Title: The Doper Next Door: My Strange And Scandalous Year On Performance Enhancing Drugs
Author: Andrew Tilin
Order: Counterpoint Press
What it is: The story of a Joe Schmoe who spent a year doping, partly for performance enhancing purposes on the saddle, partly in an attempt to turn back the clock and be young again.
Strengths: There's much more to Doper than the usual story of PED-abuse. The book is also about our modern age's obsession with holding back the years and turning back the clock to a youth we never had.
Weaknesses: The other part of the story is obviously the personal one, turning Doper into part memoir. Not everyone cares for memoirs.
The world of reportage is full of authors who've done daft things in order to give the telling of their tale that exra touch of verisimilitude. George Orwell became a vagrant in order to write Down And Out In London And Paris. Hunter S Thompson joined a motorcycle gang in order to write Hells Angels. And Andrew Tilin became a doper in order to write The Doper Next Door. Orwell? HST? That's over-selling the story here, a lot. Better perhaps to think of The Doper Next Door as more like Morgan Spurlock's Super-Size Me, with the Mac-fuelled fat git swapped for a testosterone-fuelled doped git.
The original idea for the story came from Tilin's wife. Not quite from her, but inspired by her and the HRT she was on. Realising that as well as estrogen and progesterone, some doctors prescribe testosterone and HGH, Tilin had that light bulb moment:
"Testosterone and human growth hormone, I think. Any sports nut has heard of that stuff, which through the years I'd also seen called 'T' and 'HGH.' I've loved baseball since I was a kid, and of course I'm aware that Barry Bonds, the famous, muscle-bound slugger for my beloved San Francisco Giants, is accused of using T and HGH to improve his athletic performance."
The more Tilin looked into the HRT story the more he discovered ordinary Joe Schmoes who were jacked up on testosterone, HGH and EPO, not to cheat at sport and make themselves faster or stronger, but in an effort to cheat age itself, to counter the degenerative effects of growing old, of growing up. Which made Tilin think of doping dads. Dopers next door.
Being a journalist, Tilin caught the scent of a story. All he needed was somebody willing to tell him their tale. Months passed and the story was going nowhere. No one really wanted to talk about such things, or those who did didn't quite fit the profile Tilin was looking for. So Tilin - forty-something, amateur cyclist, loving husband and father of two - decided to become a doping dad himself, scoring prescriptions for testosterone and DHEA:
"Together, I've been told, they will make my middle-aged body leaner, stronger, and sexier . . . turn me into the Adonis I've never been."
Tilin's story is not about hardcore doping, things like EPO, blood transfusions, drugs still in their testing phase and available only on the black market. This is about ordinary, low level doping. The sort of doping you or me could do. The sort of doping, apparently, a lot of people like you and me are doing.
In many ways The Doper Next Door isn't really about doping. Much of it is actually about the anti-aging industry, the people selling the world on the need to top up their testosterone levels. The real heart of the book is really about being middle-aged, a rabbit caught in the headlights, trying to choose between growing old gracefully or turning back the clock in an attempt to reclaim a lost youth.
The 'anti-aging' industry is one of those things that amuses me. I'll admit to having a pretty negative view of such things, firmly believing that, as a society, we are over-medicalised as it is. That modern pharma companies are trying to tell us that they can cure aging is, for me, a hoot. Life itself, it would seem, is now a disease that needs to be treated. But the truth is this is nothing new. We've always been trying to hold back time. But if there is a difference between today and the past it is that it used to be that this sort of quackery was the domain of the wealthy. Today, it's been industrialised and made perfectly affordable to Joe and Joan Punter.
Much of The Doper Next Door is also about Tilin himself, making Doper part memoir. Now the great thing in writing about yourself is that you get to choose which version of you is presented to the public. You can be whatever you want to be, it's all in the choice of stories you tell about yourself. You can be witty, you can be charming, you can be super intelligent. Okay, so you can't be a six-foot Adonis if you're really a short-arsed prat. But you don't have to tell everyone you're a short-arsed prat. It has to be said, the Tilin that comes across from Doper is a bit of a prat. A selfish git. The sort of guy who needs a good slap upside the head with a rolled up newspaper.
