In every single form of mass media in this environment, it seems people are constantly plugging athletes as our “superheroes.” They’re the people we look up to for help, for answers, for guidance– not because they are running for office, or because they are proficient in the practice of medicine. Indeed, a popular athlete’s “claim to fame” is all wrapped up in his/her physique. It is then up to them to find a way to use that “celebrity” for the greater good– if that actually happens. Unfortunately, time and time again, our favorite athletic role models disappoint, leaving in their wake a slew of tabloid headlines and unflattering photos that no one would want to see posted on Facebook.
I paint a pretty picture, don’t I?
Well, meet Bryan Ballart. I did when I was maybe 10 years old, and he was a scrawny little boy of maybe 7 or 8 years. His older sister, Christine, who is about my age, has spina bifida, and his family and my family were attending Camp Boggy Creek for the first time, I think.
The camp accommodations, which were old-fashioned wooden cabins, were duplex-style, with two families in each building sharing a kitchen. I didn’t realize it until our last day of that camp weekend that our families had been neighbors! We had a lot to talk about, and in Spanglish, too. (His family is Cuban, and of course, mine is Puerto Rican!)
That was back in 1997. I clearly remember little Bryan, who could never stay put in one place. He loved playing basketball in the camp gym, and could often be found playing around outside in the Cabin Rows during “rest time.”
In this photo, a dorkier version of myself, my friend Luis, and Bryan are playing wheelchair basketball. At camp, they would require anyone not in a wheelchair to play on a scooter– not an easy task!
Today, little Bryan (still skinny!), is a well-built athlete who participates in triathlons. The Miami native is a student at Florida International University, a personal fitness trainer, a sports nutritionist, and an instructor at Bring it Bootcamp, where he helps people of all body types get whipped into shape.
About three weeks ago (correct me on this, Bryan, if I’m wrong!), Bryan started a blog called You Should Tri (clever, very clever!) Through his blog, Bryan takes questions about fitness and nutrition, from anyone at any level of health or athleticism. He’s also specifically a triathlete, which requires very rigorous and painstaking training and discipline.
Bryan has definitely grown up and is already making a career for himself by guiding others toward a healthier lifestyle.
Bryan, my friend Luis and I play wheelchair basketball (all the kids without wheelchairs played on scooters!). This was my official “awkward phase” growing up, just in case you couldn’t tell.
But, as you might have guessed, that’s not why he’s a hero to me. Several months ago, the youngest Mr. Ballart sent me a chat on Facebook. We hadn’t “talked” in many years, so we each caught up on what the other is doing. He told me he simply wanted to let me know that he admired what I was doing with “Holdin’ Out for a Hero,” and that I could count on his support in anything! He informed me that the athletic community is a great resource, and that they are a close-knit and incredibly supportive group.
Today, Ballart is a fitness bootcamp instructor, a sports nutritionist, a great motivator— and a hero.
He’ll never know just what a great boost of motivation and energy that gave me! (And it wasn’t even due to a workout!) As Bryan establishes himself as a professional and as a passionate individual, he has made it clear that he also has a great deal of passion for the spina bifida cause. He’s going to do some amazing things for this effort, even if simply by spreading the word. And all the while, he is encouraging all of us to be healthy and happy. There isn’t possibly a greater motive than that!
Abrazos a tí, Bryan! (“Hugs, to you, Bryan!”)