Interview by Ron Harris
I first met James ‘Flex’ Lewis at the 2006 Olympia Expo, though I had heard about him at least a year before. He was only 22 years old, but already had a physique on him that was pro caliber. Shortly afterward, the two-time Junior British Champion won the light-heavies at the British Championships but missed the Overall and pro card. He had also just signed with Gaspari Nutrition. What impressed me most about Flex wasn’t his muscular development, but his humble and mature attitude for such a young guy. He was also possessed with a fierce determination to be the best bodybuilder he could be. In 2007 he swept the British light-heavies and Overall as its youngest-ever champion. All well and good, but now it was time to start all over again as a pro, where he would be up against the very best physique athletes in the world. Not much was expected of him as he geared up for his debut in the 202 class at the Tampa Pro – except to those who knew Lewis and had been watching his steady improvements. Placing second there, he went on to win the 202 class in a field of 25 seasoned veterans the following weekend at the Europa Pro. The 24-year-old had gained an astonishing 12 pounds of quality muscle since turning pro only ten months before, going from 183 to 195 pounds with even better condition. I was fortunate enough to speak with him just days later, as he was just a few weeks away from standing on the Olympia stage at the 202 Showdown. He was on zero carbs and low in energy, but bursting with excitement and nervous energy about recent events and in anticipation of standing on stage in Las Vegas soon.
RH: Flex my man, last time we spoke you were still an amateur. You’ve been competing as a pro for only a couple weeks now, and already you have a win under your belt. How does it feel?
FL: To be honest, it hasn’t sunk in yet. Tampa was such a big occasion. Standing on stage as a pro was something I had been dreaming about since I was fifteen, and there I was. As soon as that show was over, I was immediately focused on my prep for the Europa. Since then I have been so busy with various photo shoots and traveling that I haven’t really had a chance to sit down and think about what it all means yet. I remember that winning the British Nationals and turning pro didn’t really hit me until months later in the off-season when I was fat and happy. Suddenly I was like, whoa – I’m a pro now! I’m sure that something similar will happen with these shows. You can’t appreciate it all until later when things have calmed down a bit.
RH: There were some real veterans at the show, guys that were anywhere from ten to fifteen years older than you and who have been around a long time. Were you confident going into the event that your age and relative lack of experience wouldn’t matter?
FL: I didn’t dwell on who was going to be there. You can’t do that. I focused on my prep and everything I had to do in order to be at my very best. At the same time, I was very excited and honored to be standing up there. I was getting callouts with guys like Dennis James- Darrem Charles= to name just a few, who I have been reading about for years and years. It was a surreal experience. I had no false illusions that I was going to dominate the show or anything like that. My intent was to show how hard I had been working, and the judges would sort it all out as they saw fit.
RH: Let’s go back a year. How did you become associated with Gaspari Nutrition? What things struck you as being different about them?
FL: I had actually been using SuperPump, Size-On, and Cytolean in the months leading up to the British Championships. I was very pleased with the results. Rich found out about this, and we met for the first time at the 2007 Europa show. Rich was very interested in my career and I liked the products a lot, so we started corresponding back and forth and talking about the possibility of me working with the company. A few weeks later at the Mr. Olympia weekend, I signed on the dotted line and became the first official athlete to endorse Gaspari Nutrition. I had always wanted to get with a reputable company with products I actually used and believed in, both from a business and a moral point of view. I used to be that guy coming up to the booth asking about the products and what they could do for me. Now I would be the one behind the booth. It was critical to me that I could look that person in the eye and tell them that yes, these products will work for you. I should note that other companies had been making offers and certainly were willing to pay me to endorse their products, but that’s not enough. With Gaspari, I actually use all the products and I feel very confident recommending them.
RH: Which products did you use at first, and how did you rate them in terms of other products you had used before?
FL: I had a very short off-season before the British Nationals, only about six months. I i stacked SuperPump 250, Size-On, and was able to put on four pounds of new muscle. I know, because I was 179 at the 2006 Brits and 183 at the 2007 when I won, and I didn’t change anything else about my training or my diet.
