MH first meets him on a cold Wednesday in January, amid the New Year gym rush. His base of operations for the day is On Your Mark, a training space in Chicago’s East Garfield Park area that served as a bomb shelter during the Second World War. The 1 765m2 site is packed with lifting platforms, heavy bags, and sprint tracks. A dozen or so athletes gather to work with their coaches, moving between stations, their faces masks of determination.
Weighing 195kg, De Leon stands out among them. But watch him for five minutes and you’ll see that this is a man in his element. Dressed in black trackpants, a black velour shirt, and Nike running shoes, he hoists a canvas ball over his head and slams it down with a guttural “Humph!” over and over, the impact echoing through the gym like a cannon blast.
Beside him stands his trainer, David Carson, correcting and motivating him. In between sets with the ball, De Leon steps laterally, up and over, back and forth, between yellow markers, pulling his knees up. “Ten seconds,” says Carson. “Give me 10 more seconds.” His face now shining with sweat, De Leon presses on, Carson helping him maintain balance in what looks like a kind of workout dance. After that, he moves on to the cable machine for a set of biceps curls, Kanye West booming from the gym’s speakers.
And on it goes, for more than an hour. By the end, De Leon is pouring with sweat, as he gulps from his bottle of water. Carson taps his shoulder and says, “Good job.” Smiling through the perspiration, De Leon nods, then claps, then throws back his head and shouts, “Yeeaah!”
He was always big. For as long as he can remember, De Leon dwarfed his friends and, in girth at least, his three elder brothers. “I guess I haven’t ever been ‘normal size’,” he says. By the age of seven, he was wearing size-10 adult shoes. Children’s shoes were fine lengthwise but too narrow. To make them fit, he had to stuff the fronts with socks.
At school, he longed to be invisible but his size made him conspicuous – a target. He wasn’t just bigger than everyone else. He looked older, too. When he was 12, people assumed that he was 16.
He was an intelligent, thoughtful boy, but on the rough-and-ready streets where he and his family lived in west Chicago, you kept such things to yourself. “When you’re that size, a lot of people want to test you,” he says. “It’s almost like a prison mentality: pick on the biggest dude.” One of his earliest memories was of a teenager being shot and killed outside his home. His brothers and father shrugged it off.
As he entered high school, De Leon realised he could go one of two ways: be shy, compliant, and try – at least with his personality – to be as small as possible, or he could become bigger, tougher, and defiant in his heaviness. He wouldn’t wait for someone to call him fat – he would do it first. He would welcome the teasing and learn to give back better than he got. He would be funny when he needed to and aggressive when it failed.
One factor in his obesity was his address. His family lived in a “food desert”: an area filled with fast-food restaurants and off-licenses but lacking supermarkets selling fresh fruit and vegetables. McDonald’s, Burger King, and Pizza Hut were staples. Breakfast often consisted of a couple of cinnamon buns and buttered toast, washed down with three or four bottles of juice. At home, food represented comfort, acceptance, and family. His mother was from Mexico and his father from Guatemala; both could lay a table filled with enough traditional dishes – corn, rice, pork, and refried beans – to tempt anyone to stray from their diets.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
In Your Garage
Calvin fisher deep dives into the motorsportderived gubbins that make your car go. And go well.
The MH Ultimate Series: Seven Steps To Amazing Abs
The key to an impressive midsection: work smarter, not harder.
The Making Of Maponyane
Whether it’s to his million-plus followers or the world’s biggest brands, Maps Maponyane is a household name. Did we mention he’s only 30? His formula for success: there is no formula. Be ready to work hard, keep pushing, and get better every damn day.
MH Mind: Grief Encounters
The coronavirus pandemic has caused an indescribable amount of grief. And to add insult to injury, it’s also gone and upended the ways we would usually have processed our feelings. So what do we do now? We asked experts to share their tips for navigating loss.
So You Wanna Hack Your Fat Hormones
In the weight-loss conversation, everyone talks, talks, talks about diet and exercise. Meanwhile, hormones can’t get a word in edgewise. Which maybe makes sense, since hormones aren’t something you’ve thought about since high school. But new science shows that not only are these complex chemicals worth paying attention to as you age, they may also play a key role in how you put on (or take off) weight. Granted, there are dozens of hormones, so we’ve created a crash course on how you can make ten of the big ones work better for you. That sounds complicated. (It’s not.) Here’s how to do it.
Reset Your Body In Five Moves
Rewind months of lockdown indulgences and make good on your 2020 weight-loss resolutions with this short and very sharp hiit circuit. It’s an extremely strong start.
How To Run When You Hate Running
If you slog through the same interminable kilometres week after week, if you go out too fast, if your high school coach used laps as punishment... of course you’re gonna hate running. But here’s the thing: running’s not about banging it out anymore. It’s still an incredibly efficient cardio workout that you don’t get with weights alone. Now, however, running itself isn’t really the point. It’s just what happens to be going on in the morning, with friends. Or at night, when the city’s yours and you may or may not be breaking some rules. It’s a game you play with yourself, a way to test yourself, a way to find yourself, a way to forget. You don’t really hate running. You hate the way you’ve been running. And we’ve got six cures for that.
MH UPGRADES: Make The Switch
When the pandemic hit SA, local businesses were given a brutal ultimatum: adapt or die. Here’s how these companies flipped the script to survive (and thrive) in the face of an unprecedented crisis.
THE BUSY MAN’S GUIDE TO NOT SQUANDERING WHAT MATTERS MOST: MONEY, FOOD, ENERGY, YOUR LIFE AND MAYBE EVEN THE PLANET.
After his life was derailed by a serious illness, cover guy and chef Scott Parker didn’t just recover, he rebuilt his approach to life, food and getting ripped. Use his recipe to turn up the heat on your workouts and tap into true grit.
The Flight of the Omnipresent Red Phin
Dr. Karen Gedney
MARIA OKORN tells the story of a medical doctor who found her calling behind bars.
Defensive line fulfills high expectations
It was the tip of the spear followed by the old guard. Washington’s defensive line lived up to expectations in its opener against Philadelphia. After the team allowed a quick 17 points, it shut down the Eagles the rest of the game while creating two interceptions for eventual touchdowns in the 27-17 victory.
SEPTEMBER 7,2019 5:48 P.M PRINEVILLE, OREGON
Going back to the S.S. era, and Clark Gable's XK120 Roadster with a removable hardtop
Rising From Disaster - Sand Springs BMX
Sand Springs, Oklahoma.
96 Minutes with … Carson Daly
The unlikely late-night host’s survival guide.
Stunning Bullet Classic 500 is like riding a time machine
It mesmerises with its thumping single-cylinder sound and vintage looks
What makes a top performer
Picking the promising stocks, rather than following an index, is paying off for small-cap managers
Carson blasts BBC for axing Barker from Question Of Sport
FORMER A Question Of Sport team captain Willie Carson has hit out at the BBC’s decision to axe Sue Barker – and said the host’s replacement should not automatically be from an ethnic minority background.