Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Book Review: Gladiator - A True Story of 'Roids, Rage, and Redemption by Dan Clark

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Honest look at steroid use and the consequences
Cons: At times, the honesty leads to some uncomfortable scenes
The Bottom Line:
Dangers of steroids
As told by one who took them
Eye-opening truths

The Truth about Steroids from Someone Who Used

My interest in mud runs has come full circle now that I’ve read Gladiator: A True Story of 'Roids, Rage, and Redemption.

See, my initial interest was sparked when mystery author Sue Ann Jaffarian signed up for and completed a mud run just as I was becoming a fan of her books.  It sounded like fun, and I figured if she could do it, I could do it.  Of course, while she did one, I started signing up for any I could find.  This was in 2010 when the boom of mud runs was really taking off.

One of the ones I found that year was Gladiator Rock ‘n Run.  In fact, I did the inaugural run in December of 2010 down in Irvine.  This particular mud run was founded by Dan Clark who played Nitro on the 90’s TV show American Gladiators.  This book is his memoir, and I probably never would have picked it up if it hadn’t been for the number of times I’ve done this particular mud run in various Southern California locations.

The book starts out with Dan’s childhood.  As a child, Dan Clark was very close with his older brother.  When that brother died tragically, he felt compelled to make something of himself.  His quest led him to football, but an injury could have sidelined him.

That’s when, at the age of eighteen, Dan heard about steroids, which promised to help heal him faster and help him build more muscle to be even better on the field.  When he saw the gains he wanted, he continued to take them, ignoring the warnings signs.  His massive size and desire for fame eventually led him to American Gladiators where he starred as Nitro.  But will he ignore the warning signs his body is giving him about the damage it is taking?

This book is honest – at times brutally so.  While Dan started taking steroids in the early 80’s when they weren’t illegal, he only ever justifies taking them his first round, and then only because he didn’t know better, something he obvious regrets.  Once he starts to see the side effects, he never offers true justification for taking them again, only the reasons he felt like he had to take them at that time in his life.  And considering he was on them for 20 years, it’s obvious he regrets his time on them now.

I mentioned the brutal honesty, and that comes when he starts talking about what the steroids did to his body.  Since the book is designed to be a cautionary tale, it is justified.  However, some of these scenes made me uncomfortable.  I suspect that was the point, so they certainly worked.  There is some talk about his sex life (and one chapter I really didn’t need), but again, it was usually in the context of what the steroids were doing to him.

And yet the book was always readable.  At times, Dan’s narration from today looking back at his bad choices makes it feel like a Greek tragedy.  It worked because the book was always compelling, and I had a hard time putting it down.

Those looking for tons of behind the scenes stories on American Gladiators will be disappointed.  Yes, the stories are there, but since the book is focused on his abuse of steroids, that is where the focus of the story rests.  Still, there are some tidbits that are an interesting look at the show.

The book is written in present tense.  I’m not sure I remember seeing that in a memoir before (although I admittedly don’t read too much in the genre).  When I realized this, I thought it was an odd choice, but it worked.  In fact, I think it helped me get lost in the story Dan was telling even more.

If there is any doubt what Dan was hoping to accomplish by telling his story, read the epilogue.  It’s a call to arms against steroid use, and it’s pretty persuasive.

And as the subject continues to be an issue in professional sports today, this is a subject that is important to discuss and consider.  As a result, I do recommend Gladiator: A True Story of 'Roids, Rage, and Redemption for anyone who has an interest in the subject.  It’s eye opening honesty will make you rethink any opinion on the subject.

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