Outside of church, pastor a powerlifter

LINCOLN, Neb. – While chaperoning a church mission trip through a Nicaraguan open-air market, Steve Davenport noticed they were being followed.

The Calvary Christian Church pastor of youth ministries and Parkview Christian School religion teacher asked his interpreter to find out what was up, the Lincoln Journal Star reported.

"They want your autograph," the interpreter said.

"They think you are Stone Cold Steve Austin."

At 290 pounds of tremendous muscle, 45-year-old Davenport boasts a stop-in-your tracks physique – similar to the retired professional wrestler turned actor.

But Davenport is an athlete of a different sort – a powerlifter.

And this October, the powerlifting pastor will travel to Tallinn, Estonia, to compete in his second World Powerlifting Competition.

In 2013, he took home a silver overall in his division/class (ages 40-49, weight 264.6 pounds and up) and a gold medal in the deadlift of 705 pounds – not bad for a guy whose competitors frequently outweigh him by a good 60 to 110 pounds.

Powerlifting is his hobby – albeit one of great passion, dedication and determination.

But his life is given to God – something he never forgets whether he is raising 766 pounds from a squat or teaching teenagers at Parkview Christian about the beliefs of other religions around the world.

Davenport grew up playing football in Georgia. A high school coach introduced weightlifting to the players.

"He motivated us to work out," Davenport recalled.

In church, Davenport’s mind would wander during the occasional sermon and thoughts would turn to the coach with his huge arms and legs.

"Why does he look that way," Davenport asked
the man’s son.

He’s a powerlifter, the boy responded.

From then on, Davenport wanted to learn all he could about a sport that frequently is confused with Olympic weightlifting.

To date, powerlifting is not recognized by the International Olympic Federation.

Despite similarities between the two sports which require competitors to lift weight-laden bars -powerlifting is about pure strength and raw lifting power. Olympic lifting is more of a test of an athletes explosive strength, according to strength training experts.

The high school coach’s son gave Davenport all of their old weightlifting magazines.

"And I was sold," he said.

Davenport read them cover to cover, teaching himself how to lift and train.

He dabbled with powerlifting through college.

But it wasn’t until he received his first pastoral appointment that Davenport informed his wife Terry that powerlifting would be his main hobby. The garage, and later the basement, would become his workout rooms.

Davenport started training in 1996.

He first competed in 1998.

"I had trained for two-and-a-half years, but I had no clue about what I was doing, as far as the competition was concerned," Davenport recalled.

He learned the ropes. He formed powerful friendships.

"I never take my pastor hat off," he confided.

In 2001 Davenport qualified for the national powerlifting competition – "And bombed."

"Not only did I do bad, but I couldn’t do lifts correctly," he said. "I was humiliated. And I quit."

But other powerlifters encouraged him:

If you tweak a few things you will be all right, they told Davenport.

Humiliation gave way to determination:

"Maybe I was training wrong. Maybe I should go back and start all over again . At 6:30 a.m. the next morning I went back to the basics, as if I had not ever lifted before."

That was July, 2001.

Five months later he returned to competition, and posted his best numbers ever.

Through training he continued to increase his lift weights.

In April 2014, Davenport lifted a total of 1,900 pounds. He set a goal: to be the first in Nebraska to lift 2,000 pounds drug free.

This past May at the national powerlifting event in Denver, he posted a total weight of 2,028 pounds – 776 squat; 556 bench press; and 705 deadlift. The best in the U.S. in his division.

Of the 16 wrestlers who defeated him so badly in 2001 – Davenport is the only one still competing.

He shares his story with students and athletes.

"Sometimes you have to fail," Davenport said. "Failure is where you discover where you are weak and what you need to work on."

As a pastor and teacher, he sees too many kids terrified to fail.

"As a result, they don’t try new stuff," Davenport said.

Failure is nothing to be ashamed of, Davenport said.

"Find what God has put you on this earth to do. Then sharpen those skills so you can be as good as you can be at what you were put on this earth to do," Davenport said.

"I don’t know why God put me to want to start lifting weights at a young age," he said.

But he does know that powerlifting and its competitions are not all about heavy lifting.

"My records – someone else will beat some day. I hope someone beats my records," he said. "But you can’t ever change the person you are ruled (by God) to be."