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Steroids helped him bulk up, then killed
By RAY DUCKLER
Harry Gordon III's bedroom remains unchanged more than three years after his death. His bed is neatly made, with a shiny black comforter smoothly spread over it. Furry stuffed animals sit beside it on the floor, and the trophy he won for bench-pressing more than 500 pounds in 2001 is displayed on a shelf in a far corner of the room.
A framed photo of a smiling Harry and his sister, Amanda, hangs on the wall. It was taken back when Harry weighed about 145 pounds, before steroids and a workout regimen added 50 pounds of muscle to his frame and eventually killed him. There are holes in the wall behind the TV set, punched by Harry, reminders of the rage often associated with steroid use.
There is also a series of tranquil photos of lakes and streams and mountains in Gilmanton and Alton. Words are interspersed among the calm landscapes. Spiritual words. "Do not stand at my grave and cry. I am not there, I did not die."
But Harry Gordon III did die, on Oct. 26, 2002. "Cardiac hypertrophy associated with anabolic steroid abuse" was the official cause of death, according to the death certificate.
His parents, Harry Jr. and Charlene, a hardworking blue-collar couple, want parents to know the dangers of steroid use. They want them to know that steroids, illegal when used without a prescription, are readily available through the black market.
Steroids make you strong, true, but the trophies and self-esteem their son received because of his Herculean frame and great power don't mean a thing. Not now.
"His life ended too soon," said Charlene, seated at her kitchen table with eyes devoid of spark. "He was an incredible, wonderful free spirit. He had so much living still to do. It ended just like that.
"Every day you have to understand that it happened, and that's what we have to live with. The hardest part is knowing the goodness he had. That's gone now."
It was taken away by a drug habit that his parents believe surfaced after he began lifting at the Galaxy Gym in Belmont. They're angry at whoever supplied him with steroids, but dealers are rarely prosecuted in connection with the death of a customer.
Local police say they checked out the gym. No one was charged.
Meanwhile, the family endures a daily emotional battle, trying to move forward with some sense of normalcy but often losing the fight. Harry's 23-year-old sister, Amanda, remains in a halfway house in Dover, fighting addiction to alcohol and cocaine, substances she says she needed to cope with the loss of her brother. The two, born 19 months apart, were close. She's been clean for five months.
The younger Harry, a 2000 graduate of Gilford High, wasn't a team-sport athlete in school. Instead, he threw himself into mountain biking and skiing, sports with an edge for the athlete preferring individuality.
According to his parents, no one took more chances than their son when it came to high-adrenaline sports. And no one threw himself into these activities with more passion.
"He couldn't just ride a bike,"Charlene said. "He had to take a bike and get up on a roof and ride it off, jumping over rocks, things like that. He did everything to the extreme."
Weightlifting was Harry's next world to conquer. He joined the Gilford Hills Tennis and Fitness Club for the start of his weightlifting career shortly before graduating from high school. His parents say he weighed about 145. He was 5-foot-6.
Later, in 2000, Harry moved to the Galaxy Gym in Belmont, where he quickly bulked up. There was a noticeable difference in just two months, his parents said, and he gained about 50 pounds overall by the time of his death, around a year and a half later.
Harry Jr. and Charlene grew suspicious, wondering if their son's new body was the result of something more than hard work.
"I asked him why he was getting so much bigger and he kept saying he was lifting more," Charlene said. "At first I believed him. They try to convince people it's all lifting. I just noticed his increase in size and all of a sudden he's bulking and bulking."
Harry Jr. said: "Your eyes bug out of your head when you see something like that."
The signs kept coming. The loss of hair. The quick temper. Bench-pressing more than 500 pounds, up from 300-plus only a short time before.
The family, including Amanda, kept pressing him for information, and Harry eventually admitted he was using steroids. Then Harry's girlfriend found them in his bedroom, Amanda said. Syringes, liquid in a small bottle, pills. She threw them away, so Harry began hiding them in Amanda's room, in a clothesbasket in the back of her closet. One day she found them.
"I approached him and said I didn't want to be involved with this," said Amanda, who splits her time between the halfway house and work at a beauty salon. "I had told him I didn't want him doing it, but he was going to do what he was going to do. He didn't take me seriously."
Amanda's relationship with her brother quickly deteriorated. He grew moodier. She was tired of his steroid use.
Their parents, meanwhile, continued to warn their son, but even they acknowledge that they didn't fully grasp the seductiveness of the drug, nor did they know how truly dangerous this habit could be.
"I said once, 'Harry, you don't remember this guy, but there was a pro football player named Lyle Alzado, and he took steroids and he died from them,'" Harry Jr. said, referring to the former NFL lineman who died in 1992 of brain cancer associated with longtime steroid use. "I told him, 'Before he died, he went on public television and told the young kids not to take them.' All I ever heard was, 'Dad, don't worry.'"
