This story was written and performed by then 17-year-old, Daniel Hersh, for Oral Fixation (An Obsession with True Life Tales) at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary in Dallas, Texas on April 17, 2012. The theme of the show was "Have a Field Day." Daniel now attends Northwestern University
Oral Fixation creator Nicole Stewart says, "Despite his young age, Daniel showed incredible strength in sharing his experience with HGH. I selected this story for publishing for its bravery and vulnerability."
There it is. Sitting on my dresser is the team picture. That team picture that I hate.
Standing in baggy cream-colored pants and a green short sleeve shirt, each member of my team looks forward towards center field during the national anthem.
All except me.
I'm looking back over my right shoulder at the camera, my hat's yellow bill tilted slightly to the left. But that's not why I hate this photo.
I don't hate it because we lost that game. I don't hate it because I struck out three times that game. I don't hate it because I made two errors that game. I hate it because I come up to the chest of the next shortest player on the field. At nine years old and less than four feet tall, I was embarrassingly small. I was that kid.
That kid who looked out of place. That kid at the bottom of the pack. That kid who got pushed around.
Years prior to that photo, I was a stud at every sport I played. I batted leadoff and struck out only once in three years. Once in a summer soccer league in Santa Fe, I scored ten goals in the first half, I'm not even kidding, so the refs said that I had to play goalie in the second half. I didn't give a goal.
But my athletic success was short-lived. Everyone else started growing. I waited a year or two, and still didn't grow. I told myself I was just a late bloomer. I'd grow soon enough, right? Nothing to worry about, I said. I still couldn't prove that was true.
The next fall, I started to play football. Running back and safety. On offense I was quick and elusive, but not fast enough to outrun anyone on the field. Within a few strides, anyone could catch my miniature body. On defense, I hit my opponents with all my power, but they didn't move an inch. I was the one on the ground in pain.
My dad saw my pain and acted. He took me to an endocrinologist who gave me a diagnosis: a lack of natural human growth hormone in my pituitary gland.
"Here's a chart of boys' growth," Dr. Kendall said. "The top line is the 100th percentile, the bottom line is the zero percentile." Her smile vanished. "This is you." Her finger slid well below the zero percentile line. "At this rate, you'll be five feet tall at best. But we can change that."
A way out of the misery and frustration? How?
I tug at my father's sleeve. "But Dad, steroids are bad, right?"
Technically, human growth hormone is not a steroid. But my ten-year-old mind saw no difference. There was still an injection. There was still muscle and bone growth. There was still embarrassment.
I didn't want to take it, so I challenged my dad's decision. "Dad, I'm just a late bloomer. I'll be fine. I don't want to take a shot every day."
But he made me take it. He said it would help me in the future. My first time to take the shot was in the doctor's office. Dr. Kendall gave it to me in my thigh. I tried my hardest to make it look like it didn't hurt.
The second night, though, was my worst. My dad took it out of the fridge to defrost a little and put it on my desk. I sat there, looking at this little green shot. The day before, I hadn't faced the fact that I was actually going to do this every day.
I guess I thought I'd do it once with Dr. Kendall, then grow a foot overnight. My dad came in and asked where I wanted it that night. Not my thigh, because that was now bruised. "How about your butt?" he asked. "Um, okay."
I kneeled down on the ground and slightly pulled my boxers down so he could stick the meat of my ass. He jammed it in. That one hurt. He held it in for the longest five seconds of my life, then took it out. He went downstairs, leaving me in the room.
Butt-bloodied, I got in the shower, still in shock from the shot. The warm water engulfed my body and washed the blood droplets off. But I still felt dirty. I felt that kind of dirty that no amount of water could wash off. I dropped to my knees and sobbed.
I wasn't crying because I just stuck a needle in my butt. I wasn't crying because my body will have a bruise somewhere on it at all times for the next five years. I was crying because I felt that I had given up. I had admitted that I couldn't keep up with even the least athletic of my friends. That I was too weak to keep competing. And then there was the embarrassment of facing my friends.
So I tried my best to hide it. The first time I spent the night at a friend's house, I hid it in a brown paper bag. "I have to go to the bathroom," I explained.
After "doing my business," I slowly turned the knob and saw his questioning face. He didn't ask why I brought the brown paper bag into the bathroom, but his face told me he was wondering.
Regardless of the embarrassment, I took it. Every day. For five years. And eventually, I grew. And I grew. And I grew.
Soon, I was giving it to myself in the stomach, no longer ashamed of "doing my business." Because it worked.
Winter of my sophomore year, I stepped onto the soccer field and met my opponent. I saw him eye-to-eye for the first time ever. I covered him and kept up with him step for step. Now, seven years and more than a foot and a half removed from that team photo, I could finally take the soccer field without being self-conscious.
In the championship soccer game this last February, there were no snickers. No one asked who let the midget on the field. Instead, I didn't attract any attention from the fans or my opponents.
My man to mark was a six foot two senior. All-Conference player his junior and senior year. Me and my five foot eight frame mirrored his every move. I outran, outworked and outplayed him. As a defender, I found a way to shut him down. And when that final whistle blew, we were up 1-0.
We all dog piled each other, screaming at the top of our lungs. It was our school's first title since 1985.
Finally. It had all paid off.
Sticking myself in my arm, stomach or butt all those thousands of times. Finally paid off.
The parents came out onto the field and I saw my dad. Gave him a huge hug. I wasn't thinking about it in that moment, but something is clear to me now: I would never have been in that championship game if it weren't for him. He's the one who knew what was best for me in the long run.
I can see now that if he had listened to my pleas not to take HGH, there's no way I would have been there. I would have probably been sitting at home, watching TV, or doing homework, or maybe I would have even been watching from the sideline. I probably would not have even tried out for the team this year, because I would have gotten cut my freshman and sophomore years.
Now, there's a new team picture. But I love this one.
This time, I'm in the middle of the pack, holding the SPC championship trophy, my head even with everyone else's.
Finally, I'm a kind-of-short player that the other team doesn't laugh at. One who can actually make a difference in a game. And that's all I ever wanted.