too hard, just kinda crossed that boundary, and in my opinion, he didn't need it. He coulda' done what he done without it."

But Corey was not advancing fast enough. Along with Corey's new trainer, Gahan, himself a former wrestler, began putting Corey on human growth hormone and steroids. Gahan said he and his son even injected the drugs together; soon Corey changed, his legs ballooned and his muscles popped.

"I was pushing him for the both of us," Jim Gahan told senior law and justice correspondent Jim Avila in his first televised interview. "Because I liked it and he loved it."

Corey's mother, Patricia Johnston, who still lived in Michigan, said her son would call and seem distant and angry. When she first saw him about two years after he left home, she said it didn't occur to her that Corey might be using steroids. "I just thought, 'Wow, he really grew up to be a strong young man,'" she said.

She said on "Good Morning America" today she had no idea her son was using steroids, but did notice a change in his size and behavior.

"He didn't seem very happy and [he was] angry. [It was] a real distant relationship. It really … it hurt," Patricia said.

Eventually, Gahan took Corey to see John Todd Miller, who worked at a storefront wellness clinic that dispensed steroids. The clinic ordered blood tests and found that Corey had unusually high and "potentially dangerous" blood testosterone levels, according to court records. Once his testosterone levels stabilized, Miller put Corey back on a controlled dose of steroids again, the court documents state.

Miller and Corey's new trainer pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute steroids to a minor. His trainer was sentenced to six months in prison; Miller was sentenced in September to 18 months in prison.

Miller declined to comment. His lawyer, James Caltagirone, said using the steroids under Miller's supervision was better than getting them off the street. "What's pretty clear is that before he met Todd Miller, he had been using steroids," Caltagirone said. "The medical supervision wasn't there 100 percent. But there was more than he would have gotten on the street somewhere."

Corey continued to win, becoming a national champion and breaking speed records, and Gahan said they didn't think at the time about what they were doing. "We were caught up in the high. We were caught up in the excitement," Jim Gahan said.

The long-term effect of steroid use during adolescence hasn't been measured, Pope said, but Corey had to take prescription pain pills to cope with his intense workouts. And eventually, the cheating caught up with him. Corey was suspended for two years in 2006 after he failed a drug test.

After federal investigators arrested Miller and Corey's trainer, Corey eventually agreed to cooperate in the investigation against his father. "It was the right thing to do," Corey's mother said. "He had to do it, but still it's his father and a very hard thing to do."

Corey hasn't spoken to his father in more than a year and said he has no plans to return to competitive sports. He works in a retail store and said he will channel his competitive drive into his everyday life. "I think there's more to life than sports," he said.

His father now said he sees the mistakes he made.

"I probably walk 20 miles a day here … pacing," Gahan said from prison. "And I do 500 pushups and 1,000 sit-ups everyday to burn myself out, so that at night I can sleep. Because I understand the hurt that I caused my family."

The 18-year-old said he hopes other young people can learn from his story.

"I think it's good to understand the natural talent and hard work ethic is all it takes to win in sports these days. The medications and all of this, It's a short, quick fix, but it's a destined for failure. If kids really understand, it will help their decision," Corey said.

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