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Nitro and steroids: an American Gladiator memoir

February 18, 2009 |  3:28 pm


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