In the immediate aftermath of his son’s suicide in July 2003, when Don Hooton struggled to understand the hows and the whys connected to Taylor Hooton’s death, all the while navigating through unimaginable grief, Don Hooton says a comment a member of the Plano, Texas law enforcement had made to Don Hooton resonated loudly.
The detective, Hooton says, had inferred that the steroids authorities had found in Taylor’s bedroom might be connected to his suicide. Hooton says that his son suffered from depression and was prone to outbursts, both common symptoms of hardcore steroid users.
“My first instinct was to go to work to find out why,” Hooton told the Daily News in an email. “I began feverishly looking for information and for experts that were willing to talk to me. One of the names that came up regularly was Dr. Gary Wadler.”
Hooton, the founder and the executive chairman of the non-profit Taylor Hooton Foundation – whose mission is to educate the youth in America about the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs and unregulated dietary supplements – spoke fondly of the friendship and impact Wadler had on him and the foundation following Wadler’s death Tuesday. Wadler was 78.
“I called Dr. Wadler and he was more than willing to spend time with me on multiple calls helping me understand the causal relationship between anabolic steroid usage and severe depression and, therefore, suicide. During one of our many conversations, Gary suggested that we form a non-profit organization to raise awareness about the widespread scope of the problem and to educate parents about what to look for that might tell them that their kids are using,” said Hooton. “So, in early 2004, we filed our paperwork and formed an IRS-approved non-profit. Dr. Wadler was our first chairman of our board of directors and we got to work together for a number of years on this cause.
“Since then, we have educated well over one million adults and kids across the U.S., Canada and Latin America. Along the way, the board unanimously elected (Wadler) Chairman Emeritus where he has remained ever since,” added Hooton.
Wadler’s wife, Nancy, told The News that it was the one phone call between her husband and Hooton “which started everything.”
“Gary said to Don, ‘Why don’t you start a foundation, and find a way to make this a meaningful journey?’” said Nancy Wadler.
A year after Taylor’s death, in July 2004, Hooton testified at a Senate hearing in which former Vice President and Sen. Joe Biden and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) presided. In 2005, when the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing on performance-enhancing drug use in baseball, both Hooton and Wadler testified before committee members.
“Gary was a fierce advocate for clean sport,” said Travis Tygart, the chief executive officer of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. “He was selfless in his service and his impact on the movement is immeasurable.”
Wadler, a Long Island internist, and who was also the former chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Prohibited List and Methods Committee, died from complications of a neurodegenerative disease called multiple system atrophy, his wife said.
“It’s rare, and it’s confused with Parkinson’s,” Nancy Wadler said.
Gary Wadler, who is survived by his wife, a daughter and son, two grandchildren and a brother, was a frequent voice in media coverage of the doping issue in sports during the last two decades. And it was Wadler’s years-long friendship with Hooton that helped propel the Taylor Hooton Foundation to the forefront of the anti-doping movement.
“I will always cherish the time that I got to work with Dr. Wadler and admire his intellect and compassion on this important topic,” said Hooton. “He was certainly ahead of his time in recognizing the importance and danger of this growing epidemic. He will be missed.”