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Born into bodybuilding out of adversity, then later sharpened by it, IFBB Hall of Famer Rich Gaspari has always been driven by the desire to overcome setbacks—to weather a storm, then to rumble back with a little thunder of his own. Now 53 years old, this competitor-turned-entrepreneur continues to hone his aptitude for perseverance, one arduous set at a time, boasting a set of arms—and a business portfolio—that would make most present-day pros envious.
Ever legendary among the sport’s faithful, Gaspari continues to make his mark in the business of building bodies. As the head of Gaspari Nutrition, one of the industry’s most popular brands, he is still a huge draw at bodybuilding and trade shows, only now he mingles with fans in a smart polo, having left his posing trunks behind in 1996.
His rise to prominence in the bodybuilding universe was perhaps more unlikely than most. Gaspari would be the first to tell you that, as a boy, he didn’t exactly have the minerals for a world-class physique.
“I was the typical 89-pound weakling,” he says.
But things went from bad to worse when, at 14, Gaspari contracted a case of mononucleosis, a condition marked by persistent fever, sore throat, and crippling fatigue. Not surprisingly, his slight build didn’t fare too well.
“It had me ill for six months,” he says. “I couldn’t eat, and I got really skinny and very weak to the point my ribs were showing through my chest. The doctors recommended I weight train to put on some mass.”
That turned out to be a better life prescription than expected. Gaspari eventually shook the mono and took the doctor’s advice to heart, collecting guidance and training hard wherever he could.
“My friend’s father collected Joe Weider’s Muscle & Fitness magazines and that’s where I was first awestruck that it was possible to have muscle like those guys had,” he recalls. “I read about Arnold, Lou Ferrigno, Robbie Robinson, Frank Zane, and Mike Mentzer. I thought they all looked like superheroes, and I wanted to learn how they did it so I would spend hours in my friend’s basement reading the magazines. My friend was not happy since I would go there to just read the mags and not really play with him.”
The rebound back to health came quickly for the persistent teen. In his first year of training, he had added a lean 52 pounds of muscle. And with his catalog of superheroes to inspire him, his enthusiasm—and ambition—grew quickly. “I started training to compete at the age of 16 and improved every year and won my first show at the age of 18 at 190 pounds. I won the Teenage New Jersey Physique show and also won the men’s division, so I thought I had a future in pro bodybuilding.”
He was right. The once-emaciated youngster won the NPC Nationals and Amateur Championships at the tender age of 20, asserting himself as bodybuilding’s next big thing. At a lean, grainy 188 pounds, Gaspari had one of the most impressive packages on any pro stage. But he hadn’t gone that far to simply turn pro and hit cruise control—his signature intensity and unwavering work ethic helped him add mounds of muscle in years to come.
Earning the nickname “the Dragon Slayer,” he finished second in his pro debut, the 1985 Night of Champions, then placed third at that year’s Olympia. He then took three painful runner-up finishes to Lee Haney at the Olympia in 1986, 1987, and 1988. The burden of coming that close to bodybuilding’s biggest prize may have crushed some, but not Gaspari. His subsequent increase in dedication led to a remastered physique that would not be denied and he won the inaugural Arnold Classic in 1989.
His storied career, which included two more top-six finishes at the Olympia, lasted until 1996 when herniated disks in his upper spine forced him into retirement. But this dragon wasn’t so easily slain—he merely metamorphosed into a beast of a different kind.
Retirement can be hard for any athlete. When that which has defined you for most of your life is finally behind you, it can be difficult to find purpose. But Gaspari’s stature in the sport seemed only to grow after his posing days, and even though he was no longer competing, he was every bit the brand name that he had ever been. So in 2001, he took on his next competitive venture: the establishment of Gaspari Nutrition.
“I am a very competitive person and when I got into having my own supplement company I wanted to make the best products in the industry,” he says. “My goal was to make products to help people reach their goals. I love what I do and enjoy being out in the market and visiting accounts all around the world. I love to create new products. I love the marketing aspect of getting people excited about the product.”
