If you asked me 15 years ago what I thought I would be doing with my life, there is no way I could have predicted my current career, my family of four that I adore and love so much, and the people I get to work with and coach on a daily basis. Because at the moment in my life nothing even remotely resembled my current life. So when I tell you I wake up every morning and go to bed every night counting my blessings. I’m not being sentimental. I’m just being completely honest with you.

In my late teens-early twenties, I was a very selfish and rebellious person. Honestly, my rebellion was a facade I created to act like I didn’t care but I was secretly scared about what I was going to do with my life. Looking back some of the hardest times in my life were right out of high school.

HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION

A few weeks after I graduated high school I decided last minute that I wanted to go to college. At that point in the application process, the only school that would accept me so late was the University of North Florida only if I attended summer classes. Basically, that meant I would have to pass all my classes to remain enrolled in the Fall. What made things even harder at that time was that I was homeless living on friends couches. My mom had kicked me out of the house the day before graduation (that’s another story we’ll save for later). After calling her and telling her how sorry I was for acting the way I did, I told her that I wanted to go to college. So in less than a week, she had me packed and driving North to Jacksonville days before classes started.

After meeting my roomate and taking some epic family dorm photos I said goodbye to my mom and dad. I was now a college student and free to do whatever I wanted! For many that was a good thing, but not for me. Although I managed to pass all my summer classes, I couldn’t say that I really learned anything or saw the purpose for me being there. It was between Summer and Fall classes that I decided I was going to drop out of college. So I called my mom again to tell her that not only was I quitting college but I had decided to join the military.

WELCOME TO TEXAS

I didn’t want to go back home because I was too embarrassed to tell my friends I dropped out of college so instead I decided to move to Texas with my uncle who I had only met once when I was 10 years old while he came down to visit my real father in prison (that’s also another story for later). As much as she hated the idea that I was moving to Texas there was nothing she could do. While in Texas, I occupied my time by working for whoever would hire me. I took a job at Walmart on the graveyard shift. I hated working from 10:00 pm to 6:00 am. Luckily, so I thought, I got picked up by UPS to deliver to the local mall during the holiday season. That mall route is still by far the worst job I’ve ever had in my life. Probably why I detest any thing that resembels a mall!

IN THE NAVY

A year later I was getting “shipped” out to Naval basic training in Great Lakes, Illinois. I had to wait an entire year to join the Navy because I told the recruiter I would only join the Navy if they gave me a chance to try out for the Navy BUDS (Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL) program. It wasn’t for months after enlisting in Jacksonville, that I had received my official orders to be accepted in their “Delayed Entry Program” for BUDS. I would still have to pass basic training in the Navy and also pass a series of physical test, called the PST (Navy SEAL Physical Screening Test), before being sent to Coronado, California for BUDS training. I was ecstatic!

I wish I could tell you I woke up one day and everything was better but it didn’t happen like that.

After successfully passing basic training and a series of mandatory physical tests for BUDS I remained in Great Lakes until receiving my orders for BUDS. At that point, all the friends from boot camp had graduated and been shipped off all around the world. So I did nothing but train. It was during a routine training run across the base that I felt a sudden sharp pain in my leg that radiated from my shins to my foot. I ended up limping myself to the hospital on base. X-rays confirmed a high-grade stress fracture to my tibia and fibula (shin bones). I was devasted. After multiple tests and recommendations from doctors, and repeated attempts to resume training I was discouraged from accepting my BUDS orders which I received while injured. Shortly after I was Honorably Discharged from the Navy.

COMING HOME

Back at home, I struggled with the fact that many of my friends had already graduated from college and were home starting their new careers. Not only did I have nothing to show for the last five years of my life I still didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. So I turned to my rebellious and selfish ways. In the same way, I did when I graduated high school. Sadly, much of that time of my life is a blur and I’m truly grateful that I didn’t end up dead.

I’m truly grateful that I didn’t end up dead.

ROME WASN’T BUILT IN A DAY

I wish I could tell you I woke up one day and everything was better but it didn’t happen like that. I had to slowly climb my way out of the bottom one-day-at-a-time. Each day became an opportunity to make better decisions. I started by getting a job as a wrestling coach. Coaching was great because it provided me an atmosphere where I had kids looking up to me because I was their coach. I didn’t want to screw that up. In the few short years I got to I spend working with the head wrestling coach we became really good friends. I looked up to him up a lot and till this day consider him a father figure. He was the one brought up the idea of me going back to college. After much resistance, I decided I would give it a try again. Enrolling at my local community college was the second best decision I made. Being an older college student I actually started to apply myself. I learned how to be a student and really enjoyed the process of learning and challenging myself with new material. All my life I was admired and respected for my athleticism but this was the first time I began to think of myself as a student. The third best decision I made during that time was becoming a certified personal trainer. At the time I didn’t get certified to get any particular job but I really enjoyed training and thought it would help me be of better value as a wrestling coach.

SEEKING HELP

I begin seeking professional help surrounding my anger and other issues from my past that I never handled properly. In reminiscing about that dark time in my life, I can openly admit that I was suffering and acting out from decades of undiagnosed clinical depression. I don’t remember much of what we talked about but I just always remember feeling like a weight was lifted off my shoulders after our sessions were over. As time went on I tried to make small decisions like stepping stones. These stepping stones became opportunities in my life that I would have never had if I kept being angry and bitter for what could have been. I stopped blaming others for my past and began surrounding myself with people chasing the same dream I had. Slowly but surely the walls that I had built up for a long time began to crumble. The process was painful and empowering at the same time.

Slowly but surely the walls that I had built up for a long time began to crumble.

BACK TO COLLEGE

One of the defining moments in my unorthodox path to success was 8 years to the day after graduating high school when I received a letter from the University of Florida that officially congratulated me for being accepted as a transfer student for the Fall semester. You can say the rest of it was meant to be. I got to UF right before we won 2 National Football titles with Tim Tebow. The energy in that town is something I have yet to experience again in my life. It was truly amazing to be a part of that. In my time there, I got a job personal training at the Rec Center. It was at the Rec Center where I first learned about CrossFit. When I graduated from UF I ended up building a gym in my sister’s garage. It was there where I began training all my friends for free on one condition…we could only do CrossFit. A year-and-a-half later I opened up CrossFit Naples (2010).

ONE DAY OR DAY ONE

Through all the ups and downs of my early twenties, I’ve come to realize that nothing in life lasts forever. As hard as it was for me to comprehend that even in the worst of times that it was only temporary. I am so grateful for the experience and everything it taught me about myself. At some point between my failed Naval career and ending up in a halfway house with men twice my age I eventually had to decide for myself how my life was going to turn out.

I could talk about how I wanted my life to be ONE DAY or I could decide as I did with tears sobbing over a bible that regardless of my current life situation that that moment was going to be DAY ONE of my path to success.

I could talk about how I wanted my life to be ONE DAY or I could decide as I did with tears sobbing over a bible that regardless of my current life situation that that moment was going to be DAY ONE of my path to success. It was then when I decided to coach wrestling, go back to school, and get certified for personal training.

Although, I’m not perfect and neither are some of the days I have running a business, growing and building a loving and healthy family, and trying to take care of my own needs that you couldn’t pay me a million bucks to go back to my life before DAY ONE. It is my hope from sharing my personal story with you that you do the same!

???? Mario


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