Then in my offseason of 2007-2008 i stacked Novedex XT, Intra Pro, SuperPump 250, Size-On, and the New Plasma jet, and in less than a year later, I was 200 at the Tampa show, though that was a bit too heavy. I was 193 when I won the 202 class at the Europa, so that’s another ten pounds of solid muscle. So to say I am a believer in these products would be an understatement.
RH: I know he was probably a little before your time, but were you a fan of Rich Gaspari, the Dragonslayer, like I was starting out?
FL: The three guys I looked up to were Tom Platz, Lee Priest, Neil Hill as he was the first pro i met and Rich.
Rich was a pioneer in conditioning. He was the first guy to ever have striated glutes! I always admired his work ethic and how he used condition and muscle density to beat taller, heavier competitors. Now it’s come full circle and I am actually friends with the man. He texts me and busts my balls all the time to make sure I am staying on track. It’s hard to believe that I personally know one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time, and that he’s helping me with my career now.
RH: How closely have you been able to work with Rich? I heard that he actually helped you out quite a bit for the Europa show.
FL: The first thing Rich did was to help me with my posing. The day before the Europa show, he came to my hotel room and worked with me for only about fifteen minutes on my mandatories, but in that short time Rich was able to fix my side chest, front and rear lat spread poses so I looked much better. I was amazed at how subtle little shifts in where I positioned my arms and shoulders and so on made such a tremendous difference. Now I will never hit those shots the way I did before. But the really fun part was backstage at the Europa. Rich was running around all frantic and stressed like he was the one competing, not me! He was back there with me, touching up my oil and giving me little pep talks, and all the other guys were staring. I’m sure it was a sight to see – this rookie pro being helped by an IFBB Hall of Famer, a guy that was second only to Lee Haney for years. They were joking around and saying stuff like, “How come my sponsor isn’t back here helping me like this?” While I was on stage, Rich was sitting front and center with the photographers yelling out things like “Legs! Abs! Lean back!” Just little reminders. When I came offstage after winning the 202 class, Rich came up to give me a hug, but I had to stop him. He had on very nice clothes, an Ed Hardy shirt and all that, and he would have ruined them all with tanning color and oil when he still had awards to give out later on. But the smile on his face and the pride in his eyes were priceless. He told me that he was living through me now, since his contest days were long past. When I think that when Rich was my age, he was competing at the Mr. Olympia against Lee Haney, it’s wild. To have someone of his caliber encouraging me and helping me is just brilliant.
RH: Were you nervous for your first pro show? How was it different from the amateur events you have competed in?
FL: I was nervous, but it was more like nervous energy, if you know what I mean. I’d have to say the main difference was that there was so much more camaraderie backstage. I couldn’t believe how courteous and hospitable everybody was. Dennis James was really cool. He treated me like a little brother and was constantly joking around and laughing to help ease my nerves and keep me calm. That’s important, because stress will make you hold water. The show was run fantastically, too. It was totally organized. The only downer was that I had digestive problems during my carb-up and wasn’t in my best condition in Tampa. Luckily all went much better at the Europa.
RH: Your coach from Wales, Neil Hill made it out to Tampa for your pro debut. What was it like having the man who has been with you since your first contest on hand for such a momentous occasion?
FL: That was wonderful. Neil was a judge at my first contest and the first Pro Bodybuilding i met, hes been working with me and doing my nutrition ever since we met. He knows my physique backwards and forwards even better than I do. Neil is more like a big brother to me than a Nutritonist, and he’s been there to guide me not only through my bodybuilding struggles, but life in general. He’s a father of two and a family man, so he gives me a great perspective on how to keep all this stuff balanced. It was only fitting that he was there for my first time as a pro. He couldn’t make it to the Europa, and he was quite upset about that. But he stayed up to watch the entire web cast, which meant with the time difference that it was over at six in the morning his time! Neil is a cornerstone in my life and I know he will always be there for me. With him and Rich on my team, I feel there is nothing I can’t do.
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