FLEX: How does it feel to tie Lee Haney’s eight-time Mr. Olympia record?
COLEMAN: It’s very overwhelming. I never expected it, and it’s hard to put into words how it feels to be up there with the best of them, especially considering that I never wanted, or intended, to win the Mr. Olympia even once. I only got into bodybuilding for a free membership to the gym.

I always tell people that everybody was put in this world for a purpose, and mine is pretty much what I’m doing. Overall, everyone’s concern should be to serve God and do what he wants, to make this world better for everybody. If you look over the years I’ve been in bodybuilding, you’ve never really heard me complain about one thing. I’ve always said, “Why complain? Just continue to do your best.” That’s how you solve problems.

When all of this began to appear possible, did you then think in terms of a goal?
Not at all. About four years ago, Lee Haney said to me, “You know what? Records are made to be broken.” Not only did he say that to me, he signed a copy of his book to me with that inscription. I didn’t think anything of it at the time. I just thought he was being a nice guy. Never did I consider tying the record, let alone even getting close to it.

Now that you’ve tied his record, has he said anything about breaking it?
Yes, he’s always been very nice and very supportive about my breaking his record. Even when I presented him with an award after having tied it, he said I was definitely going to break our record.

What do you think of Lee Haney?
I’ve always thought he was the greatest bodybuilder who ever lived, not only as a bodybuilder but as a family man. He has always been a role model to me, someone I wanted to emulate. He’s always been my idol. I’d like to model my life after him. He’s definitely one of the nicest guys in the history of the sport, and he has everything going for him: family, career, God. I’ve always said, “When I grow up, I want to be just like him.”

You’re doing it.
I’m getting close.

You and Haney both avoided the pull of Hollywood, trying to spin your bodybuilding success into another career. How, and why?
That’s from my upbringing. I was raised in the country, and I was never around anything nor had anything, so I’ve always been happy with what I’ve had. Also, always wanting to be close with family has kept me as I am. That was most important, so those other temptations didn’t even cross my mind. I’ve never wanted to leave here (Texas), because we’ve been together forever. Even when I was graduated from college and came here, the whole family eventually ended up in the same place. So, another move, especially to a place like Hollywood, would not serve a good purpose toward trying to stay close to my family.

What is the most valuable message you’ve learned from this accomplishment?
That with hard work, faith, dedication, commitment and your belief in God, you can accomplish anything in the whole world. I’ve always worked hard, I’ve always kept my faith in God, and I’ve always been dedicated to the sport. I’ve had help along the way: number one being God, picking me to do this; and number two, me, being picked to do this. I enjoy it so much.

What did this accomplishment teach you not to do?
The last thing I said when I was on stage [during his acceptance speech this year] was, “Never give up.” Never, ever, quit. You never really fail at something until you quit. There’s always a chance, a hope, of something happening, especially in this day and age. Hope is the magic word. Lots of people do not think many things are achievable, especially after failing so many times, but you must not give up on it.

We know by now that this won’t change your training, but how has it changed you?
The only thing that has changed is the cars I drive. I have a Bentley, a Hummer and an Escalade, but I no longer have my Mercedes.

What distinguishes a champion from a runner-up?
Number one is genetics, number two is drive, but I think faith also plays a part. Everybody is destined for something; you just have to realize it.

Does goal-setting play a part?
Not for everybody. I’m a prime example of that. All of the goals I’ve ever set for myself, I didn’t accomplish. I’ve discovered that it’s easier for me to just sit back and let God take over for me, and go from there. Of course, if you sit back and do nothing at all, nothing will happen. You have to try. Whether I was in college, out of college, working for the police department, I always tried to do my best. I figure that if you’re always doing your best, then something’s going to happen.

How do you know when you’ve found it?
There are two choices given to people in their life, and it’s up to them to figure it out. Everybody was put here for a career, and everybody was called to do something, but lots of times, people get their career and their calling mixed up. A career is what you pursue in school, something you pick out for yourself. A calling is something God picks out for you. The problem is that, even though a calling is really easy, and you have a lot of fun doing it, you don’t think you can make money at it, so you get stuck in your career.

Success can ruin a person. How will you avoid that?
By thinking outside myself, of God, family and my calling, and, for the sake of those things, never giving up. All my life, I’ve had ups and down, such as the popped disc in my back in 1996 that almost ended bodybuilding for me, but I never lost hope. I had to keep fighting.

The lowest point in my life was in 1987, when I first came to Texas, right out of college. I had a degree in accounting, with honors, and I was delivering pizzas for Domino’s and throwing newspapers, but it was all about survival to me. I didn’t care. Whatever I had to do to survive, I was going to do it.

So, what is success?
It’s all about being happy. Regardless of what you do, if you’re not happy and not enjoying life, you’re not successful. If you’re making $20,000 a year and enjoying what you do, and enjoying life, that’s success. Too many people get caught up in other people’s definition of success. Even though I wasn’t where I wanted to be at the time, I was happy when I was delivering pizzas and throwing newspapers, because I was doing the best job I could do. I was putting my all into it. That’s why I was able to survive for two years like that. Life is simple. People just make it hard for themselves.