Publication Date: 1979
Dave Draper's body is his business. His physique, once familiar in the movies, has flexed all over the world. Yet his name is not a household word.
Way Back When
In the mid-Sixties Dave was winning the big contests: Mr. America, Mr. World, Mr. Universe. Today, he promotes nutritional supplements, the bodybuilder's sacraments, and helps run a gym in Santa Cruz, California with his wife and daughter. And 30 times each year he takes his body to physique contests and poses for appreciative audiences, inspiring tyros and amazing fatsos.
At the Raleigh Health Food store, fans, mostly young men with the physiques of weightlifters, waited eagerly in line for a chance to shake his powerful hand, to get his autograph.
When Dave mounted the platform the next night to go through his posing routine between the Mr. Wake County and Mr. Piedmont contests, the excitement of the night hit a peak. Cameras flashed wildly. Many in the audience rushed forward for a better view. The theme from Exodus, playing softly in the background suddenly hit a crescendo. For a spellbinding minute the audience was transfixed as Dave glided through his series of power-packed poses.
Dave promised to come back and talk to the audience for a few minutes after the final awards were given. For an hour he stood on the stage and fielded questions, but the crowd didn't want to let him go. When the questions were finally over, he was pinned down by eager autograph hounds.
Obviously the crowd at the Daniels Junior High auditorium Saturday night knew who Dave Draper is. No matter to them that his pinnacle of glory is a decade past. For them, once Mr. Universe, always Mr. Universe. No matter that his days of competition are long since over. No matter that he is a few pounds overweight and bemoans his own inability to take those pounds off.
To fans, Dave Draper is a paragon, albeit an aging one, of bodybuilding. He sits in the Parthenon of all-time greats, none of whose names, besides possibly Arnold Schwarzenegger, are likely to be familiar outside the readership of IronMan and Muscle magazines. When Dave was in his prime, Mr. Universe was happy with the trophy and limited publicity. "The guys today are making the big bucks. I was just born a little too soon," he said philosophically, not regretfully.
Dave's goal when he started lifting weights as 12 years old wasn't fame and fortune. "I just wanted big muscles. I lifted weights the way a lot of other kids play baseball."
He said he will enter no more contests: "There's only one winner in a contest and no one wants a loser." But he is convinced he will go on lifting for the rest of his life.
His training, however, is less intense these days. At 37, the workouts don't get any easier. The body begins to feel its age. Injuries come easier.
Keeping The Will
Dave admits he gets tired and bored with it all sometimes. But he goes on, knowing that bodybuilding is a sport that is never without pain. But for Dave Draper the reward isn't in the trophies and titles. The daily renewal of that tacit contract with the weights, the endless repetitions, the pain, the sweat: that's the meaning of it all.
Gentle in demeanor, almost shy, Dave displays none of the macho posturing which might be expected of one dedicated to such a traditionally male-dominated sport. Bodybuilding is, however, not an exclusive male sport, as women's physique contests are beginning to pop up around the country.
Dave recently judged one such contest in Ohio for the best female physique in the world. He said he was very impressed by the muscles he saw there. One might expect a woman bodybuilder to have a hulky form, but instead one finds the same svelteness of a model enhanced by a well-defined muscularity. Questions addressed to Dave about bodybuilding came not solely from the men in the audience.
My Biggest Thrills
He was asked if winning the Mr. Universe title was his biggest thrill. He looked surprised, disappointed almost. "That was something that just happened," he said. "I didn't plan to win. That thrill was short-lived. It was a thrill at the contest and during the ride home, but then it was over." The next day it was back to the gym. "My biggest thrill was the birth of my daughter." The other thrills to him have been the contact with people over the years and the camaraderie, which develops among bodybuilders while working out in the gym.
A new breed of bodybuilders is on the rise. The sport is coming out of the closet into the glaring lights of commercial glamour. Arnold Schwarzenegger flexes his muscles before an audience of aesthetes at the Whitney Museum of Art. Brother Iron and Sister Steel and other books about bodybuilding can be found in almost any bookstore.
Today's Olympians will be replaced by tomorrow's Titans, who will command even more attention and wealth. And Dave Draper will continue to thrive on his daily trips to the gym and the pain of pushing his body to the limits without thoughts of future acclaim.