Fedor Tot speaks to Llanelli-born bodybuilder James ‘Flex’ Lewis, who recently equalled Arnold Schwarzenegger’s record of six Mr. Olympia titles, about his success and future plans.
What does sort of mentality does it take to be a bodybuilder?
This is a psychologist’s dream. I have a lot of friends from various types of sports, from fighting to rugby to football. Every one of them trains at the beginning of the season, so that their physical fitness peak is before a season. A bodybuilder starts off at a higher body fat, and then the closer you get to a show and the better you look, the worse you feel. Psychologically you’re always playing that battle. There’s only one mirror I will look at ever (though obviously I brush my teeth and so on in my bathroom mirror), and that’s the one at the gym. I know that I’m going to look better or worse in that mirror, as opposed to looking in one mirror at home, then looking at my physique in another on the same day, maybe 10 minutes apart, then because of the lighting and stuff like that, it creates mind games. Then there’s the mindset of training as a warrior. I segregated myself from a regular gym and created a gym in Boca Raton, Florida, where I live. There are no trainers or members, it’s just me vs me in a 10,000sq ft building. I don’t have distractions, so if I fail it’s on me.
You began bodybuilding when you were in the gym after a rugby injury, have you ever wondered how differently your career might have gone if you’d kept playing rugby?
Funnily enough I went down to see the boys in Cardiff play when I was home last, and I definitely had a lot of flashbacks. It’s fun to have the camaraderie that you have in a rugby team because you’re going into a game and you have that team bond. I have a lot of dear friends within the bodybuilding world that I stand against on stage, but it’s not a team. I was scouted to go off to England and play rugby up there, and I played for the college rugby team and we won the British championship. A lot of the guys that I played with are at the tail end of their career or have retired, but the guys who are still playing remind me that I’m living a better life than them in the sun, so I don’t know [laughs]. I know what I’ve had to do to get to this point, pushing my body to the limits, but I also know that these guys who play rugby, they batter themselves too. I do miss it, but I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for what I’ve got right now.
Arnold Schwarzenegger is one of your big idols. Do you see yourself following his footsteps?
I’d say no at the moment. Arnold is a very unique person. What that guy does with everything he’s ever touched is absolutely remarkable. He said he was going to be a bodybuilder and he was written off. He went to the U.S., couldn’t speak English, taught himself English and then became the greatest bodybuilder ever. Then he said he was going to become an actor – with his accent they said he was never going to be an actor. Then he decided to become the Governor of California. He embodies the American dream. I believe in the American dream – a lot of people will say that it’s dead but I for sure feel like I’m living it – I’ve put my whole heart into it, and I never give up during the good and the bad times. There’s obviously more bad than good, with Trump at the moment, but again it’s the mindset that I have, it really is. You only get out of it what you put into it.