Kinesiology professor brings fresh perspective to steroid research

Julian “Jules” Woolf is a lifelong, drug-free athlete who is adamantly opposed to the use of steroids in sports, but has a slightly different take than most on how an anti-doping message ought to be conveyed to athletes looking for ways to artificially enhance their performance.

“The message that comes out is that steroids will kill you,” said Dr. Woolf, a new assistant professor in kinesiology. “The fact is, there is little empirical support for this. The potential for harm is overplayed, so the message loses credibility. We need a more informative approach.”

It’s a subject that Woolf has come to know intimately. A champion power lifter who broke 14 records in 1988 and 1989 while he was still in England, he’s just finishing a one-year World Anti-Doping Agency funded study he started while still working at Western Illinois University on high school athletes and their beliefs about the use of steroids. And he has permission to conduct research in Las Vegas gyms to examine doping practices in mixed martial arts, but is seeking sources of funding.

All of the research he’s done on the subject has provided him with a macro-level perspective surrounding steroids, the predominant cultural beliefs about them and the changes in attitude that need to occur for athletes to stop using them.

“We’re a performance enhancing society,” he said. “We’ve reached an era where aging is almost considered a disease. Winning is everything. The use of steroids poses some deeper philosophical questions: Who are we as humans? Are we meant to be these high-performance, ultra-efficient machines? We actually dehumanize ourselves by taking steroids.”

Born in Nova Scotia, Woolf moved to England as a child and eventually majored in sport studies at the University of Wolverhampton in the Midlands. After graduating, he worked as the strength and conditioning coach for the Birmingham Bullets, a professional basketball team in Europe.

He moved to the U.S. and spent eight years at the University of Texas, completing a master’s degree in exercise physiology and a PhD in sport management while working on strength and conditioning with a number of Longhorn athletic squads. He spent three years as a lecturer there and loved life in Austin, but left when a tenure track position became available at Western Illinois University. After a year there, a position became available at UWindsor and he jumped at the opportunity.

“Returning to Canada was one of my life’s goals,” he said. “Windsor just provided the right time and the right department. I was blown away in my interview. It might sound a little cliché to say it’s like a family, but I walked away from that interview thinking that I really wanted to be part of that family. This is what I was looking for in terms of a career home.”

Woolf will be teaching an experiential learning course this semester in research methods. In his spare time, he likes to exercise, read and spend quality time with Lennox, his nine-year-old border collie.

Editor's note: this is one of a series of feature articles about new faculty members who have joined the University of Windsor this year.

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