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The Lord's workout!

Byline: By Catherine Evans Wales on Sunday

From pumping iron to communion wine, a former body building Mr Gwent has swapped flexing his pecs for preaching in the pulpit.

Shocked worshippers at the Underwood Baptist Free Church were left gasping for some holy water after discovering their new vicar was once a top muscle man.

Ex-beef cake Derek Hayward, 59, from Newport, once held every amateur bodybuilding title in the UK but, after finding God in 1997, he stopped worshipping the body beautiful to devote his time and energy to a higher power.

Now, married father-of-two Rev Hayward says it was a miracle he ever got into bodybuilding at all.

"Right from when I was a kid, I'd never been remotely interested in sport.

"So by the time I was an adult, I was horribly unfit," he said.

"When my 19-year-old son, Sheridan, challenged me to a badminton match one day, I huffed and puffed my way around the court, my flabby bits wobbling.

"By the end of the game, my face was a red as a beetroot and I was panting like a dog.

'That's it,' I said to my wife, Fran, 'I'm going to get fit'. 'Mind you don't give yourself a heart attack,' she said.

"I joined Pembroke Velo Cycle Club. But then I pulled a muscle in my leg, so I started going to the gym instead.

"When the owner suggested body building, I thought, 'Why not?'

"Everyone had a laugh when I announced my new hobby. My 30-year-old daughter Zoe laughed: 'You've got to be kidding, Dad'."

But soon he was the one laughing - as he admired his new heavenly body.

"I put on more than five stone, taking my weight to 16st, but not of flab this time, of pure muscle.

"My arms were like tree trunks and my thighs were enormous. It wasn't long before I was winning competitions.

"Two years on, I held all the UK amateur body-building titles. But it came at a price. I had to be really dedicated and disciplined. I stuck to a strict diet and trained every day. I couldn't eat out."

It was only when wife Fran, 59, started going to church that Rev Hayward was struck with divine inspiration.

"In 1995, we moved house and Fran joined the church that backed onto our garden. One day the new minister came to introduce himself.

"Suddenly I felt like it was a sign. I felt like God was calling me," he said.

"I started going to church with Fran every week and then after 14 months I had another calling. 'I've decided to become a minister,' I told her. She was amazed.

"I gave up my job as an engineer. My boss thought I was crazy.

"Then we moved to Cardiff and I enrolled at the South Wales Baptist College."

After four years of academic training, he became the parish vicar of Newport's Underwood estate - where he'd won the title of Mr Gwent at the annual bodybuilding championship in 1990.

Hearing the Underwood Leisure Centre - where he won his muscle-man title - was under threat, he spearheaded a campaign to save it.

He said: "I first came to Underwood to win a bodybuilding title, now I'm back helping to build up the community.

"I heard about plans to close the Underwood Leisure Centre where it all started and I've made it my mission to save it.

"If I can re-invent myself from a flabby, unfit, non-believer to a body-building vicar, then anything's possible!".
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Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Aug 19, 2007
Words:585
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