The worst example of this for you. Jacked up on testosterone, Tilin was reliving the sexual highs of his youth and enjoying having lots of unscheduled sex with the wife. Then, one day, she calls him. She's got news. She's pregnant. His reaction? "I thought we were always okay, that this couldn't happen. We only had unprotected sex when you were sure this couldn't happen." I love that "when you were sure this couldn't happen" bit. What a guy. But he gets even better. He ends the conversation asking if the wife's spoken to her gynaecologist. She asks why. He says: "To discuss ending the pregnancy." If I was her, I'd have been talking about ending the marriage.
Having three different central struts - doping, anti-aging, memoir - is perhaps a weakness in The Doper Next Door. While I concede that an amount of biographical information is necessary, how much Doper needed to become a memoir about Tilin's relationship with his now dead parents I'm not sure. The problem with the memoir side of the story is that, through it, Tilin becomes less the guy next door and more the guy next door with some serious psychological baggage.
In Tilin's year as a doper he takes his cycling more seriously than he has in a long time, not just blowing money on dope and doctors, but also on a personal coach. As a scientific investigation into the effects of using PEDs, Tilin's is a story even a wimp could punch holes in. But to see it as a scientific investigation is to miss the point. It is simply about him doing what - he figures - lots of other people are doing today: chasing the clock on bikes while turning back time on hormone replacement therapy.
There is also the anecdotal evidence Tilin collects along the way. He meets up with a cop who rode pro on the continent but jacked it in when told he had to dope. Gets told about other pros who used heroin and cocaine to get themselves revved up, prime their hearts. Then gets told about MAMIL-types this cop is now seeing on American roads, people who are basically doping so they can win a sprint for a road sign, people juiced up and riding so far beyond their skill levels that they are becoming public nuisances on the road.
Tilin gets through his year of doping - how and what he achieves you'll have to read for yourselves - and then goes cold turkey. He goes off and writes his book. January last, he talks about it to Joe Papp, who he knows professionally, having written a feature on him for Outside magazine. Papp volunteers his services and offers to write a foreword to the book for Tilin. Then Papp goes on Twitter:
"Wonder how aggressively @usantidoping will come out against the author of this filth."
Tilin is at this stage trying to turn himself in to USADA. The book is already pre-selling on Amazon, so his story is hardly a secret. He plays phone tag for a week with USADA flunkies before being told don't call us, we'll call you. Six weeks later, still no call back. Tilin tries again. Finally, in March, he gets a call back. From USADA's top dog, Travis Tygart, the last line of defence when it comes to keeping the foxes out of the chicken coop. Tygart makes it clear to Tilin that there's going to be no hall pass for him. He did the crime, he'll do the time. Tilin accepts a two year ban (USADA could have hit him for four, arguing aggravating circumstances). A couple or three weeks later all the paperwork is done and Tilin steps into the sin bin:
"For better or worse, heading to the doping penalty box is only one more chapter in the experience of some of society's most visible - daresay most modern - men: chemically enhanced, clock (and stopwatch) defying, attention-grabbing, crush-the-competition, successful, twenty-first century men. Stallone. McGwire. Schwarzenegger. And the rumours, of course, won't stop swirling around huge names like Bonds and Armstrong anytime soon. I'm being penalised, yes, as well as initiated into an exclusive club, although the highbrow members will never acknowledge me. Others eventually might. In the coming years, I wonder, how many guys like me will join."
Whether it was worth it or not for Tilin, that's for him to decide. For you, for me, all that's to decide here is whether Doper is worth it. My take is that, on the whole, yes it is. That's not because I'm a doping fiend and curious about this subject. There's something about the sheer ordinariness of Tilin's story that makes it work on a level quite different from the confessional memoirs of the stars. Fact is, lots of us know people just like Tilin, even if we don't know what they're really riding on.