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Nitro and steroids: an American Gladiator memoir


I know what you're thinking. Seriously? That's what I was thinking, at least, when I picked up "Gladiator: A True Story of 'Roids, Rage and Redemption" by Dan Clark a.k.a. Nitro. That's what it says on the cover: "Dan Clark aka Nitro." Geez, I thought, standing in the book room, they'll give a book deal to ANYBODY. This guy was a star of "American Gladiators," a TV show, a FAKE sport.

But as Jesse Ventura showed us, just because your sport was fake doesn't mean you shouldn't be taken seriously.

And Dan Clark's memoir? Well, it's actually pretty good. It's not just that it's honest and earnest — it's actually readable.

A boy when his parents divorced, Dan and his older brother Randy were shuttled around, eventually going to live with his father, who'd opened a restaurant in Vietnam. When just a kid, Dan saw his brother horribly injured in a freak accident; Randy didn't survive. It's a bit like Johnny Cash, except that Dan tried to lift his brother to safety and couldn't. It's a little too much to say that one incident determined all his later athletic efforts — he played football before he was Nitro on "American Gladiators" — but it's at the beginning of the book for a reason.

As for dish, Clark skims over his one-night stands, which blur together in a kind of generalized Hollywood debauchery, but he spends a whole chapter on breasts — his own. "Man boobs, breast-chesticles, is what they're called on the street," he writes. "Gynecomastia is the scientific name. No matter what you call it, I have it." The "man boobs" were a pronounced enough symptom of his steriod use that he even had to have breast-reduction surgery, which he writes about in clear, even gross detail.

When baseball is all aflurry over admissions of steroid use, here's a guy who says quite plainly that he took them and that even when they were doing crazy things to his body, he didn't want to quit taking them.

Too bad it takes a fake sport to come up with a guy who's willing to be so candid.

— Carolyn Kellogg

Photos: Dan Clark's MySpace page

Comments () | Archives (11)

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Thanks for taking the time to take the journey with me. I think being honest and candid is the only way to possibly help the next generation of athletes contemplating the steroid decision. As far as my brother's death and him dying in my arms - it wasn't something that "determined my athletic efforts..." but that critical incident more shaped and determined who I am as a man today. Be well.
Dan Nitro Clark

The book is about a lot more than man boobs and one-night stands. It's as honest and painful as BEAUTIFUL BOY. It's also hilarious in places, like the account of Dan beating the snot out of his best friend, also a Gladiator, then heading to a Red Onion with him to hook up with Gladiator groupies. The sport may have been fake but this book is the real deal.

I just wanted to weigh in for what it's worth... First of all thank you to be the first person I have seen so far that concentrated on the "content" of the book rather than to further sensationalize the "juicy" parts. Most critics have had a lot of fun reprinting what has to be very humiliating details for Dan Clark regarding what steroids did to his physical body.
I too like you read the book, found it a fast read, interesting and painfully raw. Clark risked all to bring the truth to light. He allowed the most personal, and emotional details to take center stage.
I am a mother of 3 boys and albeit that they are young, I feel very grateful to Clark for being willing to tell the whole truth, even the ugly, humiliating details! It has helped me to better understand the full affects of steroids, way beyond what the media has always spouted. It will aid me in educating my sons if they are ever faced with a choice 'to do' or 'not to do' steroids.
One last thing... I attended, in the day, a couple of the Gladiator shows when they were going around the country . (Yes I was a fan ;o) There was nothing fake about what went on in those arenas. It was fierce competition. Nothing like fake wrestling... It was hard core. When people got injured it was serious! I knew 2 different people that actually were competitors... the amount of training they had to do to prepare for the competitions took months, and hours every week to be ready. Both of them came through with their bodies "very beat up" afterwards! I tell you this because although the Gladiators weren't of the athletic ilk of a pro like A-Rod... They were indeed serious athletes, many who had competed at the college level, some in semi pro sports like football etc.
Isn't it interesting with this controversy with A-Rod going on right now... he, unlike Clark, has decided to take the path of... I didn't know... I wasn't sure... Didn't know what it was...my cousin gave me something mysterious and I trusted him... yada yada. He may be a pro in the sports world, but he is no pro as a human being! Dan Clark has him beat in that department! Clark has stepped forward warts and all to say, here I am, here is what I did in gross detail, and here is what it did to me AND (This is the most important part...) I AM ACCOUNTABLE!!!
Now that is class!

Having been a fan all those years and now to know and love Dan, his first Chapters really cut deep. I had heard all the stories of Danny and Randy and of course Wally, but hearing him tell it brought tears to my eyes. Such a sad thought to never have had a place that felt permanent and the one thing he thought could be (Randy) taken from him at such a young age AND right in front of him.

I think this book was raw with honesty and truth. Not the kind of book “Nitro” would have written. A book coming from Dan Clark from the heart of a man that to this day is still sorry that his drawing flew out onto the Electrical cords and that he couldn’t save his Hero. I think people who have long awaited a memoir that is out there for healing instead of fame and fortune will love his story and that he has chosen to share it with us.

Bravo Dan for your courage to be so honest and forth telling about whom Nitro really was and who the real Dan Clark will always be. It is an honor to have read his book and we should all thank him for once again showing his fans that he IS a true American hero.

