Tell Him He Can't And He Will

He's got Three consecutive Mr. Olympia finished behind one of the greatest bodybuilder in history, eight-time Mr. Olympia Lee Haney. In Arnold's own words, “this guy is an animal.” And he's right. In Rich Gaspari's mind, there's nothing he can't do. Especially when someone tells him so.

I first met Rich Gaspari in 1987 before his second assault on his old training partner, Lee Haney, the only man on earth standing between him and the Olympia title – the absolute zenith of any bodybuilder’s life on earth. Of course I knew of Rich; if you were a bodybuilder you knew who Rich Gaspari was. In fact, at the time, you could say I was a fan. I was working for a chiropractor in Santa Monica who specialized in pro athletes. I’d see Rich come into the office every week for adjustments and deep tissue work. He was one of those bodybuilders who left no stone unturned. 

All of 24, with the muscle maturity of a bodybuilder twice his age, Rich Gaspari was a brash, cocky kid from South Jersey, with a world class bodybuilding physique, who was so focused on winning the Olympia, he couldn’t have squeezed in another thought if he tried. We got along, I suppose, because I was a brash, cocky kid from New York, who actually admitted he liked the Jersey shore better than the beaches on Long Island. And, of course, we’re both bodybuilders and 100% Italian, with familial roots in the construction biz. We’ve been friends ever since. 

Other than the Hudson river, the thing that separated us was the fact that Richy had every right to be brash and cocky. This kid, four years younger than I, had already bagged his IFBB pro card. Doing so at 21 years of age made him the youngest pro bodybuilder in the sport. The icing on that cake came one week later when he won the Mr. Universe, making him – to this day – the youngest Mr. Universe of all time. For the next five years, Rich would compete in 18 pro shows. With the exception of a 3rd place finish in his first Olympia in 1985, in the remaining 17 shows, he took 2nd eight times - three in a row at the Olympia - and won the rest, including the first Arnold Classic in 1989. 

This incredible contest history not withstanding, no pantheon of modern bodybuilding would be complete without Rich Gaspari, because of where he, and he alone, set the bar for conditioning. Rich was the first bodybuilder in history to present striated glutes. I’m not particularly enthralled about having to talk about my friend’s ass cheeks here, but they are, nevertheless, pivotal items in bodybuilding history. Those striations set the conditioning standard that would mark the subsequent reign of the 90’s as the greatest era in the history of the sport, and known forever as the “classic era of bodybuilding.” After Rich, no pro bodybuilder’s physique would be considered complete without the conditioning marked by striated glutes. At no time since, have bodybuilders brought the level of conditioning to the stage that Rich ushered in. 

What makes these accomplishments so notable is the fact that Rich did not have stellar bodybuilding genetics. As I hope you know by now, genetics is the apex pre-requisite as far as any bodybuilding pursuit goes. What Rich exemplifies is ferociously rare. He overcame what his genetics lacked by out working everyone else. He’d wear out training partners like canyon racers wear out tires. Rich was an absolutely ruthless, unbreakable, animal in the gym and everyone knew it, including eight time Mr. Olympia, Lee Haney, who recruited Rich to be his training partner during his Olympia prep. Lee literally had 7 billion other people in the world he could have chosen for that position, but he chose Rich because of how hard he worked, which he knew, would be how hard it would make him work. 

In Lee’s mind, it would be the classic Biblical reference to steel sharpening steel. And, as history tells, it worked. Rich and Lee trained in “the Valley” at the Gold’s gym in Reseda, CA. I trained at the Gold’s in Venice. Even in the days before social media and instant messaging – cell phones too for that matter - everyone in Gold’s Venice would be talking about how brutal Lee and Richy were training in Resida. The members there would call and tell the guys working the desk what they were doing and they’d tell the rest of us. One day, about two weeks before the Olympia, Lee and Rich showed up at the gym eating Tofuti frozen yogurt cones! Phones started ringing all over the world! News of that sacrilege spread faster than a California wildfire during a drought. Such stories became legends. 

You cannot possibly be successful as a pro bodybuilder unless you believe, with every fiber of your being, that this is what you’re going to do. And Rich is the classic example of what I mean by that..... 

In 1983, Rich took a disappointing 5th in the Nationals. He was determined to come back the next year and win, which would qualify him for the Mr. Universe (IFBB World Amateur Championships) where, if he won, would earn him professional athlete status (back in those days, they didn’t hand out pro cards like candy, like they do today. Becoming a card carrying IFBB pro bodybuilder was a HUGE deal). And, he did. He came back the next year, one weight class lighter and took 1st in the light-heavies, earning his coveted qualification for the Universe in Vegas a week later. 

This feat was something he not only envisioned, but also sold to his family, who he wanted to attend. But, it gets better..... Several weeks out from Nationals, while Rich was telling his family to book flights and hotels for that show in New Orleans, he told them they also needed to book flights and hotel accommodations in Las Vegas a week later, because, Rich told them, he was going to turn right around after winning the Nationals and win the Mr. Universe. Not compete in the Mr. Universe, but win it and turn pro. And he wanted his family there to see it. 

There was simply no doubt in his mind about that, and he convinced his family to pony up the funds for all that traveling from and to New Jersey. Well, long story short, in spite of everyone telling Rich he couldn’t do that, that’s exactly what he did. And he was the youngest guy to ever do it. “Can’t” simply was not a concept Rich would allow himself to understand. 

In fact, telling him he can’t do something is a 100% guarantee that he will. Clearly, a trait worth emulating. 

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