Flex Wheeler has battled health issues for the last several years, but it hasn’t stopped him from discussing bodybuilding. In an exclusive DigitalMuscleTV interview, Wheeler joined Shawn Ray to talk about his health issues and being honored with the Arnold Classic Lifetime Achievement Award next month.
“I think that really helped me to walk away from bodybuilding because I had to deal with these problems health-wise,” shared Flex Wheeler.
Wheeler pushed himself into the bodybuilding limelight with exceptional conditioning, symmetry, and round muscle bellies. His aesthetics and work ethic guided him to a total of four Arnold Classic titles (1993, 1997, 1998, 2000). While he never hoisted a Sandow above his shoulders at Mr. Olympia, Wheeler came close, having finished runner-up three times (1993,1998,1999).
Unfortunately, Wheeler’s contributions to bodybuilding came at a cost. Over the years, he’s been subject to several surgeries. The 57-year-old was forced to have his right leg amputated in 2019. Making matters worse, Wheeler’s kidneys recently showed signs of failure after he received a transplant following a car accident in 2003.
Ronnie Coleman, an eight-time Olympia winner who often shared the stage with Wheeler, accepted an Arnold Classic Lifetime Achievement Award in 2021. At the ceremony, ‘The King’ was overwhelmed with emotion. The latest recipient of the prestigious award is Flex Wheeler and he joined Shawn Ray to recap a career full of adversity.
Flex Wheeler Updates on Focal Glomerular Scoliosis: Doctors ‘Told Me There’s No Cure and I’ll Pass Away From This’
Initially, when Wheeler found out about his FSGS, he looked like a ‘demi-God’ and refused to believe the diagnosis. Over time, he realized he was having to work harder to get in shape for contests.
“Yeah. I didn’t understand. I have FSGS, Focal Glomerular Scoliosis and at that time, there was only one other popular person who had that, and he was a basketball player, I won’t say his name – definitely, Alonzo Mourning. So, I still looked like a demi-God, so it’s like when they told me, ‘You have FGS, it’s the most aggressive and deadliest kidney disease known to mind, and there’s no cure, you will pass away from this.’
I was like, ‘how is that true?’ Because if you’re looking in the mirror, I’m looking like I’m unbreakable. But they were right. I couldn’t understand it. I came back in 1999 after being diagnosed with that – I came back and competed at the Olympia and everything 2002 and won the Arnold Classic. But then it starts getting worse. It started being really hard to be in shape. What I had to do to dry myself. I had to be more and more aggressive.”
After competing naturally in 2003, Wheeler’s doctor told him he had to stop bodybuilding because excessive eating and drinking were too dangerous.
“Even when I competed naturally in 2003, I ended up in the hospital that night again. I really didn’t understand, and the doctor is like, ‘you can’t ever do this anymore.’ I’m like why? He goes, ‘the food that you eat, how much water you drink, potassium, it’s all dangerous, it could kill you. I just didn’t understand. I didn’t take anything to get ready for that show, no diuretics or anything. That really sealed the deal for me,” says Flex Wheeler.
Wheeler says Bodybuilding Has Changed: Internet Has Put ‘Distance Between Us’
Given the comradery of his bodybuilding era, Wheeler insists the landscape has changed, especially due to the internet.
“Because of Weider, we traveled the world. Now – it’s just different you know, with the internet. It’s such a double-edged sword. And it doesn’t feel like it’s brought everybody together. It’s actually put a distance between us. Being able to do that, I just love it. I try to be responsible about when I train people.”
Wheeler mentioned that most people today are more concerned with the drug aspects of bodybuilding.
“Most of the people, unfortunately now, their first question is what drugs am I going to do. My response to them is ‘I can’t help you, you’re a drug addict not an athlete if that’s your first thought.’ I just want to be pure. Not to preach or anything like that, but I truly feel that’s what I was put here for. All the bad things that’s happened, being raped, being beaten, being homeless, losing my leg, kidney transplant – I couldn’t relate to those people if I didn’t go through these times,” Flex Wheeler shared.
Wheeler on Being Next Arnold Classic Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient: ‘I Didn’t Feel I Deserved That Type of Accolade’
According to Wheeler, he wasn’t expecting this honor in March. He found out that he would be a part of the ceremony back in September at the 2022 Arnold Classic UK.
“So they [Arnold organizers] didn’t tell me, I was in England at the Arnold Classic there. They told me to stay in my seat. I was getting ready to go to the bathroom, then they told me, ‘Stay in your seat.’ So, then they play that video I had no idea – you know me, I’m a huge crybaby. I wear my emotions on my sleeve, good and bad. I just didn’t feel like I deserved that. I didn’t feel like I deserved that type of accolade.”
In spite of numerous health issues, Wheeler doesn’t miss an opportunity to test his strength at the gym. He recently turned heads with a leg press training session, where he inspired others using a prosthetic leg.
Given his storied career, Flex Wheeler deserves praise for his continued involvement in the sport. In less than two weeks, fans will have the chance to come together and honor the sacrifices he made to elevate bodybuilding.