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Toronto, December 14th,2009 - Dr. Anthony Galea, M.D Sports Medicine Specialist poses for a portrait at his clinic - Institute of Sports Medicine & Wellness Centre Inc in Etobicoke, Toronto. (SAMI SIVA/The Globe and Mail)
Toronto, December 14th,2009 - Dr. Anthony Galea, M.D Sports Medicine Specialist poses for a portrait at his clinic - Institute of Sports Medicine & Wellness Centre Inc in Etobicoke, Toronto. (SAMI SIVA/The Globe and Mail)

GREG McARTHUR

Anthony Galea's path from treating superstars to pleading guilty Add to ...

There was a time when Anthony Galea was on the front lines in the war against doping in sport.

When disgraced Olympic sprinter Ben Johnson made his comeback in 1991, Dr. Galea was there as a certified doping-control officer, watching over him while he peed into a vial. He once issued a public warning to Toronto parents about the torrent of steroids flowing through high-school locker rooms. He has railed against the win-at-all-costs attitude ruining sport, saying "that's why there is an increasing use of drugs to enhance performance."

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Yet this week, Dr. Galea stood before a U.S. District Court judge and uttered "guilty" to the charge that he repeatedly carried misbranded drugs across the U.S.-Canada border, and admitted in an agreed statement of facts that he smuggled restricted drugs, including human growth hormone, to professional football and baseball players.

Now the 51-year-old father of seven could go to prison after acknowledging that he crisscrossed the United States, met athletes in their homes and in hotel rooms, and practised medicine without an American licence. It has threatened to ruin his career, the end of a remarkable arc that saw him go from a Toronto strip mall to the Toronto Argonauts clubhouse to making house calls for golfer Tiger Woods, former National Football League rushing leader Jamal Lewis and baseball slugger Alex Rodriguez.

His defence team insists that his injections of growth hormone, which are banned by most professional sports leagues, were strictly for healing and to encourage cartilage repair. "Any suggestion that he was involved in performance enhancement is clearly untrue," Toronto lawyer Brian Greenspan said after the hearing in Buffalo.

A close look at his past reveals a long and complex history with the world of steroids and growth hormone.

Dr. Galea is a man who resists categorization. He is drawn to the spiritual - he studies the Bible - but equally fixated with the superficial: his side business performing Botox injections and laser hair removal, for example. And while he courted a reputation as an ardent anti-doping advocate, steroid users lauded his willingness to help them manage their side effects. "Awesome," they called him.

Open door for bodybuilders

In 1992, Mario Carrier had won his first three amateur bodybuilding competitions on a steady diet of illegally obtained steroids, such as Winstrol and Durabolin. His "gear" came from one of two sources: connections at the gym or a horse-trainer associate who had access to veterinary supplies. But he had no one to turn to for sound medical advice in his quest to become Mr. Canada.

Then a co-worker told him about the Institute of Sports Medicine in Toronto and its founder Dr. Galea - a young physician with a near-constant smile and an open-door policy for bodybuilders. It took only one appointment for Mr. Carrier to know that he had found someone he could trust.

"He's not going to help me get the drugs, but he's going to help me monitor my body - the blood count, the liver count. There's a lot of guys who weren't doing that and I was right in with Tony," recalled Mr. Carrier, now a personal trainer in Toronto.

Not long after connecting with Dr. Galea, Mr. Carrier joined the professional bodybuilding circuit, competing in U.S. and Canadian cities. Mr. Carrier said he consulted Dr. Galea about when to start his next cycle - the intervals, which last around three months, when steroid users adhere to a strict schedule of injections.

"I'd go and see Tony and make sure when I was going back on … if my [blood]count was right, he'd say, 'Okay, you can go on your next cycle.' If it was too high, he'd say, 'Wait a while.' You know? So I benefited greatly from that guy."

Dr. Galea declined repeated requests for an interview but agreed to answer written questions through his lawyer. Mr. Greenspan described Dr. Galea's approach to bodybuilders as a classic harm-reduction strategy, treating them much like drug addicts or alcoholics, but denied that he'd ever advised anyone when to start or stop a steroid cycle.

"You don't throw them out of your office because they're a substance abuser…," he said. "You try to treat the medical issues that their substance abuse has created. That's the only reason they're in his practice, period."

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