Building muscle takes time. When you lift weights, your muscles tear a little. They get stronger and bigger as they are torn and rebuilt over a long period of time. Denver Brown of Seymour, Missouri, started out bench-pressing 80 pounds (36 kg) when he was 14. Now that he’s 19, he can bench 430 pounds (195 kg) raw (without the aid of a power-lifting shirt). In fact, he holds the United States record in his age group for raw lifting.
As a state and national record holder in bench-press events for his age group, Denver has trophies to prove he’s physically fit. But what’s most important to him is balance. He was in college building his mental strength and is now in the Mexico Culiacán Mission continuing to build his spiritual strength.
“My family has always focused on having spiritual strength,” says Denver, 19. “But my dad taught us we need to have mental strength, physical strength, and spiritual strength. To be the best you can be in any of those areas, you have to be balanced.”
Another kind of strength the Browns have is family strength. In their home in southern Missouri, they pray together, dance together, and play music together. If someone has a weight-lifting meet, they all pile into a car and drive many hours to support him. If Denver starts playing his drums, his brothers Navaar and Kristopher pick up their guitars and play along. And, if they’re lucky, their cousins Sam and Jake Dias will join them too. “Yeah,” says Jake, “we usually jam, weight lift, or eat together.”
All the family lifts weights together. Even Megan, the youngest, who is 12, can bench press a little more than she weighs. She blames her brothers for getting her started. And they blame their dad, Dan Brown, for getting them started.
“I was pretty skinny,” Denver says. “I asked my dad what I could do to start looking better and be healthier.” His dad had lifted weights in high school and picked it up again when his children became interested. Denver’s example got his brothers and cousins interested too.
“Denver was doing it, so I started,” says Navaar. “I found out I could break records, so I just went for it.” Navaar, who is 14, holds a national bench-press record for his age group.
The family is careful as they try to stay in shape. They don’t overdo it, and they eat healthily. “Our focus is more on health than on weight lifting,” Denver says.
Holding records in weight lifting is nice, but physical fitness is only part of being balanced. Kristopher, 16, says, “I wanted to be fit so I’d be better able to serve.” Kristopher and his brothers and sister who still live at home are eager to serve, whether it’s babysitting or just helping a friend.
Denver says service is not the only opportunity weight lifting has given him: “Anywhere you excel, people are going to notice, and that will give you missionary opportunities.” Recently at a national meet, a world-class power lifter asked Denver why he wasn’t coming to the next meet. Denver told him about his mission, and the power lifter surprised him by encouraging him to put God first. Denver later told his mother, Tammy, “I could be known as Denver the weight lifter, but I’d rather be known as Elder Brown in Mexico.”
The whole family puts a lot of effort into building their spiritual muscles. “You can’t just work out one day and expect to compete and do well,” says Sam. “Just like you can’t expect to come to church one day and then be ready to go on a mission. It takes time.”
“Weight lifting takes a lot of determination and eating well,” Jake explains. “With the gospel, you need spiritual food, and you need determination to stay with it, because it’s not always easy.”
All the boys have had instances where their physical strength was useless, and they were glad they could rely on the spiritual strength they had built up.
“When my dad had cancer, we weren’t really sure what was going to happen. We prayed a lot, and the Lord helped us through it,” Jake says.
“Prayer always helped,” agrees Sam. “That’s why we did it so much.”
Denver relied on the Lord when his best friend was killed in a car accident. “It took a lot of time and a lot of prayer. That was probably the time when I felt most reliant on Heavenly Father, rather than trying to take care of things for myself, because I felt helpless,” he says.
The whole family needed to rely on the Lord when their previous house burned down a year and a half ago. They’ve since moved to a new town and have made their new house into a home.
One of the family’s favorite scripture stories is of Ammon, a son of Mosiah, going to preach to the Lamanites (see Alma 17–20). Denver is not only impressed by Ammon’s physical strength in defeating those trying to steal the king’s sheep, but he is also impressed by his optimism. “There’s a possibility he’s going to get killed for letting the sheep get scattered, but he thinks, ‘Great! An opportunity!’”
Navaar likes the story of Ammon because even though Ammon was strong, he didn’t boast about his strength. He was still humble and trusted in the Lord. For Navaar, Ammon is an example of living a balanced life.
The Brown family keep striving to have balance in their lives and to support each other, through hard times and easier times. And they keep building up their reserves of spiritual strength because they know that no matter how strong they are physically, the only strength they can truly rely on is the Lord’s.