Rich Piana's Girlfriend on His Death and Legacy: 'There's So Much More to Him Than His Muscles'

Bodybuilder Rich Piana's girlfriend, Chanel Jansen, gives her first interview after his death on the end of his life and his legacy

In the wake of bodybuilder Rich Piana’s sudden death, his girlfriend Chanel Jansen is amazed by the love and support that has poured in from his fans.

Jansen, who is the videographer and photographer for Piana’s company, 5% Nutrition, has watched her Instagram feed fill up with messages for Piana since he passed away on Aug. 25.

“People to this day are still calling in, even though they know he’s passed,” Jansen, 31, tells PEOPLE. “Rich changed so many people’s lives. This one guy called and said he became a molecular biologist because Rich gave him that 5% mentality of doing whatever it is to reach your goals in life, no matter what they are.”

“There’s so much more to him than his muscles.”

Jansen, who was with Piana for over three years, says he changed her life, too.

“I’ve never ever dealt with a death this close to me before, let alone the love of my life,” she says. “I don’t feel like I’m ever going to love anyone as much as I loved him, and quite frankly I don’t want to.”

Jansen was cutting Piana’s hair when he suddenly collapsed on Aug. 7. She gave him chest compressions until the ambulance arrived, but doctors later told her that Piana “was gone before he even hit the floor” from a heart attack. He remained in a medically induced coma for almost two weeks before they took him off life support, based on his will.

“They said he had no chance of a meaningful recovery and he was in a vegetative state,” Jansen explains. “I said, ‘It’s a good thing it’s not up to me, because I love him so much I’m too selfish to make that decision [to take him off life support].’ He was breathing on his own for nearly a week, and then he just let go.”

She had suspected that something was wrong with Piana, who has a history of steroid use, a few days prior to his heart attack, when the couple was visiting Los Angeles and Piana had two episodes of vomiting and difficultly breathing. She pushed him to go to the hospital, but Piana kept refusing.

“He hates going to the doctor, he hates going to the hospital; so he was just like, ‘No I’m fine,’ ” Jansen says. “He was the kind of guy who wouldn’t tell you he wasn’t feeling well. He was just real stubborn. He didn’t want to show that he was in pain or hurt.”

Two days later, he collapsed. Jansen says she couldn’t get the look on his face out of her mind during the three weeks he was in the hospital.

“I was talking to his nurse, and I said, ‘When he’s ready to go can you let me know so I can watch him pass?’ and she was like, ‘Why would you want to do that, that’s so traumatizing.’ She didn’t know what had happened. I said, ‘I can’t have, for the rest of my life when I close my eyes at night, the look of horror on his face as I gave him compressions and he passed. I need to see him peacefully go.’ ”

Jansen didn’t exactly get her wish — she had fallen asleep when he died at 12:12 am — but the nurse believes that’s how Piana was able to pass.

“The nurse woke me up and said, ‘Rich just passed,’ ” Jansen recalls. “I started shaking and I couldn’t say anything but ‘What?’ And she said, ‘Sweetie, I think he was waiting for you to let go of his hand and make sure that you were asleep so you didn’t hear him twitch or any distressed breathing. So now you can just look at it as he fell asleep and that’s all that you know. You won’t look at it any other way now.’ ”

Jansen is now making arrangements for Piana’s funeral with his father and ex-wife Jane, who is also their business partner, while preparing to move out of the the home they shared in Florida.

“I sleep on his side of the bed so that I can smell where he was laying last, and I smell the sheets and talk to him every night,” she says. “And I tell him that I loved him then, I love him now, and I’ll love him always, and I remind him, when it’s my time, to come find me because I don’t want to go anywhere without him.”

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