DREAMING BIG... DYLAN VANSTEENBERG
by Peter Renault
"The total package!" You hear that expression bandied about so much these days that it's lost its impact. But up-and-coming fitness model, Dylan VanSteenberg, puts a new twist on that tired catchphrase. Looks, brains, brawn and charm -- he's got them all in spades. A strapping 5' 10", 185 pounds of muscle, with imposing 18-inch guns, Dylan exudes self-confidence and sex appeal, but without any of the grating cockiness of some of his better-known contemporaries. His allure is more subtle, subdued, even somewhat elusive. Maybe it's those mercurial hazel eyes that mirror the colors and light around him in a kaleidoscope of alternating hues. "I've been told I have weird eyes," Dylan says with a laugh. "My girlfriend calls them chameleon eyes. I guess they change a lot."
Dylan better get used to change these days. Big changes. Even though he is a fresh face in the world of modeling, he's already got three shoots under his belt including a recent shoot in Los Angeles for a celebrity book project, in which he was paired with fitness model phenom Jeff Seid. He was scouted by a photographer in Minneapolis at a recent physique competition. A quick shoot was lined up, but the scout realized that Dylan had exceptional potential so he hooked him up with seasoned photographer Michael Anthony Downs, based out of Florida. "I'd never done any modeling before," Dylan admits, with a laugh. "The last pictures taken of me were for my senior prom. I always thought it would be cool. Who wouldn't want to give it a try?" But Dylan quickly learned that modeling is more than just smiling for the camera. It requires intense dieting, focus, long hours -- and very often travel. "I always knew I was… well…, a good-looking guy, I guess," he says with typical humility. "But never in a million years did I think I'd be doing what I'm doing now."
The attention he's garnering is playing well back home in Sioux Falls. "There are a lot of guys there getting into bodybuilding," he says. "But I don't know any other male models in the area." So far the reaction from friends and family has been very positive. "It's cool. I'm living my dreams. No negatives. Maybe a few chuckles." The key is to keep it all in perspective -- not let it get to your head. "I'm basically just a nice guy," he says. "People are all the same. We're all just here to be happy, to get where we're trying to go. Just living life. I'm no better than the next person."
Currently studying nursing at South Dakota State University, Dylan has lived in the area his whole life. Before his recent shoot in Florida, the furthest he'd ever been from home, he says, was Minneapolis. Suddenly he found himself on the white sandy beaches of Florida's golden Gulf Coast: Sarasota and Tampa Bay. "It was a whole new level for me," Dylan says. "I'd never even been to a real natural beach or the ocean before."
Was he nervous for his first professional shoot? "Nah. I look at it this way. I always give my best. It's all good. Just do what you can." Dylan proved his willingness to put it all out there when Downs suggested he pose in nothing more than a pair of briefs in the middle of a busy boulevard, holding a sign next to his chiseled eight-pack stating: "Will Work for Food." It's a classic, off-the-cuff Downs capture, provocative and edgy. Dylan nailed it without any trouble, although "stopping traffic" and "rubber necking" hardly suffice as phrases for the stunned reactions of the drivers passing by in their cars during rush-hour.
Pushing the envelope is no sweat for Dylan, who competed as a wrestler for years. Fitness is his lifestyle. "I've been training since I was a kid," he says. "My Dad was a high school wrestling and football coach. So I picked it up early. I've been doing push-ups and sit-ups since kindergarten!" At twelve, he lifted his first weights. "I was small when I was young, but by the time I was fourteen I was training seriously." He quickly put on muscle and ballooned in size. A slight 103 pounds in seventh grade, Dylan had to drink water to make weight in his wrestling meets. By senior year he was a heavyweight, tipping the scale at 220. Wrestling appealed to him because it's a personal challenge. "There's no one else to blame," Dylan says. It's an individual sport with a team behind you. But they can't help you out on the mat. I liked that. In football you can point the finger for a loss. But in wrestling, if I lost it was because of me."
While hitting the gym regularly to build mass, Dylan soon met a mentor who changed his life: NGA pro bodybuilder Austin Kjergaard. "I was blessed," Dylan recalls, impressed by the athlete's build and rigorous routine. "Austin was a few years older than me and I thought 'Holy Cow! I could be like him.' He had such a good work ethic. So when he asked me, 'Hey, do you want to work out with me?' I couldn't believe it. I was ready to go. In the end he was the biggest influence on me. I couldn't have done any of this without him."
Kjergaard has proved a role model outside the gym as well. "He taught me what hard work really is -- sacrifice," Dylan says. "His best advice was to always stay motivated. You can't look up to others, he told me. You can't be like anyone else. You must envision your own self. Don't compare. Be different. Sculpt it in your own way." But most of all, keep things in perspective. "You must stay humble," he says. "I am not one of those guys who brags a lot or posts pictures of himself all the time." But considering his growing circle of fans, Dylan admits that will have to change. "You have to market yourself. Maybe I will have to lose some of my humility."
With future shoots in Miami slated, perhaps that time has come. "I'm on cloud nine," Dylan says. "Don't even know what to think. I've never been to Miami." He laughs. "I've only seen Miami on TV." And since he recently was in Hollywood, the questions begs…what about acting? Can he see himself following in the footsteps of other bodybuilders who got into movies? "I am open-minded," Dylan says, choosing his words carefully. "Acting would be cool. But the sky is the limit."
NOTE: Dylan appears as Mr. April 2014.
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