Shooting Mr. Olympia

I met Phil Heath in 2005 when I was working for Flex Magazine. Even then he was seen as a guy that could go all the way by industry pundits and magazine folk. I was tasked to keep close to him all weekend as the following Monday he was scheduled to be in Woodland Hills, CA to sign a contract with Flex Magazine. In an industry fraught with fickle operators, the concern is that he would go to a higher bidder if one were to come forward, and I was to be the eyes and ears of headquarters and be the voice of reason if opposing forces were to leave him feeling confused.

Eleven years later, I have concluded that they didn’t know Phil. I wasn’t called to action that weekend, nor would I be needed had someone come along with a fatter wallet. Phil had made an agreement, even though it was verbal, as far as he was concerned, it was written in stone.

Since that weekend we have worked together a handful of times and socialized much more through his mentor and my friend, Jay Cutler. When Phil was coming up, Jay took him under his wing giving tons of sage advice, encouragement, and an invaluable example of what a champion should be. In a testament to the kind of man Jay Cutler is, he told me once that he knew one day soon Phil would take his place as the best bodybuilder in the world. Jay just wanted to make sure Phil had all the tools to be the best he could be, on and off the stage. That’s the kind of thinking Jay Cutler put into Phil Heath.

Last year after winning the Mr. Olympia title, a distinction he has owned since 2011, I shot Phil at City Atletic Club in Las Vegas for J-Bells. J-Bells is owned by City Athletic Club owner Jea Jung. Despite the years since we have seen each other, Phil was the same guy he always has been. Kind, fun loving and hard working. We did our work and patiently waited while Phil interacted with the steady flow of fans that came to see him during the shoot. No pressure, just another peaceful day on top of the world.

Phil knows it will all end some day, so he isn’t missing any opportunity to put something positive into the lives of others that want to know him. And unlike so many that think the top is where they will spend the rest of eternity, Phil treats everyone with dignity, and when he speaks to them, they are the most important person in the room.

I imagine he would still be this way without the guidance of Jay Cutler, but I also believe that Jay Cutler put the very important polish on this diamond and that polish is that extra 5% that makes great men into legends.

It’s something to think about. The legacy of great and wise men can only come to life if that wisdom and those things that make them great are passed on to the next generation. Maybe we don’t even have to be great men to pass on wisdom. Maybe we can just be good men that want to leave the world a better place because we were here.

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