I Remember Dave Draper

I got into bodybuilding as part of my extended mid-life crisis. In my mid forties, I had already done the usual mid-life stuff – separated from my second wife, changed jobs… that kind of thing. I’d never been to a gym and started going for reasons which today remain obscure, even to me. But before too long, I began to enjoy weight training. Bodybuilding soon followed.

In the following years I met many bodybuilders, including several of the people we view as legends. Many of these are not people I would have over for dinner.

Dave Draper was not a name I was familiar with before the bodybuilding phase of my life began. In the 1960s, although I did listen to the Beach Boys, I had no idea that Dave was becoming the archetypal muscular blond beach dude. I didn’t know he’d won the Mr. America in 1965 and the Mr. Universe in 1966. I never saw his pictures on the covers of all those magazines with all those beach bunnies and surf boards.

In fact, by the time I’d discovered bodybuilding, Dave was a myth in his late fifties. He wasn’t competing anymore, but he was a major presence in bodybuilding nonetheless. He was still training like a fiend, and he was still gigantic and lean. I later learned that Dave had a remarkable past. He had done a lot of traveling. From the Mr. Universe days he had traveled to hell, via the path of alcoholism and drug addiction. He traveled to the hospital and had practically been pronounced dead from congestive heart failure. Then he traveled that mysterious tunnel of spirituality and recovery, emerging in the 1980s as giant in more facets than mere physique.

That’s a lot of traveling.

My meeting Dave Draper began through the internet. In the 1990s Dave and his wife Laree had started an online group. Even though Dave didn’t actually post to the group, his presence attracted a large following. I started posting there, and in fact it was Laree Draper who nicknamed me “The Vegetarian Bodybuilder”, as I had been a vegetarian for some years. The name stuck, and has since become a trademark.

A few years after the group’s inception, Dave and Laree decided to have a gathering. A bash, they called it. Not a cyber gathering. A real gathering. Of humans. In person. How irregular. You did not have to receive some sort of invitation. Anyone who wanted to come could come. How completely irregular. And so it came to pass that in 2001 on the Draper’s home turf of Santa Cruz California, a group assembled to meet Dave Draper, to learn from him, and just to socialize. I don’t think it was supposed to be an annual event, but the following year they did it again, this time in Las Vegas. The following year the bash was in St. Petersburg Florida.

When Dave decided to have the 2004 bash in New York City, my wife Laraine and I decided to go. By now the Draper bashes had a framework. They were a weekend long and included a seminar with Dave as well as various informal social gatherings.

On this occasion somewhere between 50-100 of us fortunate souls piled into a gym in mid-town Manhattan for the seminar. There we encountered Dave in person. My first impression… the guy was absolutely gigantic. Even in baggy civilian clothes, his chest seemed impossibly large, even considering his towering height and massive frame. And yet, incongrously, his whole demeanor was quiet. Even a bit shy. In the spotlight he seemed somewhat uncomfortable.

At the seminar he was joined by longtime bodybuilding legend Mike Katz, another behemoth. Katz and Draper stood together, mixed in amongst the barbells and weight training machines, but the personalities couldn't have been more different. Katz clearly enjoyed the attention, at ease and comfortable taking questions and speaking his mind. Draper looked like he would have been happier just having a quiet and anonymous workout by himself. He took the spotlight - not as an act of desire, but as an act of service.

He was there to give something away.

Talking later to him in a more intimate environment, it was confirmed that Dave Draper had not traveled to New York because he wanted a fan club. He genuinely didn’t, and said as much. The simple fact was that he liked people. He was genuinely interested in the people around him, and seemed to enjoy their company. How utterly unusual!

That night we all went out to dinner, and got to know not only the Drapers, but each other, as most of us had only met in cyberspace.

There is another highly unusual fact that must be mentioned here, and it is this: As far as I know Dave Draper is not a particularly wealthy man. He makes a living writing books and selling a few diet and exercise related products from his website and at trade shows. Yet Draper did not charge anything for the weekend. There were no fees to be paid nor tickets to be purchased. Dave and Laree got on plane, booked their hotel room, Dave gave a seminar for free, and we all went out to dinner that night and paid for our own meals. The following day, we arrived at a Manhattan Planet Hollywood where Dave had set up a private reception for us, complete with an impressive buffet lunch. We ate, drank, chatted, took photos, and spent a few Sunday hours with the Drapers as their honored guests.

For those of us fortunate people who have met Dave Draper, we have been changed by the experience. We have learned something of exercise and diet. But, I believe more importantly, we have learned something of right living. Dave Draper personifies many of the moral qualities we all seek, and these qualities are embodied in an almost impossible physique.




  1. Steve that was beatiful man....a terrific write up.


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