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The Dragon Slayer Speaks

Rich Gaspari - the dragon slayer
Flex Lewis – The Welsh Dragon Triumphs!

Last weekend was a proud moment for me as I watched James 'Flex' Lewis become the first-ever 212 Showdown Champion. Flex is much, much more than a Gaspari Nutrition athlete to me. Over the years, he's also become a real friend.

Flex was actually the very first athlete I ever signed to represent Gaspari Nutrition. When I met him six years ago, I thought he was already a pro at 22 years old. Flex had won the Light-heavyweight title at the 2006 British Championships, but it's actually far more difficult in the United Kingdom to earn IFBB Pro status. Only one man - the Overall Champion - gets that each year. Of course, Flex did go on to win the Overall there the following year and moved to the USA to pursue his bodybuilding dreams.

But even before that, it was clear to me that Flex had all the makings of a future star. He had an incredible structure and shape, great legs, and his calves were some of the best I'd ever seen. More importantly, I saw a lot of my younger self in him. Flex had that drive and hunger to be the best, and he eager to work as hard as he had to in order to fulfill his potential.

The evolution of Flex as an athlete paralleled that of my company, which was still in its infancy stages in 2006 compared to what it is today. Some athletes weren't a good fit for the company and faded away fast from the public eye, but Flex's popularity only increased exponentially every year. As it so happened, a new division called the 202's was starting up that would provide opportunities for the smaller pros who often couldn't compete with the 250-pound mass monsters that were dominating the sport. Flex had a great rookie season in 2008, winning his first 202 show at the Dallas Europa and taking seventh in the Open show (this was when competitors were still allowed to enter both divisions) before placing third at his first 202 Showdown at the Mr. Olympia.

It wasn't a steady climb to the top. Flex had his share of ups and downs along the way, just as Gaspari Nutrition did in growing the company. We actually became good friends as we wound up traveling together to various events and appearances around the world; places like Europe, India, and Australia to name a few. Anywhere we went, he was always fired up to train. And this kid always trained hard! He was shocked that here I was, 20 years his senior, and still pushing him to the wall in terms of intensity. He's very competitive like me and never allowed me to 'out-work' him, and we soon had a deep mutual respect for each other. I was never his 'trainer,' per se, but I did show him a lot of tips and techniques I had learned before he was even born. Flex was always willing to learn, because like any true champion he realized that there is always more to know, and you can always improve. One area I was able to help him out a lot with was his posing. It's funny that one of my old signature shots became one of his. It's the back shot with the arms extended out and down, flexing the entire back, glutes, and hams. Flex made it all his own, showing a crystal-clear Christmas tree, carved-out glutes and hams, and again - those crazy calves of his.

As we became better friends, Flex would come to me more and more for advice on business and even relationships. He admired and respected what I had been able to accomplish and told me he wants to follow in my footsteps of being a great champion, a successful business owner, and then to be able to give back to the bodybuilding and fitness industry.

This year's Showdown was an incredible show. It was the first time the weight limit had been raised from 202 to 212, and Flex took full advantage of it by coming in at 205 - about 17-18 pounds heavier than he had been the first time he stepped on the Olympia stage four years ago. Back then, he had been nowhere near winner David Henry; but this was not the same rookie that had faced him then. As great as Henry looked, Flex looked better; and beat him with an amazing package of mass, shape, symmetry, condition, and presentation. Flex had nothing but respect for David and had looked up to him for years, but now it was his time.

It was emotional watching Flex crowned as the best 212-pound bodybuilder in the world. I'd watched him grow from a shy kid from the countryside of Wales, a place with medieval castle ruins and sheep, to one of the absolute most popular bodybuilders in the sport with fans on every continent. Congratulations to Flex on a hard-fought and well-deserved win. I'm proud to call him a Gaspari Nutrition athlete, and even more proud to call him my friend.

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