Campaign on for health, sportsmanship

The Baltimore Sun

Facial puffiness. Higher blood pressure and heart rate. Drastic personality changes.

Those are some of the signs Maryland physicians are being encouraged to look for as they treat young athletes - signs that could be red flags for steroid use, according to a campaign launched yesterday.

"The message about anabolic steroids, about energy drinks, supplements, is something that people want to know about," said Michael Gimbel, director of Powered by Me!, a St. Joseph Medical Center program for training and educating people on steroids and other performance enhancers. "There's a lot of information out there and we want to reach as many people as we can."

Keion Carpenter, a Woodlawn football coach and former NFL player, said that "knowledge is only powerful if we use the knowledge that we get and apply it to our daily life."

Carpenter and members of Woodlawn High School's staff and football teams joined Gimbel, U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and others yesterday to kick off Physician Awareness of Steroids and Supplements (PASS), which aims to identify steroid use among teen athletes, and teach the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs.

Stationed near the school's football field, a table was laden with examples of so-called energy-boosting substances: cans of Rockstar Energy, Red Bull and Full Throttle drinks, creatine powder and supplement pills such as taurine and ephedra.

"Your lives are in front of you," Cummings said to the student-athletes before him, who sported jerseys that read "Warriors." "This is your body, and it is your body for a lifetime. ... We want you to be healthy."

He alluded to baseball players such as Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire, who, he said, "have been accused of cheating."

"Cheating just doesn't get it," Cummings said. "There are no shortcuts."

More than 1,000 packages of information were sent out to Maryland pediatricians yesterday, Gimbel said, including a small, pocket-size card with a list of steroid-use warning signs, symptoms and side effects.

"It will remind [doctors]... to share that information about steroids and supplements," Gimbel said, adding that PASS seeks to reach every aspect of the community that touches youth, including pharmacists and psychiatrists, as well as parents. "They play a critical role."

People also must realize the psychological damage such drugs can cause, Gimbel said, even after athletes stop using them. He and Cummings referred to stories that have made national headlines, of athletes committing suicide after quitting steroids.

David Williams, 17, the Woodlawn team quarterback, said having more information would help student-athletes "make smarter decisions."

"It's definitely a positive thing for the kids," said Michael Sye, the school's athletic director. The young athletes can serve as role models, he said.

Sye regularly talks to staff about supplements and performance-enhancement drugs, he said, expecting them to "go out and educate the kids" in turn. Information about energy drinks can also be found on the school athletic department's Web site.

Cummings said he believes the program will become a national model.

For Mark Agent, a Woodlawn football coach, PASS is about getting kids early, before they hurt their bodies. But it also underscores a broader lesson.

"It's all about sportsmanship and an even playing field," Agent said.

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