Ray Lewis at 37: Good juice keeps him going
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Owings Mills, Md. -- Ray Lewis is neither reluctant to admit it, nor ashamed. In fact, he wants the world to know: He is on the juice.
And no, it's not what you're thinking.
At 37 years old and looking for something to keep him playing at a high level, the greatest linebacker of our generation - or perhaps any generation - Lewis has taken to juicing twice a day, every day. And not the kind of juice that would result in a positive test for steroids or other performance enhancing drugs.
The kind that comes from the fresh vegetables Lewis prepares each day and pours into a plastic cup. One for the morning, and another in the afternoon. And he can still eat to his heart's content.
Lewis shows a visitor at his locker the remains of the morning concoction, his eyes lighting up and voice rising in excitement at the chance to talk about a new dietary regimen that he believes will ultimately extend an already remarkable 17-year career. These days, Lewis is as consumed with learning about the nutritional values of broccoli and okra as he is with pumping iron and running sprints.
"Juicing allows me to be at my best," said Lewis, who started juicing several months ago at the suggestion of a friend. "I did it not just because of sports, but because of how healthy it was for lifestyle. It's a different kind of mentality because you know what you're putting in your body."
The results are noticeable. Lewis is down to 235 pounds, the lightest he has ever been since joining the NFL in 1996. During the Ravens' 2000 Super Bowl season, Lewis weighed 260 pounds. His recent inclusion of bicycling has also helped keep him in terrific shape, although he says it's the juicing that has made the biggest difference of all.
"When I first tried it, I was like, 'Wow, I'm getting kind of light,'" he said. "I was like, 'Ok, just don't stop it, just roll with it.' The thing is you never want to lose weight and lose strength. But I actually got stronger the more weight I lost."
Lighter, faster, and stronger? At 37?
"He's moving around this year as well as he has the last three or four years," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said of Lewis. "His change of direction, his burst and quickness, they're all there. I've watched the evolution of a young man over the years, and seen how he continues to stay ahead of the curve."
He stays ahead of the curve in a way few others have. At an age when most players are out of the NFL, Lewis remains an elite linebacker and a major contributor to a team that figures to be in the hunt for a Super Bowl championship. The Ravens came within a dropped Lee Evans pass of beating the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game last year, and return most key players from that team.
Linebacker Terrell Suggs, who suffered a partially torn Achilles in the off-season, is expected back later in the season.
"How would it ever get old?" Lewis said. "Every year is a new year, and nothing stays the same. So there are changes every year, but every year, there is opportunity."
Yet it is nothing short of remarkable that Lewis has lasted this long and has been this good. Certain to be a first-ballot inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Lewis looks at maintaining his level of play as a huge challenge. And he takes his inspiration from some unlikely places.
"People only get old because we stop taking care of our bodies," he said. "We believe that once we get to a certain age, we shouldn't physically take care of our bodies. But you can be as strong as you want to be if you maintain."
All Lewis needs to do to find motivation for staying young is to look at the window of his home in Boca Raton, Fla.
"Some of the greatest inspirations are the older community, because every morning, there's this lady who walks on the sidewalk, and she's 93 years old," he said. "There's another lady who's 84. There's a guy who's 74 riding his bike. You're sitting there thinking, what motivates them? It's just life. So for me, every year it's just a different challenge. How do I want to challenge my body? How to I want to get better? It's always evolving."
"Juicing can be a very healthy detox," said renowned nutrionist Heidi Skolnik, who has worked with the Giants, NBA, Major League Baseball and other sports teams. "Adding juicing to a good diet and exercise program is great. It's a great way to get in a lot of nutrients the vegetables and fruits have. Juicing isn't the end-all, but it can be a great addition."
Lewis hopes to get his message about the benefits of juicing to others, in part because he has seen several people close to him die of health issues related to poor nutrition. He has plans to eventually come out with a line of juicers.
"Four people close to me have passed," he said. "My motivation is to get people to reinvest in themselves. That's what I did for myself. How can I live longer? How can I feel better? If I can take care of my body when I'm young, it will take care of me when I'm old."
And even after all the hits he has delivered and taken over nearly two decades of playing professional football, Lewis said he feels as good as ever. And despite the increased awareness of concussions, a problem many inside linebackers have experienced because of the constant tackling, Lewis said he has no issues with it. He said he may have suffered one concussion -- and he's not even sure it was a concussion -- but does not worry about long-term damage from playing the sport so long.
"For me, I haven't thought about it, and I don't worry about it," he said.
What does worry him, however, is the league's increasing crackdown on defensive players in recent years. The league has become very aggressive in fining players for what NFL officials consider dangerous hits, especially ones where players lead with their helmets. But Lewis believes the league is meddling too much.
"I think the safest thing to do is leave the game alone," he said. "The game will take care of itself. It always has. Should we be aware of these things? Absolutely. But when you adjust so many [rules], sometimes it makes it worse."
Lewis pointed to the example of a collision between Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson and Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin during a game in 2011, in which both players suffered concussions. Robinson was fined $40,000 for leading with his helmet.
"How in the hell can he get a concussion AND get fined $40,000?" Lewis said. "There's a price to pay for everything. If that's not a heavy price [for Robinson], him laying on his damn back, then we're in the wrong business. You can't fine a guy for doing his job. No defender goes into a game saying, 'I'm going to spear somebody.' We're not programmed that way. We've got brains, too. We're not trying to have brain damage."
Lewis said he has a problem with officials in the league office handing down fines.
"I don't think it's the place for someone that's not on the field to fine somebody," he said. "You can't jump in my brain and tell me my intention. The game is so fast. Last year, they fined me for hitting [Steelers receiver] Hines Ward. I'm lunging at him already, and then he ducks to avoid me. You can't fine me for that. Those are the things that I think we have to be careful not to manage the game so much, to the point where you start damaging guys' careers. Players might start turning their heads the wrong way, start going for more knees. Let the game take care of itself."
Asked if players such as Steelers linebacker James Harrison, who has repeatedly been fined for excessive hits, should not be fined, Lewis said exceptions can and should be made.
"If you're talking about a repeat offender, then you deal with that person, but don't make everybody suffer, because everybody else doesn't play like that. You don't play to injure anybody. It's a brotherhood. Let the brotherhood take care of itself. I would never want to hurt anybody. I don't play dirty. I play the game pissed off, but I don't play the game dirty."
And so it goes for the game's all-time greats -- 17 years and counting. How much longer will he play?
"We'll see," he said. "Only God knows."
And the juicer?
"God and the juicer," he said with a laugh. "That'll keep me going a long time."