( If anyone has any real evidence of junior juicers I would like to see it, I’m still of the opinion that this is all made up by the media and the anti-steroids lobby ).
Growing numbers of Eastern Cape school sports stars are taking extreme and potentially deadly measures to gain a competitive edge, which in turn is leading to a dramatic increase in severe post- match injuries.
Children as young as 13 are turning to dangerous steroids and other unorthodox methods to “bulk up”, so they may become “bigger and better” than their peers and opponents.
Port Elizabeth sports physician Dr Konrad von Hagen, who works with the provincial rugby side and has accompanied the Proteas on tour, said the pressure among young sportsmen was immense.
“I had a parent of a 15-year-old high jumper come to me recently asking me to inject her child with a growth hormone to improve his high jumping skills. I refused, but this is the kind of pressure children are dealing with,” Von Hagen said.
Bay bodybuilder and personal trainer Charles Whiteley said he was seeing many teens taking steroids and other growth hormones.
Whiteley said he was recently approached by a 13-year-old for these substances, and also that a top Bay high school rugby coach had admitted to him that he would be giving his own children, who also play this sport, these substances as soon as they reached the age of 14.
Both Von Hagen and Whiteley warned that these measures were not only dangerous to the users, but also to their opponents who did not use the substances. “They make you so aggressive – and a lot bigger – than your peers. If you had to tackle someone in, say, a rugby match, you could seriously injure that person,” said Whiteley.
Von Hagen has also seen an increase in young players experiencing concussions during matches, with some then ignoring their head injuries to continue playing the sport. In some cases continuous concussions had led to severe cognitive deterioration.
Von Hagen said the only time anyone should push through an injury was “during a World Cup final – no youngster should play any sport with any injury”.
He had noticed a dramatic increase in teens taking steroids and other supplements to give them a competitive edge. Many were unaware steroids had adverse effects, especially when used by youngsters, and these could include anything from heart problems to future infertility.
Whiteley said steroids and other growth hormones could cause muscles to grow stronger than the tendons, causing the tendons to snap.
Supporting the habit was very expensive, he said: “You can pay from R1000 to R4000 per month.”
He added that substance abuse of this nature was more prevalent in schools where sport was an integral part of the school’s heritage.
He admitted he himself had fallen victim to steroids when he was younger and felt lucky to have survived the experience. “Kids don’t know how dangerous they are.”
Von Hagen said pressure from parents, schools and peers all led to premature weight workouts by pupils in the gym. “The kids are going too ‘big’ too soon.” Using heavy weights at too young an age could stunt youngsters’ growth.”
Kyle Barton, a biokineticist who started the Pearson Sport Science Institute and manages the conditioning of high school athletes, has also seen a “progressive increase” in teens participating in excessive gym or fitness routines. “I’ve heard of more and more youngsters using and abusing substances or supplements to improve performance and, in some cases, I’ve seen it.”
Three major aspects drove youngsters to go to these extremes, he said. These were commercial sources like magazines, TV, ads and movies; environment and peer pressure, which drove young athletes to “do what is needed to get into the team”; and pressure from parents.