Gaspari’s ascension to market success, however, wasn’t without some lumps.
“Because of many things that affected me and the business, like my divorce, I lost my focus in running things effectively and had to file Chapter 11, which is reorganization to pay back debt and keep the business going. After bankruptcy in 2014, I had partnered with Allegro, who was my European distributor. This was not a good fit, and we parted ways. I was able to take back the company, and now I run it again as the CEO. I am more motivated than ever to bring Gaspari Nutrition back to its glory days and beyond.”
As it stands, Gaspari Nutrition has nine new products in development—five of them due out by press time—and has partnered with a manufacturer to have a greater and more costeffective role in the production and quality of each product. This resurrection of his business signaled yet another phoenix-out-ofthe- ashes moment for Gaspari, something he says makes it even more rewarding.
“I’m like the Rocky of this sport,” he says. “You can knock me down, but I keep getting up and coming back harder.”
When you take a peek at Gaspari’s physique today—225 pounds with a body fat that hovers around 5–8% annually—it’s apparent that he hasn’t lost his love for the iron, even if his approach is now more cerebral than brutish. As with his business ventures, he exercises maximum focus on each rep, connecting intimately with both the pain and potential of each small victory over gravity.
But when he’s not chasing profits or sick pumps, he’s spending time on the things in this life that truly matter most.
“I have a 9-year-old daughter named Sofia and a 16-year-old son named Matthew,” he says. “I love spending time with them and having fun like a kid. Sofia has a ton of energy, loves to sing, keeps me really active, and we play games. Matthew plays football and is a running back. He loves to train with me and to gain muscle but he doesn’t want to be a bodybuilder.”
The author of his own odds-conquering success story, Rich Gaspari is now content to simply help others do the same.
THE STATE OF THE STAGE
The Dragon Slayer offers his take on the current state of men’s bodybuilding.
Bodybuilding as a Whole
“I hate to be the guy who says I came from a better era of bodybuilding. There were no supplement contracts back when I was pro and you earned your money making appearances and at seminars and selling booklets, photos, and clothing. Today, bodybuilders want big contracts from supplement companies. There are also way too many pros each year compared with when I turned pro. Back then, there were only five who had to win the World Championships to be able to turn pro.”
The New Classic Physique Division
“I actually like this new category and I feel it will bring aesthetics back into the sport. No more of the guys with distended guts. It is sad that not one of the top five Olympia competitors can do a vacuum pose.”
Who Impresses Him Today
HALL OF FAME ADVICE
Gaspari tips for achieving your goals.
1. NEVER GIVE UP
“If you give up, you’ll never know if you could have accomplished certain goals in life. So many people said I didn’t have the genetics to be a top bodybuilder or that I would never have a successful supplement company. They’d have been right if I had given up.”
2. EMBRACE ADVERSITY
“Adversity makes you stronger, and it makes you wiser. So when unfortunate things happen in life you have to just always move forward in anything you do.”
3. STAY POSITIVE
“Always stay positive and believe in yourself. You will always have people telling you that you can’t, but you must be able to believe that you can.”
4. LOVE IT
“If you love what you do, it is not work. Long hours doing something you love is not really working but rather enjoying every moment.”
DRAGON SLAYER ARMS WORKOUT
Rope Pressdown | SETS: 3–4 | REPS: 10–12
Overhead Rope Extension | SETS: 3–4 | REPS: 10–12
Lying Extension | SETS: 3–4 | REPS: 10–12
Bench Dip* | SETS: 3–4 | REPS: 10–12
Incline Dumbbell Curl | SETS: 3–4 | REPS: 10–12
Preacher Curl | SETS: 3–4 | REPS: 10–12
Reverse Preacher Curl | SETS: 3–4 | REPS: 10–12
Concentration Curl | SETS: 3–4 | REPS: 10–12
*Usually performed with two to three 45-pound plates on lap.