Twenty-five years ago, Rich Gaspari put his name in the record books as the first-ever winner of the Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic. At the time, there was no way Gaspari – nor any one else for that matter – could have ever predicted what the event would blossom into over the next two and a half decades.

The same could be said for Gaspari himself.

Since retiring from the stage in 1996, Gaspari has made the transition from world-class bodybuilder to world-class businessman, building his brand – Gaspari Nutrition – into one of the most successful companies in the sports nutrition industry. Gaspari credits much of his company’s success to the lessons he learned as a bodybuilder – hard work, perseverance, and a level of intensity and tenacity few could match.

On Saturday, March 2, Gaspari returns to the 25th Anniversary edition of the Arnold Sports Festival as the latest recipient of the Arnold Classic Lifetime Achievement Award, joining legends like Joe and Ben Weider, Jack LaLane, Robert Kennedy and more on the exclusive list of winners. Here, we sit down with the Dragon Slayer to find out how it all began, and what becoming the 14th recipient of the Arnold Lifetime Achievement Award means to him.


Q: When was the first Arnold Classic announced and how did you find out about it?
“I first learned about it back in 1988. I had just got done competing in the seven European Grand Prix shows – right after placing second in the Mr. Olympia – where I won four and came in second three times against Lee Labrada. So I had a really good year, but it was a lot of shows – eight in one month – and my body was beat up. So I really wanted to rest.

“Right after the Grand Prix, Arnold personally called me up and told me ‘Rich, I’m gonna run a show. I want you to be in the first Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic.’ Because it was Arnold inviting me I said yes even though my body didn’t want to at the time.

“But what was even more incredible, he called me up two weeks before the contest and said ‘Rich, I would like you to go on The Tonight Show to talk about the Arnold Classic’. He invited myself and Mike Christian, who actually didn’t enter the show, to be on The Tonight Show. And during the preparation, the [ABC] television show Wide World of Sports came to New Jersey and interviewed me in my house, watched me train in the gym and interviewed my family. So you knew it was going to be something big because you didn’t usually see this for a normal bodybuilding show.

“On top of all that, they were offering big prize money – $55,000 to the winner – which at the time was bigger than the Olympia prize money. That was another reason.”

Q: Who were you looking at as your main competition heading into that contest?
“I came in 2nd at the Olympia, so I was a clear-cut favorite. I thought maybe Lee Labrada was going to enter, but like me he was so burnt out from doing so many of those [European Grand Prix] shows. He was going to save himself for the Olympia later on. Bob Paris did very well in one of the Grand Prix events, so I thought he could be a threat. Another guy was Shawn Ray even though he didn’t really hit it at the Olympia. But I never entered show thinking who was a threat. I was just coming to be at my best.”


Q: So you were very confident the contest was yours to lose.
“Not exactly. Two other things happened to me heading into that show. I had a small pec tear about four weeks out that affected my training. And I I caught the flu six weeks out. So I thought I really wasn’t going to enter this show in top form. I ended up coming into the show at my lightest, but I was really streamlined. It was enough to beat Robby Robinson and win the Overall.”


NPC Junior Nationals 1st Heavyweight and Overall
NPC Nationals 6th Heavyweight

NPC Nationals 1st Light Heavyweight
IFBB World Amateur Championships 1st Light Heavyweight

IFBB Night of Champions, 2nd
IFBB Mr. Olympia, 3rd

IFBB Los Angeles Pro, 1st
IFBB Mr. Olympia, 2nd
IFBB World Pro Championships, 1st

IFBB Mr. Olympia, 2nd
IFBB Grand Prix France, 1st
IFBB Grand Prix Germany, 1st
IFBB Grand Prix Germany (2), 2nd

IFBB Mr. Olympia, 2nd
IFBB Grand Prix Spain, 1st
IFBB Grand Prix Spain (2), 2nd
IFBB Grand Prix Italy, 1st
IFBB Grand Prix Greece, 2nd
IFBB Grand Prix Germany, 1st
IFBB Grand Prix France, 1st
IFBB Grand Prix England, 2nd

IFBB Arnold Classic, 1st
IFBB Mr. Olympia, 4th

IFBB Mr. Olympia, 5th

IFBB Arnold Classic, 7th
IFBB Mr. Olympia, 10th

IFBB Arnold Classic, 13th

IFBB Chicago Pro Invitational, 16th
IFBB Niagra Falls Invitational, 15th
IFBB Night of Champions, DNP

IFBB Canada Pro Cup, 5th
IFBB Night of Champions, 12th

IFBB San Jose Pro Invitational, 16th
IFBB Florida Pro Invitational, 12th
IFBB Canada Pro Cup, 11th


Q: You won nine contests during your IFBB career and placed second in three consecutive Mr. Olympias. When you look back on your career, which achievement stands out most?
“The Arnold Classic win does. I think why it stands out the most is I was the first winner of that show. That’s something they can never take away – the first winner of the Arnold Classic will always be Rich Gaspari, just like the first winner of the Olympia will always be Larry Scott.”


Q: Who are some of the other Arnold Classic winners who have stood out to you along the way?
“There are so many great winners of the Arnold Classic. You have previous Mr. Olympia winners like Ronnie Coleman, Jay Cutler and Dexter Jackson. Then you have guys like Flex Wheeler who have won multiple Arnold Classics, as well as Shawn Ray. A lot of the greats have competed in and won this show. It’s one of the two shows that any pro bodybuilder would die to be the winner of.”

Q: You’re receiving the Arnold Lifetime Achievement Award on the 25th Anniversary of your win in 1989. What does that mean to you?
“There’s a lot of significance. It shows how I took the attributes of me being a champion, a guy who forged ahead and became a successful bodybuilder, to forge ahead and become a successful business person. Twenty-five years later, being recognized to receive the Lifetime Achievement award by Arnold, to me that ‘s the pinnacle of this whole event. Only one person a year is given that award – Jack LaLane, Joe Weider, Lou Ferrigno, Reg Park – it’s an honor to be mentioned along with them. Going from that athlete to becoming the businessman and the older person now being respected in the industry in a different way is something that I am very proud of. As a competitor I was able to put my mark on the sport and now, to be able to put my mark in the industry as a businessman and entrepreneur is even more significant. It’s really an honor to receive such an award.”

Q: Did you get another call from Arnold telling you about the award?
“No, it wasn’t like the Arnold Classic – Arnold didn’t call me personally! But I know Arnold was very much involved in me getting this award because he saw through the years and thought I was setting a great example from bodybuilding.

“Bodybuilding is a great stepping stone. It’s using that and the attributes of being a champion who never gives up. In my opinion, people who compete in bodybuilding train harder than any other athletes. If you can take those attributes and apply them in business or any area of your life, you can be successful.”

2000 Joe Weider
2001 Reg Park
2002 Jim Lorimer
2003 Frank Zane
2004 Bill Pearl
2005 Jack LaLanne
2006 Lee Haney
2007 Cory Everson
2008 Ben Weider
2009 Franco Columbu
2010 Sylvester Stallone
2011 Lou Ferrigno
2012 Bob Kennedy
2013 Rich Gaspari