USA Powerlifting (USAPL), originally known as the American Drug-Free Powerlifting Association (ADFPA), is recognized as the first steroid-tested sports organization in the United States. The federation recently celebrated its 35th anniversary. Founding member George Hummel shared his memories of the early days with Keith Groller of The Morning Call newspaper.
“In competitions, I began to see that I was the only one not using steroids,” Hummel said. “I used my natural strength and ability, but in becoming friends with other competitors, I noticed the negative side of steroids. People would literally die off after taking so many steroids. It caused major health issues, including mental health problems that sometimes led to broken families.”
A place called Allentown in Pennsylvania was ground zero for American powerlifting throughout most of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. In particular, the country’s best powerlifters trained at the Allen High Phys Ed Center (later known as the J. Milo Sewards Gym). But even in the early days, powerlifting was not just about training. Pharmacology played a prominent role in the progression of the sport.
Ever since the country physician John Ziegler introduced anabolic steroids such as testosterone and methandienone (Dianabol) to local powerlifters, steroid use became a trend. Steroids became ubiquitous and pervasive in the sport.
Steroids had yet to be criminalized. There was no drug testing in sport. And most people could go to their local doctor and get a prescription for steroids. Believe it or not, in spite of the ease of access, not all powerlifters were using steroids back in the day. Some powerlifters did not see steroid use as a healthy trend and insisted on competing “naturally”. Of course, they were at a distinct disadvantage to all the powerlifters on Dianabol.
Hummel and a group of other steroid-free powerlifters decided to found an organization that would give steroid-free competitors an alternative to the existing steroid-assisted powerlifting competitions. The men founded the American Drug-Free Powerlifting Association and hosted the first drug-free national championship in July 1983.
Hummel claimed that powerfliters at the time were dying from their use of steroids and going crazy from “roid rage”.
“In the late 1970s, I ran a meet at the Allentown ‘Y’ and we had lifters on steroids and it was embarrassing to witness the behavior of those on steroids,” Hummel said. “Damage was even done to the building because they were so cranked up. They’d even punch a hole in the wall. It’s called roid rage. It was definitely not a family event.”
“Word got around and we held competitions around the country as an alternative for those who didn’t want to use steroids,” Hummel said. “The lifters were interested in the pure context, the pure strength of the sport and didn’t want to endanger their lives.
Of course, the American Drug-Free Powerlifting Association no longer exists in its original incarnation. It has since changed its name to USA Powerlifting (USAPL). There is still drug testing but it is only as effective as the current state of drug detection technology.
Groller, K. (August 5, 2018). 35 years ago, the fight against steroids began in Allentown. Retrieved from mcall.com/sports/mc-spt-around-the-valley-201805-story.html