1 October 2021, by Starmühler
Flex Wheeler: You are just as important as everyone else.
Flex Wheeler was one of the most successful US-American bodybuilders when he was forced to have a leg amputated in 2019. In our interview, he explained why he didn't let this get in the way of his fitness.
For as long as he can remember, Kenneth Wheeler – better known as Flex – has been passionate about sport. He began taking part in martial arts competitions as a child in California before going on to train to become a policeman. Training and fitness have always been part of his life – and his bodybuilding career is his passion. Flex (56) has impressed the judges sufficiently to win the Arnold Classic on four different occasions, he has won the Ironman Pro Invitational in bodybuilding five times, and he came in second in the Mr. Olympia competition – to list but a few of his successes.
However, the fitness coach’s life changed in 2019 when circulatory problems made it necessary to amputate one of his legs. He documented the time following the operation and his rehab and shared this on social media. Training continues to be the focus of his life. In our interview, he talked about his inner motivation, something that ensures that he never gave up even after this misfortune.
© Flex Wheeler
FIBO: What has been the greatest success of your bodybuilding career?
Flex Wheeler: The fact that I've earned the respect of my fellow competitors.
...and in your private life?
Flex: The ability to persevere, no matter how great the challenge.
How has the amputation of your leg changed your life?
Flex: It has changed everything, and I do not think I could even begin to explain how.
When you had your leg amputated in 2019, what made you decide to document the entire recovery process on social media?
Flex: It was simply a feeling I had. I knew that millions of people have had their legs amputated, and that it was an unfortunate fact that many millions more would suffer the same fate in future. Many of them, however, do not enjoy my platform or visibility. That is why I wanted to send a message – I wanted to take advantage of my name being known worldwide to raise awareness of amputees around the globe and help them get the support they deserve.
Has the role of fitness and bodybuilding changed for you over the years – and in particular since your amputation?
Flex: It certainly has. I’ve become more aware of many things, and I have gained a far better understanding of just how difficult it is to use traditional training equipment. It has also sharpened my knowledge of just how valuable general health and fitness really are.
What it is that motivates you and that has allowed you to carry on after your amputation?
Flex: It's difficult to explain, but there’s something inside of me that will not let me give up. Even when I really want to throw in the towel and simply disappear. It is a force within me that drives me. It is important to me now to serve as a beacon for those who are still feeling their way in the dark. It really makes me feel good – I love being able to help people.
What can be done to better integrate athletes with and without disabilities into the mainstream fitness world?
Flex: Publishing more interviews like this one. And getting people with the power to help to lend their support to disabled athletes. That is something that matters a great deal to me, because helping disabled people to move forward with their lives can really transform their future.
In your opinion, what needs to be done to make sport more inclusive?
Flex: The people with power have to get involved. By giving disabled athletes opportunities, it is possible to compensate for many of the disadvantages they have to face and to make their lives better.
Is there any advice that you would like to offer disabled athletes for their careers?
Flex: I’m not really sure if I’m qualified to answer this question, because I did not suffer any disabilities during the years when I was active in competitive sports. Even so, there are a few things I would like to tell them: Never give up. Never stop believing in yourself. Never hang your head. You are just as important as everyone else. You matter. You deserve to be here. You are loved. You are not alone. I am right there with you!