Steroids Right Here in Orange County

A single bead of sweat falls from his brow to the rubber platform beneath him, his body bending over to lift the metal bar of 180 kilos. His arms spread wide, gripping where the bar meets the round weights that hold it down, his legs spread at arms’ length. To the side of the 20-year-old lifter an older man watches with intensity. The man watching the young lifter is his father. His name is Daniel McDermot, but everyone knows him as Danny. At the age of 55, McDermot is more seasoned, his white hair balding, carrying a slim yet solid frame. That frame is the same frame of a man comparable to a Greek god, only this man’s “Achilles’ heel” is his heart. The long red scar down the middle of his chest represents a memory of the abuse of his past and the price that he would have to pay.

McDermot has won the titles of Mr. Anaheim, Mr. Orange County, Mr. Muscle Beach and Mr. Venice Beach, winning the American Cup Championship in 1982. McDermot even held the national bench press record and concurrent state bench press record, benching 430 pounds while weighing 165 pounds, and 451 pounds while weighing not much more than his previous weight. He would hold that title for the next six years.

McDermot started lifting when he was only a freshman in high school, and began competing in actual body building competitions during his junior year. He won his first competition in 1971, placing second in Teenage L.A. A year after, at 19 years old, he started using steroids.

“It wasn’t illegal back then, it was accepted,” McDermont said. “Back then it was like taking vitamins, so of course you took them.”

Back in the 1970s steroids weren’t a big deal, and you could be sure your competition was using the drug.

“If you wanted to compete at a national level, it’s what you did,” McDermot said, a man that knew how common steroid abuse was 30 years ago.

Bodybuilders take steroids in order to train harder and in turn obtain a more muscular and defined physic.

Obtaining steroids was easy and common.

“Doctors prescribed it, or you got it in Mexico. You got it from the black market,” McDermont explained.

There are various types of steroids, many of which McDermot has used, such as Decadroplin, Primabolin and Dianabol. Most bodybuilders take them on cycles, meaning one would go two months on steroids and then take one off.

“Some guys don’t even cycle” McDermot said “That’s not smart. You could shut your whole system down, and it affects your whole body in a bad way.”

But there are many unwanted side effects that come with the use of steroids that weren’t always so well-known to the public, such as mood swings and especially heart problems.

“I know that some guys supposedly get ‘roid rages’ and have extreme mood swings, but as far as I know I never had any issues like that,” McDermont said. “Sure I got mad sometimes but that was just me getting mad, not the steroids … If you did it right you don’t notice a whole lot of changes; you just got bigger and stronger.”

But what McDermot didn’t consider was the cardiac complications that could and would come from the use of steroids. He admitted that he hadn’t known about the adverse effects of the drug, but it was because at the time no one really knew which side effects steroids would potentially have. As far as they were concerned, there weren’t any.

One of the main steroids that McDermot used was Dianabol. Dianabol, or methandrostenolone, is a potent steroid, but like many other steroids it brings about noticeable side effects. Methandrostenolone is very estrogenic, and too much estrogen can cause fat build. Gynecomastia, abnormal mammary glands on males, is also a concern during a cycle. A cycle is a period of time during which an individual is actively taking anabolic steroids, typically lasting seven to 14 weeks. Other side effects include acne, aggression and male pattern baldness.

McDermot retired from competing in body building in 1982. He also stopped using steroids.

“I had no problem getting off because I knew what was going to happen; it was just the nature of the beast.” That beast would make an attack on McDermot’s life.

In 1989, just seven years after quitting steroids and two years after his son Shaughnessy was born, he had a heart attack. McDermont was at the gym when he began having trouble breathing. McDermont then got into his car and his friend Darren drove him to the hospital. McDermot’s family has a genetic history of cardiac problems, so even without steroids, genetics were not in his favor. It was a disease that McDermot might have already had and it was definitely a potential problem, but steroids advanced that. It was this experience that has saved his son Shaughnessy from going down the same path.

“Up!” McDermot yells to Shaughnessy as his legs rise and he begins to pull up on the bar, lifting it from the ground and into the air. Gripping tightly, Shaughnessy then dips down to catch the weight using his legs. Standing with the weight now locked to his chest, Shaughnessy again dips down as he pushes the weight up over his head simultaneously. He strains, his face red as he holds the weight over his head.

From the amount of focus and intensity in his eyes, it seems as if McDermot is holding the weight with his son. Even from the very beginning, McDermot has always been by his son’s side. Married to wife Margie since 1985, he had Shaughnessy just two years later. His son had always been an athlete, and Shaughnessy has been involved in sports ever since he could run. At 8-years-old, McDermot had Shaughnessy playing as full back, line back and nose guard in football, and eventually the boy was playing All-American. By 12-years-old, Shaughnessy had started lifting, and by his junior year of high school he was competing in the Olympic lift.

McDermot has been coaching him in lift since he started.

“I never did Olympic lifting; I just learned how to coach it,” he said. “So I would just coach all the time to get better at it.”

McDermot trains Shaughnessy, preparing him for training and competition at the Olympic training gym in Colorado.

“The first competition that Shaughnessy won was at around a clean and jerk of 105 kilos and a snatch of 90 kilos,” McDermot said as he tried to remember the first competition that his son ever won. “His best performance, though, that won him his biggest competition, was a snatch of 140 kilos, and a clean and jerk of 180 kilos.”

Shaughnessy has come a long way since he started, but he still has a long way to go as he is hoping to make it to the 2012 Olympics in the 105 kilo class (heavy weight). In order to compete at this level, he will need a snatch of 170 kilos and a clean and jerk of 205 kilos. But for now, Shaughnessy’s performance is enough to keep him in strong competition at the collegiate level at Louisiana State University, where he has an athletic scholarship.

But McDermot doesn’t only train Shaughnessy; he trains a team of middle school and high school students. Four of the middle school kids that he has trained have all qualified for the School Age National Champoinship in Florida in June. He is currently training six high school students consistently, all merely the age of 14. McDermot is even currently training 19-year-old student Victor Davenport, who has also earned a lifting scholarship at LSU.

McDermot has been successfully training youths, and he does so out of the comfort of his own garage.

“Oh yeah, whatever you need I got it,” he bragged as he took me through the compact weight room.

In his garage are two platforms, a vast array of bumper plates (the bounce weights that are used for Olympic lifting) and a squat rack. In the corner of the room, the wall is covered by a large American flag, and before the flag is a vast dumbbell rack, with weight that goes up to as much as 80 pounds. Along the side wall of the gym is a mirror, and to the front of the mirror are 10 kettle weights placed in increasing weight of up to 100 pounds; to the right of the mirror is a small street sign that reads, “PARKING FOR IRISH ONLY.”

McDermot initially started coaching other students to give Shaughnessy people to work out with, and he did it for free.

“It’s definitely become a small passion of mine,” McDermot said.

Knowing that McDermont coaches youth, other kids have come to him with questions about supplements, including steroids.

“Whenever any young teens ask me about steroids I show them my chest and tell [them] ‘Sure, as long as you’re cool with a big scar.’”

McDermot acknowledges that steroids allow athletes, especially bodybuilders, to make significant gains, but he also acknowledges that the cardiac complications that come with the gains are detrimental.

Shaughnessy’s body trembles as he holds the weight over his head for a small moment before he releases and lets it drop to the floor. McDermot is not just a coach or a father, but a life lesson for many young weightlifters and athletes. Shaughnessy would never think of touching steroids because he has seen the adverse effects it has had on his father.

“Good lift,” McDermont said. “Add 50 pounds and try it again.”