Helena Health Club’s Dave Purcell refuses to slow down

By Michelle Love | Staff Writer

HELENA – Members of the Helena Health Club may be familiar with trainer Dave Purcell. He’s been with the club since it opened eight years ago and works closely with many of Helena’s residents.

On July 23, Purcell competed in and won the 2021 NPC Masters National Bodybuilding Championship in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where he competed against bodybuilders from all across the nation. At the age of 70, he said he has no desire to slow down any time soon.

“I don’t feel 70,” he said with a laugh.

Purcell has been training with weights for 56 years. Growing up, he said he was inspired by people like Steve Reeves and the “Hercules” movies that showed the strength of bodybuilders. “Those guys were bodybuilders that were in the movies and that really inspired me. I’ve always been impressed with their strength and stamina.”

His career has taken many turns from bodybuilding competitions (he proudly said he was titled Mister Louisville in 1975) to the automotive business, but his love of fitness has always filled his life.

“I was in the automotive business for a long time with Southtown Motors in Pelham, and I was always still interested in fitness, but I just couldn’t make any money,” he said. “I’ve always had that desire to help people. That’s what’s gotten me into this, what I really love is passing it along and helping people. I know the benefits and being able to see their improvement, it’s incredible.”

He works with people who have a wide range of issues from back problems to post-surgery issues.

“A lot of people have day-to-day issues that are caused by their poor physical health and poor nutrition,” he said.

Purcell’s favorite part of physical fitness? “The wellness feeling,” he said. “It really is incredible the benefits that you get from keeping yourself healthy. Along with exercise is diet…the importance of nutrition is you just can’t out-train poor nutrition. It’s a combination of eating clean and cardio and resistance training.”

Working in the South where comfort food is a way of life, Purcell said people frequently choose convenience over what’s healthy. He said once people begin to feel the benefits of cleaner eating and exercise, they start to understand the preparation and thought that goes into taking care of yourself. The transition then becomes easy.

“It’s amazing how people will adopt a healthier lifestyle and then they’ll eat something they used to love and it doesn’t taste as good and it’ll often times upset their digestive tract. Your body just stops craving it and you really don’t even miss it.”

In his personal life, Purcell is a family man who loves his wife, Betty, and their 5-year-old daughter, Bailey. He credits Betty to his success, calling her his “training partner.” She is instrumental in helping him with his meal prep and also prepping for his competitions with tanning. “I get home and she’s got my 36 eggs waiting for me for dinner. She’s been huge in my success,” he said.

“I’m just the wife at home,” she said modestly.

Purcell said Bailey cannot help hide her enthusiasm for her dad’s competitions. “I get on stage and all of a sudden I hear, ‘That’s my daddy!’ People started laughing and clapping,” he said, laughing.

One of his goals as a trainer is to inform people of what works for their personal fitness agenda and to also clear up common misconceptions about health and fitness.

“One thing people think that’s just not true is that eating clean is expensive. It’s really not,” he said. “Eating out at a restaurant is expensive. We went out for our anniversary a couple years ago and we spent about $50, and in my mind, I’m thinking, ‘That’s 50-dozen eggs.’”

Being able to see the physical and mental changes in the people he works with is Purcell’s favorite part of the job.

“I love being able to physically see the changes in their face and in their attitude, their whole perception of themselves,” Purcell said. “Sometimes these people, their image of themselves is so poor and to see that change, is amazing. When you change physically, it gives you that mental change that can change their whole life. I get to see them grow and see their feelings of self-worth and confidence grow. They feel good and that makes me feel good.”

He said there is no such thing as “no time to workout. People have time to play on their phones all day and they say, ‘Oh, I don’t have time…’ You’re telling me you don’t have three hours out of your whole week that you can go be active?”

Purcell said he doesn’t believe it when people say you can expect to slow down after a certain age, physically and mentally. Instead, he is a firm believer in the idea that people go as far as they allow themselves to.

“Everyone always says, ‘Oh, after this age your metabolism slows down, you’re going to start to slow down,'” he said. “Well, what I say is, your metabolism isn’t the one that slowed down. You slowed down. You stopped putting in the work. It’s all about that mentality. If you slow down, that’s it.”