1. He taught me that there were other routes to success other than just competing.
Rich Piana, in my opinion was the example of a guy who upon giving up on his bodybuilding goals found greater success and I dare say happiness and fulfilment through social media. He saw this business potential in the drive and dedication that many bodybuilders possessed and what we were able to achieve should we set our sights on something other than the stage, and he encouraged us to think outside our meat head boxes. Here was a guy, who was burnt out from competing, felt that he deserved so much more than he was getting from the effort he was putting into competing (something that many of us can relate), and so he went out there and did it. One of the reasons why he appealed to so many of us was because he walked the talk, he was an example of a guy who carved out his own route of success when the stage wouldn't grant him that.
2. Despite his notoriety with steroid use, I believe he truly did support and respect natural bodybuilders.
Okay, this may sound a bit weird as he is mostly known for being open about his steroid use and videos regarding the topic. I've watched his videos talking about natural bodybuilding and I gotta say for someone whose image is so much associated with steroid use, he never had to talk about natural bodybuilders but he chose to. I remember him saying in his videos that if he had a chance to start all over again, he would have done it naturally, and he believes there truly are some big natural dudes out there and they should continue being natural for as long as they can. He talked about how he respected natural bodybuilders for having a very strong mindset, and we don't need to be hating the substance-using guys, we can train just as hard if we want to. Some people might say he's just saying it as a disclaimer not to get into trouble for advocating steroid use, but a part of me feels he was being sincere. If he had the chance to turn things around and not gone so far down the rabbit hole, he would have been on a completely different path.
3. He taught me to truly love training and the lifestyle.
When I first heard about Rich, I was at a point of my life where I was honestly quite tired of the bodybuilding scene. I wasn't sure if I wanted to continue competing but I didn't want to stop training either. I still had a lot of love for the sport and lifestyle but just not so much for the stage. I was starting to question if this sport was for me and doubting myself. Hearing him talk about how much he liked training despite not competing anymore and doing whatever it takes to achieve your goals made me realize I could still very much live the lifestyle I wanted but my goal didn't entirely have to be about competing all the time, that just like him I could learn to change those goals but still have the same drive, focus and discipline. All the values that made the sport great without getting myself burnt out.
4. He taught me to think and try things for myself, not to simply accept any information out there.
My training style, which includes regular cardio, multiple sessions at various gyms, targeting several body parts in a day, very little rest in between sets with almost no scheduled rest days (the list of unorthodox methods goes on) was in fact very inspired by him. He was one of the first examples I saw of a truly big guy who had great flexibility, which inspired me to take on yoga. I remember him saying "Natural bodybuilders say I can train for two hours a day because i take steroids, well F**K what people say, you don't have to take steroids to train for two hours a day, go out there and try it and find out for yourself." Well, I did, and it's one of the best things I've done for my training ever since.
(Photo source: 5% Nutrition Official Facebook)