Peter McGough, The Day I Told Flex To Pack In Bodybuilding

16 February, 2013

These peepers watched Rich Gaspari, true to his Dragonslayer nickname storm the bodybuilding heights to earn three consecutive Mr. Olympia runner-up spots (1986-’88) by age 25. He was more blue collar than a steel town tavern on Superbowl night and a hard ass in every sense of the word, being the instigator of the ripped glutes look. Despite having been only a Lee Haney away from triple Sandow success I’d never seen him register a flicker of emotion, his jutting New Jerseyite lower lip never threatened to tremble. Yes, indeed, physiquewise and emotionwise the word “blubber could never be connected to bodybuilding’s version of James Cagney. So imagine my surprise when going backstage to see this iron man of the iron game with tears cascading down his cheeks as he gave a congratulatory hug to Flex Lewis following the latter’s 212 Showdown victory last September 29, 2012 in Las Vegas. Gaspari Nutrition sponsors Lewis but the bond goes much deeper as Gaspari offered by way of explanation, “He’s like my son”. That’s the kind of paternal effect the new 212 champ has on you. I know this from personal experience.


It’s July 2005 and I’m walking along the Venice, California, boardwalk with 21-year-old James “Flex” Lewis. He had just won a slew of UK and international Junior titles and had been introduced to me by British photographer Geoff Collins who had been the first to alert me to a certain Dorian Yates. In his thick Welsh brogue Flex excitedly told me how he was going to gamble all he had and come to Venice to work as a personal trainer and pursue his pro card. He was, and is, an immensely likeable young man but I had seen shots of him and honestly, although his legs were even then world class, I doubted he could bring his torso up to the same level. I didn’t want him to spend his money, time, energy and enthusiasm in search of a dream that wasn’t going to happen. And so it was on that idyllic California afternoon I spent two hours advising the future 212 champ to go home, enjoy his bodybuilding, but find an alterative revenue earning career. But my walking partner would not listen and insisted he would make it. I shook my head having done all I could to dissuade him. But he was right and I was wrong.


He moved to Venice and by dint of brutish effort he slowly and methodically began to mold his upper body into musculature compatible with his knockout quads, hams and calves. In 2007 he earned his pro card by winning the light heavy and overall titles at the British Nationals. The following year he won the 202 class at the Europa Supershow and was third in that division’s finals at the Olympia weekend. By then he had hooked up with fellow Welshman and contest advisor Neil Hill and inked a Gaspari sponsorship deal. In 2009 he slipped to fifth at the 202 Olympia. He and Hill re-evaluated and decided he had to skip competition in 2010 in order to make the gains necessary to be competitive with Kevin English and Co. Now let it be said, it’s common for a bodybuilder to say they’re going to take a year out to make major improvements, and then when they re-appear it’s the same old, same old. Lewis is different. Such is his ability to deliver Fed-Ex are talking sponsorship. He returned in 2011 with bigger arms, a new back, and improved chest plus a dry and crisp conditioning which many thought (I was one) had beaten eventual champ Kevin English.

In digesting the loss Lewis did not shed a tear, but things were so different when he was announced 212 Showdown champ on the Olympia stage last year. Between sobs he thanked the fans, and all who supported him. In the searing spotlight of audience attention and worldwide web exposure the fact that he is a thoroughly humble and decent young man was abundantly clear. Which is why a few minutes later the Gaspari and Lewis tear ducts felt the need to put another spin on solving a major bodybuilding contest prep problem: Water retention.

Course, if Flex had followed my advice, instead of being a main attraction in Vegas, he could have been playing darts

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in a Welsh pub.

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