57-year-old Flex Wheeler, June 17, 2023 / Instagram

Bodybuilding legend Flex Wheeler’s right lower limb was amputated in late October 2019 “due to escalating circulation difficulties in my right leg that had become life threatening.” He talked openly about the pain progression and his difficult but necessary decision in November 2019. We feature his explanation here, as well as an August 2023 update on Flex Wheeler living (and thriving) as a leg amputee today.

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Peak Flex Wheeler at the 1999 Mr. Olympia. / Gary Phillips


California-native Flex Wheeler (1965- ) had a stellar professional bodybuilding career. He won the the Arnold Classic four times (1993, 1997-98, 2000) and finished second in the Mr. Olympia three times (1993, 1998-99) and third another year (2000). Many regard his 1990s physique and its spellbinding combination of size and shape as the bodybuilding ideal. (ChatGPT recently ranked him #6 in A.I.’s list of the Best Bodybuilders of All Time, ahead of Mr. Olympia winners.) Wheeler received a a kidney transplant in 2003, which may have contributed to the circulation problems in his right leg.

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Is this the ideal bodybuilding physique?


In November 2019, Flex Wheeler dished the chronology of his recent health problems on Instagram and, wiping away a tear, explained his decision:

“I was in a hospital in the beginning of March [2019]. I was rushed to the hospital when I found out I had DVT [deep vein thrombosis], and I was in the hospital for about three months, and back to E.R. multiple times because of problems. And even then, they told me they’ve exhausted all of their resources, and the next thing would just be taking my [right] leg off. So, I’ve kind of been aware that this was a possibility, that they were going to amputate my leg, and I’ve been trying to get used to that and prepared for that as much as I could, mentally.”

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An emotional Flex Wheeler opens up, Nov. 18, 2019 / Instagram

“And when I went to the event [Franco Columbu’s memorial service] that Arnold Schwarzenegger invited me to [on October 5], it kind of dawned on me then that I needed to take better care of myself and go ahead and move forward and make a date. But that date came a lot sooner than I thought.”

The 54-year-old bodybuilding legend was flying back from a business meeting in Montana in mid-October 2019.

“I was in such pain I couldn’t even explain it….I was actually really worried I’d even make it on the plane. But I got to my layover in Vegas and told my wife I got to get to the E.R. And she drove me to the E.R., and they told me one of my arteries was 70% blocked and the other one was 100% blocked, and the doctor just looked at me and said, ‘Flex, this is your call, but we’re here now.’ And I understood what the doctor was saying, and I really thought about it really hard. I couldn’t walk. I limped severely. I was in constant pain with every footstep I took. And even when I was lying in bed, I’d go to sleep in pain and wake up in pain. So, it was kind of no decision for me. I said, ‘Let’s move forward and go ahead with the amputation.’”

In his first update after the amputation, Flex Wheeler said his pain level had reduced from a “through the roof” 10 (on a scale of 10) to around 5. “And, man, I can live with that, because I’ve been dealing with 10s for the last couple months.” Finally, he quietly promised, “I will continue putting up the biggest fight that I can and coming back and being as good as I can be.”


It’s been four years. Flex Wheeler in 2023 walks without a limp and proudly shows off his custom-made prosthetic legs of various colors and styles on Instagram, where he also serves up a steady stream of positive messages for all.

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On July 18, 2023, he posted a video of himself driving with his left leg as his right thigh rested against the dashboard and his prosthesis rested on his lap. The post read:

I taught myself how to drive‼️ I taught myself how to get in and out of the bathtub and wash myself. Not an easy task ??‼️ Somethings that all of you, including myself, take for granted, just the easy, things we do day-to-day. I taught myself how to live without a leg‼️ Living this amputee life, isn’t easy but not impossible‼️ I WAS BUILT FOR THIS ???? Never let anyone or anything stop you or get in your way of living a joyful life of love and happiness‼️ GOD IS ALL I NEED ??

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Flex Wheeler, Ronnie Coleman, Jay Cutler in 2023. / Instagram