Andrew Tilin died Saturday, after he was struck by a vehicle as he changed a flat tire on the side of the road. I wrote about Tilin, who wrote a book called “The Doper Next Door,” in September 2011, and have re-published the article below.
Members of the Grupo VOP cycling club are planning a memorial service for Tilin. I’ll share details when I get them.
You’re a regular guy, with two kids and a wife you love, and a job that pays the bills. You also race bikes as a hobby.
The 40s have crept up on you, though, and your energy and sex drive have waned. Your middle has softened. And it’s gotten tougher to hang with the younger bikers at amateur cycling races.
What would happen, you wonder, if you doped? If you found a doctor – and there are plenty out there – who would analyze your blood, recognize that your testosterone levels had faded, and prescribe supplemental testosterone. All legally, of course.
Each day you’d push a ribbon of testosterone-laced cream out of a syringe and onto your inner thigh, rub it in and … and what?
Would muscles pop up like mountain ranges on a three-dimensional topographical map? Would you turn into a stud in the bedroom? Would you surge ahead of the pack and tear across the finish line first at bike races?
Freelance writer and cyclist Andrew Tilin wondered just that.
Truthfully, when it started, he wanted to write about someone else taking steroids. Not surprisingly, no one wanted to go public. In the end, Tilin, a Northern California native who moved to Austin this summer to be closer to his wife’s family, did it himself. Then he wrote about it.
He describes the controversial result, titled “The Doper Next Door” (Counterpoint, $25) as a “coming of middle age” memoir.
It’s about the T, as he calls the testosterone cream that he smeared onto his skin for a year, and how it turned him from an average bike racer into a slightly-better-than-average one, but it’s also about his family and friends, how his experiment affected his relationships with them, and about the sometimes weird and wacky world of anti-aging medicine.
Feeling younger, stronger
Flip through an airline magazine and you’ll see the photo: A 60-year-old man showing off a body as buff as a collegiate wrestler’s.
Feel younger! Get stronger! Improve your sex life!
“Those ads exist so dumpy, out-of-shape 40-year-old men can find the fountain of youth,” Tilin says. “If you’re 40, 50 or 60, you look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m a big blob and all I’ve done is work,’ and ‘Doctor can you help me?’ And now your urologist can say, ‘Yes.’ ”
That’s what Tilin did.
“I’m human and I’m vulnerable, and after a while, I started listening to the promises,” he says. He doped for the book, but he did it to satisfy his own curiosity, too. For a year, he secretly took testosterone as part of legal hormone replacement therapy. And he raced bikes the whole time – against USA Cycling rules.
When he started the hormones, his 5-foot, 8-inch body didn’t bulk up suddenly, but his biceps grew and his body became more defined. “I took enough T to look lean and cut,” he says. “It was obvious I was a muscular guy.”
The steroids, he says, infused him with a sort of Sylvester Stallone swagger. His sex drive increased. He got faster and stronger on the bike, and experienced for the first time what it was like to lead a break-away pack at a bike race. “I feel no remorse, no. Not when I’m leading the race. The thrill!” he writes in the book.
But he didn’t like everything the testosterone did. It made him moody and cantankerous and caused friction between him and his cycling friends. Was he writing the book to take the drugs or taking the drugs to write the book, one of his buddies wanted to know? “The answer lies somewhere in the middle,” Tilin says.
Guilt pangs kicked in, too.
“In the presence of (my coach), the supplemental T circulating through my body makes me feel as corrupt as a kid who smuggles a cheat sheet into a final exam. In the eyes of my coach, amateur racers and race organizers, I am officially a doper, a bike-racing criminal,” he writes.
The regimen Tilin took pales in comparison to what some athletes have done to gain a competitive edge. “In the bike-racing community, they take far more radical drugs – human growth hormones and blood enhancement therapies,” Tilin says.
Tilin says he believes that doping is common, even among amateur athletes. “I remain convinced there are dopers, amateurs who race their bikes and find it important enough to win that they take the drugs,” he says.
He has never met hometown cycling hero Lance Armstrong, who won the Tour de France seven times and has been the subject of doping allegations, but has an opinion about him. “I have my theories – but I have no proof – that he’s just a mere mortal like the rest of us,” Tilin says.
In the book, he recounts a visit to Armstrong’s Austin bike shop, Mellow Johnny’s, saying he is preoccupied with the notion that “it sits under a syringe shaped cloud.”
In the end, Tilin walks away conflicted about his doping experience. He loved the thrill of racing fast and an amped-up sex drive. He says he came to believe that there is some truth to what anti-aging doctors promise.
But he also worried how the testosterone changed his personality and how it might affect people around him. He read reports about family members of men on testosterone who were exposed to the hormones through sheets or towels and grew hair on their upper lips or experienced premature growth spurts. He worried about the long-term effects of taking the steroid, too.
After Tilin’s year-long experiment, he weaned himself off testosterone – not an easy task emotionally, he says, because it’s hard to exchange a hardened physique for deflating muscles.
Even worse, some men develop enlarged breasts, or “man boobs,” when they go off testosterone. (Tilin did not.)
Today, he’s clean – and back to his days of slower cycling. But in some ways, the effects of the testosterone still linger.
In Austin, the book has meant an awkward introduction to the local cycling community. Some cyclists scoff, saying he didn’t really dope, that he needed to take more drugs than just testosterone to make it count. Others voice disgust that he’d cheat for the sake of a book.
When he posted on a chat forum sponsored by Texas Bicycle Racing Association, introducing himself and confessing his cheating ways, some mocked him for being a relatively slow cyclist even though he took steroids.
Others seemed more accepting.
“The changes you experienced in cycling seemed real, but you also added a coach and seemed to step up the training, so it’s hard to say what contributed the most to the results,” someone posted in reply to his introduction. “(I) don’t hold anything against you, but then again I wasn’t racing against you.”
“Count me in the camp of thinking you went a bit overboard for the book but, hey, reasonable minds can differ … ” another posted.
Tilin says he understands the reaction.
“I have a lot of respect for bike racers. It’s a hard sport, and I respect the fact that they’re upset with me,” he says. “But I don’t think I’m alone with this kind of thing. I think it’s out there. We do what our heroes do; it’s silly to think it doesn’t happen.”
There’s another footnote to the story. At the end of 2010, two years after Tilin’s grand experiment, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, a national sports-policing organization, handed him a two-year ban on bike racing and wiped all his racing results from his “Year on the T” off the record books. He even had to pay back $25 he won for his 10th place finish at the 2008 Cascade Cycling Classic in California – but not until months after he called the agency multiple times to confess to doping.
Sometimes, it’s easier staying clean in the first place.
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