Sitting down with Denver Steyn one wet and windy Brisbane afternoon in late summer, I felt drawn to the man. He seems quietly confident and self-assured, like a man who knows where he’s come from and where he’s going, and is at peace with it all. He holds a calm repose, gentle and courteous in conversation, yet his manner could not hide a few nerves. This is, after all, one in a very brief history of interviews.
After appearing on the cover of Australian Natural Bodz magazine in 2009 and placing second in a major competition in the same year, Steyn has become an emerging name in the Australian bodybuilding scene. A simple Google search finds a string of references to a 22-yearold Gold Coast local who’s doing it “natural”-without the aid of performance- enhancing drugs. Yet his familiarity and popularity is growing at a rate disproportionate to his tangible successes. After all, there are other “natural bodybuilders.” But there is something different about Steyn.
Bodybuilding is in his blood. From a young age, Steyn recalls his grandfather lifting weights in the family home. Yet despite his grandfather’s invitations to train with him, it wasn’t until a schoolmate suggested they “get big” that Steyn embarked on a routine of dumbbells and protein shakes that has evolved into a passion for looking and feeling good the right way.
The results came quickly early on and his changing physique caught the eye of friends, family and passers-by alike. Frequently, people would quiz him, either in person or through internet sites such as Facebook, regarding his methods for looking so good. “How to look good and feel terrific” became the hot topic of conversation, fuelling a growing self-confidence.
In 2009, five years after taking up bodybuilding, Steyn entered his first competition held on a Sunday, the International Natural Bodybuilding Association titles for Queensland, Australia. He placed second in his division with an invitation to compete for Australia, an awesome result and a terrific opportunity on his debut performance.
But he declined the invitation in order to remain obedient to a conviction- that Saturday is the biblical day of worship and that God’s law, as expressed in the Ten Commandments, required him to observe the seventhday Sabbath, or Saturday, as a day of worship, rest and ministry. Steyn’s duty to God would come before his own desire for prosperity and fame. This faith is the foundation for his choices, without which he fears his convictions would be watered down until he too would just “go with the flow.”
However, Sabbath-keeping isn’t his only stance that is making waves. Steyn adheres to a drug-free, alcohol-free, smoke-free and party-free lifestyle. He says that his body is a “temple,” that he lives to serve God, and that by abiding by natural health laws he can be stronger, healthier and better equipped to help others. In an industry where it is all about “look at me”, Steyn is more committed to his principles than his vanity. Yes, there is something different about this bodybuilder.
Being different is okay for Steyn. “Doing the right thing,” he says, “is more important than popularity, position or money.”
Steyn credits his parents for much of his attitude and success. Before he was born, both his mother and father had lived a partying lifestyle, smoking and drinking excessively before converting to Christianity. Forsaking their previous lifestyle, they raised Steyn as a Seventhday Adventist, working hard to instil in him biblical principles and the virtues of temperance, hard work and healthful living. Despite much temptation, he is committed to walking in the way that he was taught to.
It hasn’t always been easy. Getting up at 5.30 a.m. five times a week is unnatural when you are 16, when the body-clock is not set to rouse until well into the day. The promise of bigger, stronger, faster results with steroids and the lure of opportunities to compete on Saturdays have been temptations that Steyn has had to deal with.
Today, taming the temptations of the palate remains an ongoing challenge. With a wry grin he tells of the sizeable portion of cake he downed at 1.00 a.m. last year while preparing for the International Natural Bodybuilding Association’s titles.
His attitude to life, however, is like his stance on performance-enhancing substances. “If you take drugs, you’re a cheat,” he says. “At the end of the day, it’s worth it [to stand by your convictions]. We all make decisions.”
making a difference
The impact of Steyn’s choices is being felt. Strangers seek his advice. Training partners notice his edge. Work colleagues copy his diet. Even his girlfriend has taken to fitness training and living a healthier lifestyle because of him. And for Steyn, there is no greater joy than sharing how he’s done it. He counts his greatest trophies as those who grow to a healthier and more fulfilling life through his influence.
Speaking with Steyn, I too begin to feel inspired. But is it easy to look and feel that good? No, but it isn’t hard either. According to Steyn, anyone can do it. All one needs is a few goals backed up by firm discipline, a willingness to work hard and a serious helping of willpower. And for those nasty little temptations that come along, Steyn surrounds himself with positive people, inspiring thoughts and a vision.
Yes, Steyn stands out. But it’s more than his bulging biceps or the 170 kilogram weights he bench-presses. He seems content. And that’s something I’ll notice, because at the end of the day, that’s what I’m chasing too.