I don't often cry in public, but several times on a flight back east, I burst into tears while reading this book. In telling his story in the most honest and courageous way possible, Dan reveals moments of humanity, heartbreak, victory and truth that resonate long after you stop reading. His recounting of how his stepfather insisted that he get to play in the football game back when he was a chubby kid on the bench and how that was the very first time he realized he was someone worth fighting for absolutely broke my heart. This book is inspiring and revalatory and should not be missed.

I thought your review of Dan's book was spot-on. I opened it expecting a hyped-up tale of 'roids and rage - but was totally moved by the personal journey that Dan details. Like you said, it's very honest, very surprising and Dan's writing style really packs a punch. Especially with what's going on in baseball and Alex Rodriguez, it's interesting to see a guy completely talk about his steroid use from the beginning - competing as a boyhood athlete, the competitiveness that goes with it, and the dream to make it big. All these big sports stars brush off their steroid use with excuses, pretending they didn't know what they were doing, it was a mistake, but it's not really who they are. Dan shows that it's the competitive nature in your blood that drives you to this stuff, you do it with full knowledge of what you want to get out of it. And, in his case, he really suffered for it. So good for Dan, he's one of the only guys telling the real story, the full story of how steroids comes into an athlete's life. As you said, it's a book that surprises you in a great way and worth picking up.

Dan Clark’s book is an act of courage. Ms. Kellogg seems to have found it surprisingly readable, I certainly hope she doesn’t judge all books by their covers.

I am the mother of a natural born athlete. Sure I’d like my daughter to have all the opportunities in the world, like scholarships and lucrative product endorsements, but not at the cost of her health or integrity. Hopefully Mr. Clark’s book will give kids an opportunity to have dialogue about the real cost of steroid use.

People who are concerned about steroid use should check out Doug Logan's blog. (http://www.usatf.org/about/leadership/ShinSplintsBlog/) He is the President of USA Track and Field, and like Mr. Clark, he is very concerned about steroid use in the world of athletics.

Shame on the professional athletes that choose to dance around the truth. These individuals are helping young athletes to become proficient liars as well as cheaters. I am reminded of the scene from “The Legend of Bagger Vance” where, Junuh calls a penalty on himself rather than win dishonestly.

I’m inspired to think about how many kids won’t use steroids because of Dan Clark’s book and his amazing bravery.

Dan Clark's book is the stuff of a great big screen movie. It reaches out to every young person in America with a dream, a determination and a talent.

His book is powerful, raw, honest, inspiring and deeply moving. It shows the real struggles, issues, and the innermost thoughts of this extremely talented and intellegent man.

Dan's book is hard to put down. You will read it cover to cover....then read it again. He emerges as a true American hero who can admit his weaknesses, confess his struggles, and overcome them with heart , dignity and strength.

I admire Dan Clark's courage, honesty and his talent. I know few athletes or celebrities who would dare to be so candid. This is a must read. I look forward to seeing his story on the big screen!

I've had the great pleasure of reading Gladiator, and think Dan Clark should be commended for this honest, uncompromising look at a career and a life affected by steroids. In an age where once-revered athletes completely obscure their steroid use (Mark McGuire, Roger Clemens), play mock coy to accusations - as if they don't meticulously track every chemical they introduce to their bodies (Alex Rodriguez) and even flaunt their use in a self-aggrandizing attempt at salvation (Jose Canseco), Dan Clark's voice is measured and impactful.

The victory of this memoir is twofold. First, Mr. Clark sheds necessary light on a subculture that is much more rampant and much less reported than it should be, and he does so in an accessible, honest way. Second, by relating the burdens of a life lived in the spotlight, he drives home the point that today's athletes are more than posters on a wall, more than flesh, bone and testosterone packed into brightly colored uniforms. In short, they are people who fight the same battles we all do to build a life and remain competitive, often against long odds. In a world designed to honor the youngest, the strongest, the fastest, Dan Clark turned to steroids to stay on top. The difference between Dan's story and that of so many others is the dignity and honor he carries himself with on the other side of that tunnel. Many of us can learn a lesson from Dan's book and from his example. Are you listening, A-Rod??

I say live fast, die young and leave a good corpse. Great going Nitro. Enjoy the memories. I'm kidding.

I was the first talent coordinator for the American Gladiators show. I worked for Goldwyn TV and was in the creative pre-prod mtgs and there for the very fist auditions. I then became the talent coordinator for the first season..My job was to get those 6 large (by personality and energy) people in costume, on set and on time. I was brand new to the industry having graduated college and just moved from Wash.state to LA.
I met Dan Clark before the show even started and from the begining he became the team leader. I watched the girls go back to his dressing room and all the other incidents. It was quiet the time of my life. Interesting for me ..was my brother was part of the Athlete drug free powerlifting coalition, before steriods or "juice" was a big deal..at the very time I had just gotten the job with AG. I knew what was going on and I felt for Dan in particular. I always felt he was fighting personal demons, but at the time I didn't know what they were. To me and the crew, he was a very kind and generous person to work with even in stressful situations. That whole first team of gladiators was a pure fun experience and great set of memories for me, they treated me like their little sister.... Imagine being there during that time. The show itself was the begining of true reality TV. Dan I am so very glad you wrote this book and brought the issue to light. I can't wait to read it indepth. Your friend the "the little PA , Beth from Washington state".


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