Frederick Carlton Lewis aka Carl Lewis is an American former track and field athlete who has won nine Olympic gold medals, one Olympic silver medal, and 10 world championship medals, including eight gold medals. His career spanned from 1979 to 1996 when he last won an Olympic event. He is one of only three Olympic athletes to have won a gold medal in four consecutive Olympic Games in the same individual competition.
When Carl Lewis agreed to come to my photo studio to shoot for Muscle & Fitness I wasn't sure what to expect. It was 2013 and he had been retired for several years so I wasn't sure what shape he would be in. Also, throughout his competitive career, Carl had a reputation for not always being very cooperative with the media.
So imagine my relief when it turned out that Carl Lewis was in super shape, absolutely ready for a photo session. He also turned out to be one of the most collaborative celebrities I've ever worked with. He went along with all the suggestions I had. And he's thought up some good ones of his own - like posing in a long leather coat and doing his best Wesley Snipes impression in "Blade."
I asked a friend of mine, veteran Olympic photographer Tony Duffy, about Carl's "difficult" reputation. "Can you imagine," he told me, "how much discipline and focus it takes to compete successfully at the highest level for about 20 years and win so many medals? And all the time people are holding microphones and cameras in your face, demanding your time and your attention - not for your benefit, but for theirs. It amazes me that athletes like Carl have been so patient and cooperative!”
My father was a track and field athlete and state champion at the half mile. He told me that much of his success was due to him training much harder than most of his competitors. He trained more then than modern athletes do today. But none of his trainers would have condoned his weight training. A common deprecation for high muscle mass athletes was, "Oh, he picked that up in the gym!" Real weightlifters aside from training, it was assumed that there was something artificial about a body created with weights and that developing it that way didn't really improve athletic performance improved.
Take a look at a lineup of today's Olympic sprinters. They're all so ripped and muscular and look like little bodybuilders. The women as well as the men. Sports like golf and baseball, once considered "skill sports," are now seeing performance gains because the athletes involved have discovered the benefits of weight training. Train like bodybuilders, not weightlifters. And there's no doubt that someone with the physique of Venus Williams didn't just build all those muscles by playing tennis.
When I congratulated Carl Lewis on his fitness and condition, he told me, “When I was competing I had a very strict training schedule, all planned and laid out in advance. By the time I retired, I had come up with a plan that I could follow and still take care of the other demands of my schedule and daily life.” Some of these, he told me, involved running and other cardio exercises. stretch and flexibility. And of course strength training in the gym.
“Actually,” he explained, “I wish I knew as much about exercise and nutrition in the 1970s and 1980s as I do now. A lot has happened in these areas in the last few decades. That would have made things a lot easier for me.”
One thing Carl Lewis dislikes is the stereotype of the athlete who quits and then gets fat and out of shape. You don't see that very often these days; he points it out and is certainly not true in his case. "Given the amount of effort and discipline it took to train for the Olympics, staying in shape in my 40s, 50s and beyond is comparatively easy. It's about making sure I continue my exercise and nutrition regimen no matter how busy I am.”
Carl hopes his example will help other mature men, athletes or not, to realize that just because you're a few years older, you don't have to stop taking care of your body and your health.
"Your body changes as you age," he says, "but that doesn't mean you have to let it fall apart. It is known how to maintain excellent physique well into old age. And beyond for some. It's all about using the knowledge you have at your disposal.