On Oct. 26, 2002, Harry Jr. and Charlene wondered why their son was still in bed by dinnertime. They went to wake him so they could go out for a bite to eat. Harry Jr. kept calling to his son, with no response.
"He never got any type of warning," Harry Jr. said. "There were no symptoms of sickness. It was just like that." Harry Jr. snapped his fingers to emphasize the suddenness of it all.
Harry Jr. and Charlene hired lawyers for a wrongful death lawsuit but say they were told it was an un-winnable case. They always suspected that Harry's steroid supply came through the bonds he formed with other lifters at the Galaxy Gym. They wanted someone held responsible for their son's death.
The Galaxy was in Belmont at the time. A fire forced it to move to Laconia last year.
Harry's system did not test positive for a controlled substance, according to Dr. Thomas Andrew, chief medical examiner. However, Andrew added that 10-milligram tablets of Methandienone, a veterinary [huh? - red.] preparation manufactured in Mexico, were retrieved from Harry's bedroom after his death.
Methandienone has been a controlled substance, illegal without a prescription, since the Anabolic Steroids Control Act of 1990, when Congress began to suspect that steroid abuse was a growing problem.
It is difficult for law enforcement to pursue such cases because proof of who provided the drug to the deceased is needed for a conviction. David Nielsen, the Belmont police chief at the time of Gordon's death, said, "There were allegations of steroid use at Galaxy Gym. These allegations were never confirmed."
Gilmanton Chief Russell Boynton looked into the case because the death occurred at the Gordon home in Gilmanton.
"The Galaxy Gym came up in the course of the investigation as the possible supplying place for steroids," Boynton said. "That would be a fact. I talked to the owner and he did deny that. He said, 'We run a really professional establishment and we do not condone that and don't want that stuff around here.'"
No charges were ever filed in the death.
Wayne McClay, the Galaxy Gym's 49-year-old owner, acknowledged that a black market for steroids can potentially evolve at a weight training gym. But it would not surface in plain sight, he said.
"It's the sort of a hidden thing people don't talk about because obviously it's against the law,"McClay said.
He added that, as far as he knows, his gym is steroid free. "I don't suspect that anyone is doing that right now," he said.
Asked if he knew Harry was using steroids, McClay said, "I'd like to think I didn't know. I chose not to know."
Then, when asked specifically what those words meant, McClay responded, "I just didn't know."
Because health clubs in the state offer a service to the public, they are required to register with the Consumer Protection Bureau of the attorney general's office. Once they have done so, however, they are under no obligation to monitor for steroid distribution or post warnings about the danger of using steroids without a prescription.
"With respect to what is contained in the registration requirements, they do not need to demonstrate anything along those lines of posting information or having information available about drug use,"said Richard Head, senior assistant attorney general for the Consumer Protection Bureau.
Picking up the pieces
Charlene says she understands why her son turned to steroids: They were addictive mentally because they added to his self-worth.
"Only being 5-foot-6, he wasn't a big kid," Charlene said. "Gaining that muscle and gaining that strength made him feel very powerful, very strong, and people looked up to him. And I'm sure at the gym people started saying, 'Wow, you look great,' and, 'How much are you lifting?' The prestige that comes along with bodybuilding is there."
Nobody in the family was awareof what sort of danger Harry was in. Harry Jr. was asked if he regrets not notifying the authorities sooner, before it was too late.
"I didn't think it was that serious at first," Harry Jr. said. "I didn't know how much he was using and if he was in that much danger. I thought it was a fad and eventually he'd stop. Knowing what I know now, I would have done anything to have saved him from what happened."
The family is left with memories, of Harry's free spirit, of the days working with his father in the family's stone works business, of the playful, sarcastic, protective relationship he had with his sister.
"A lot of what I think about is my future, things I'm going to go through and he won't be there for them," Amanda said.
"There's no chance to have nieces or nephews, and my kids will never know about the great uncle they could have. He would have made an awesome uncle."
The Christmas season, like the past two, was especially rough.
"The holidays bring it out even worse," Harry Jr. said. "You're Christmas shopping and you're buying cards for your wife and your daughter, and you see the cards for the sons."
Harry's gravesite is in Gilmanton. Notepads sit in a Tupperware container in front of the headstone so friends and family can record their thoughts. Harry Jr. brings the pads home when they're full. He says they fill up quickly.
He visits his son's grave every other day. Every four days he lights a new candle, which sits in a plastic cylinder with a removable cover. The candle is made to burn for six days, but Harry Jr. wants it to be a continuous flame, calling it "eternal."
"I'll keep doing it as long as I live," Harry Jr. said. "It's the very least I can do for him."