On November 29th, 2003, an unknown powerlifter from Sun Valley, Idaho, named Benji Hill, walked into the Weightlifting World Championships in Calgary, Alberta. It was his golden birthday, and from the moment he woke up that morning, things felt right. For one, he wasn’t nervous at all. His body felt good. Strong and confident, he was totally at peace. Nobody expected him to even make it to the world championships. He had nothing to prove. There was no pressure. “It was just me versus me,” Hill says, “and that’s exactly the way I like it.”
Picking up the morning newspaper, he checked his horoscope. “All the stars are aligned in your favor,” it told him. “Today, you can do no wrong.” He believed it, and on weightlifting’s biggest stage, he absolutely sent it—winning the competition, stunning his competitors, and becoming a world champion in the 225-pound weight class. “I hit every lift I tried,” he says, still shaking his head in a certain amount of wonder about how it all went down that fateful day. “I also set my personal records for deadlift—705 lbs.; squat—766 lbs.; and bench—501 lbs., on the same day.” For those who know, this type of performance is damn near impossible. Especially for a “scrawny kid from Idaho who played soccer in high school and everyone told didn’t have the right body type and wasn’t built for powerlifting,” says Hill with a laugh.
After his legendary victory, Hill walked away from weight lifting competition. “That was my last day competing,” he says. “I was tired of all the training and eating and gym time. I wanted to get back to my roots and my love of the outdoors.”
While he might have stopped competing, Hill never stopped learning and pushing himself in every aspect of life. “I’m not comfortable with being comfortable,” he says matter-of-factly. Over the next 15 years, Hill worked as a ski coach and various other part-time jobs as he established himself as one of the premiere personal trainers in the Sun Valley area and beyond. He also started spending a lot of time exploring the mountains and wilderness areas surrounding his hometown. “The more I worked with people in the gym and spent time in the wilderness,” Hill explains, “the more I became interested in the idea of minimalism. Society on a whole is so focused on maximalism, and I want to be the opposite. There’s so much freedom involved in letting useless stuff go.”
Benji being Benji, he’s taken this minimalist philosophy and pushed it to the limit. “With every layer of complication I eliminate from my life, the happier I get,” he says with a smile. “It’s an ongoing challenge that I practice every day, and I’m so much mellower and happier because of it.”
The practice of minimalism influences everything he does. He trains outside at his farm without any machines. Instead, he uses homemade and natural equipment like logs, rocks, sandbags and sledgehammers. “It’s all about function,” he says about his training regimen, “boosting confidence and getting stronger.”
He became a survivalist, studying the ancient techniques of building shelters and creating fire. He hunts with bows and arrows he makes himself, and he uses pack goats to help him explore those deep untouched wilderness areas that he’s most interested in.
“Goats are minimalist pack animals,” explains Hill. “They eat weeds and bark and other stuff nothing else eats. They barely drink any water, especially compared to horses or pack mules, and most importantly, they don’t need trails, because where I like to go, there are no trails.”
Never one to seek the spotlight, Hill has little interest in public recognition. He gets more than a little uncomfortable when asked why so many people want to hunt with him, train with him, send their kids to camp with him and go into the backcountry with him. “I’m not really sure why,” he says with a nervous chuckle. “I think people romanticize it all a bit, but I have learned a lot through the different paths that I’ve taken. I’ve tried and tested and lived through a lot, and I never recommend anything that I haven’t tried or done myself…so I guess I do have a few things that I’ve learned along the way and can share with others.”
Besides, pushing himself beyond his comfort zone is one of the things that makes Hill feel most alive. So that’s why he finds himself saying yes to things like interviews and podcasts, magazine profiles and video shorts about him. For no other reason than they make him uncomfortable, and he likes that.
Hill shared one piece of advice that he wanted to make sure people take away from any interview with him. “It’s an old idea,” Hill says, “but I think it’s the most important thing we can teach our kids and keep one another accountable about,” he pauses for a beat before continuing. “Take less than you give,” he says, and his bright blue eyes shine with intensity. “We can all do this in so many different ways, not just with money or resources, but with our time, knowledge and understanding. We can do so much with so little.”