Rocky de Leon
Aglet, eyelet, pull, aglet, eyelet, pull… Carlos had just recently learned what that little plastic piece that caps off your shoelace was called, and he committed it to memory for future use as he laced up the boots he got off ebay. The bright red pleather reeked of cheap labor in a foreign country, but he covered that up by painting on white and blue stripes of his own. It’s hard enough for a lot of people to see past the brown on his skin, he doesn’t want them thinking of China when he wrestles.
With laces up and done, he cinched the tie at the waist of his shorts, pulled down his tank top, and stood at the edge of the wooden platform overlooking the ⅓ acre behind his ranch style home in Laredo. He grew up here, but he didn’t really expect to be back. After his mother passed three years ago, he was the only one that still wanted the home. So, he returned for more than a visit for the first time since college and never left.
He stared out from the platform and eyed the rings 6 feet in front of him. Below, the ground dropped down far enough to give Carlos a little vertigo if he let his gaze linger too long. It’s not so far that a fall would kill him, but it could easily break a bone or twelve. It seemed prudent to lay some padding, and large foam bricks filled the void as insurance for his inevitable failures. He closed his eyes, breathed, opened his eyes, bent at the knees, and swung his arms back to build momentum for the leap forward. With arms outstretched, he made contact with the rings and clasped his fingers around them like a baby grabbing his daddy’s hand for the first time. This time, he didn’t fall.
Carlos brushed off the dust from his shirt and shorts and performed a visual scan of his backyard. The “ninja” rope course he haphazardly threw together for training was seeing a real workout. Some of the two by fours were looking a little stressed, and he made a mental note to obtain supplies to buttress them. The course was built as a full body workout, designed to train upper and lower body to its limits. Well, his limits anyway. It began with a series of gymnastics rings set just far enough apart that he had to use his abs to swing and generate enough distance to clear the gap to the next ring, and the next, and the next before landing on another platform. From there, a series of chopped up telephone poles were placed in the ground, some vacant-topped and some holding martial training dummies. As he hopped from vacant pole to vacant pole, he placed targeted strikes on each dummy. The dummies were covered in chalk so he could plainly see where his punches and kicks landed for later analysis. He aimed to clear that part of the course as fast as possible, at which point he would find himself back on terra firma only to be confronted with a 12-foot wall with no rope to help him up and over before climbing down a ladder to the water which was his sole reward. After finishing the course, he spent an hour on general weight training.
Over the past six months, Carlos lost 38 pounds. He’d given up beer (not that he drank that much to begin with but they were empty calories), sugary treats, and, for a short period, carbs. He started working out – first with walking and light calisthenics, then he added in weights and resumed his tae kwon do classes. Most recently, he’d cobbled together the course in his backyard.
Journalists aren’t exactly known for their physical prowess. Carlos made his career with pen and paper, writing about whatever subject his employer requested. When he worked for The Atlantic, that meant economics. When he shifted to lighter fare at GQ, that meant writing about hot gadgets and tech. Once, he even had a six month gig writing for Car and Driver, but as he didn’t know shit about cars he elected to write a six-part biographical series on Danica Patrick. This sold surprisingly well (especially when the photos were included). If nothing else, Carlos understood his audience. What he hadn’t done much at all during the past decade was write about his passion. What better way, he thought, to truly understand the subject matter than to experience it first hand?
He put down the barbells and walked over to the digital camera set up on the tripod on his deck. He stopped the recording, then took the SD card to his computer to edit what the camera captured. When he was satisfied the video produced wasn’t so boring that anyone might just turn it off, he burned his product to disc, gently secured it in a high quality jewel case, and placed a perfectly rectangular piece of masking tape across the front. On the tape, he wrote in block letters with a Sharpie, “Rocky de Leon – AUDITION.” The jewel case was dropped into a bubble mailer and sent priority mail to one Lindsay Troy at PRIME. There was nothing left to do but train… and wait.