Over-the-top athletes

Early-morning jogs, strict diets and punishing workouts are par for the course when you are a professional athlete. But what about the attorney, salesman or student who has a relentless passion for a particular sport? We’re not talking about your typical weekend warrior, but the hard-core athlete driven by something deeper than a desire to have fun or shed pounds.

Cycling addict: Ray Porter

Ray Porter of Oak Cliff started smoking when he was about 12 years old. And when he quit at 38, he started to put on weight.

“I got so big that I couldn’t get into my clothes,” he says. “So I bought a $70 bike, a Huffy, and I wore it down to nothing.”

He kept with the sport, upgrading to better, more expensive bikes, and he found that he was pretty fast. So after several years of trying, his wife, Gina, finally convinced him to enter a race.

Now the 53-year-old handyman competes in and wins endurance bicycle races.

“I found I could compete against younger guys and beat them a lot of the time,” he says. “And that made me feel good.”

He prefers long distances, such as 100-mile races. And he frequently competes in 24-hour races. That’s where cyclists race on a track, literally for 24 hours, and whoever has made the most laps at the end wins the event.

Sometimes he’ll stop for a snack or a 15-minute nap, but then he keeps pedaling.

“A 24-hour race doesn’t seem that difficult to me now,” he says.

Almost anything seems easy compared with Porter’s greatest cycling challenge, the one that bested him. For about a year, he couldn’t even talk about it — the Tour Divide.

That’s a 2,700-mile race, roughly along the Continental Divide, from Banff, Alberta, to Antelope Wells, N.M. The winner usually finishes in about 27 days.

It’s not like the Tour de France, where vans follow with spare parts and protein bars. No outside help is allowed. Participants can choose to stay in hotels and buy food along the way, but other than that, anything the cyclists need, they bring.

Porter ate Spam straight from the can while still in the saddle. Grizzly bears startled him a couple of times in the Rockies — one had a cub, but none came after him. And once, in the pouring rain, he slept in the public toilet of a campground.

“I made it 990 miles, and my legs were shot,” Porter says.

His mistake: bringing a single-speed bike to contend with the mountains.

When he finally decided to give up, somewhere in Montana, he stabbed himself in the hand taking his bike apart and had to have arterial surgery.

Cycling is Porter’s new addiction, and he says it’s hard to wait for the next race.

So far this year, he has placed among the top 10 (and usually somewhere in the top four) in nine long-distance races. He rides a $3,000 bike from Oak Cliff-based YBS, and the Oak Cliff Bicycle Company regularly hooks him up with parts that constantly need replacing, such as pedals.

And he still has his eyes on the Divide.

“I have the perfect bike for it now,” he says.

Tough guy: Abraham Torres

When Abraham Torres was in junior high, he would often come home bloody and bruised from fighting.

So his dad took him to Vivero Boxing Gym in Oak Cliff.

“I was in a lot of sports before, but nothing ever kept my attention,” he says.

Boxing built his confidence, along with his strength, and soon, bullies left him alone.

Now the 22-year-old criminal justice major at the University of Texas at Arlington has more than 70 fights under his belt. And he has titles: He’s a five-time Dallas Golden Gloves champ and a silver medalist in the Under 19 National Championship.

But more important than those accolades, the Molina High School graduate has focus. He’d like to go pro when his coaches think he’s ready, but he’s more interested in discipline. He comes to the gym five or six times a week to work out for two-and-a-half hours. And on “off” days, he runs or jumps rope.

“I have to work out every day, or I don’t really feel right,” he says.

And the discipline he has learned in the gym spills over into other areas of his life. He’s a good student and a calm, considerate person.

“He’s a pretty tough guy,” boxing coach Gene Vivero says. “He likes the sport, and he takes everything in stride, win or lose.”

Torres says boxing has kept him out of trouble and off the streets. And he hopes to one day make some money in the sport he loves.

But he knows that professional boxing is a risky business where guys can be hurt or swindled, so he’s in no rush.

“He’s in school, and that’s what I like,” Vivero says. “He’s got his head on right.”

Batting first: Lorenzo McEwan

Lorenzo McEwen keeps his eye on the ball.

So simple, it’s the tenet that makes McEwen an all-star in the North Texas Amateur Baseball League.

“I’m not a home-run hitter, but I’m a contact hitter,” he says.

McEwen is probably the fastest guy in a league of about 20 teams. He’s the lead-off batter for his team, the Dallas Indians. So if he can just get his bat on the ball, he almost always gets on base. And then with his speed, he often steals second, he says.

McEwen, 34, played baseball in high school and then at Alcorn State University in Mississippi. After getting a job in his hometown, Milwaukee (he’s still a Brewers fan), he found a competitive men’s league.

He moved to Oak Cliff five years ago to be with the woman who is now his wife.

“It was just me and my wife down here, and it’s hard to meet new people,” he says. But in the league, “you meet all kinds of people. You play with people who are unemployed all the way up to CEOs of companies.”

Besides that, it’s helped him get to know the area. The league has games in McKinney, Carrollton, North Dallas, Turtle Creek, Fort Worth and parks all over.

“I probably never would’ve gone to McKinney,” he says. “But there’s a nice restaurant there that I like, and it helps you get plugged in.”

The league plays about 25 games per season. They hire professional umpires, and each team buys uniforms.

They’re serious about it, but they don’t get much practice time. It’s a struggle because everyone works different hours. So most of their practice time comes in the off-season, and most of them work out regularly during the season. McEwen runs almost every day, and he lifts weights every other day.

Even though he has been in Dallas for five years, McEwen says he’s still not quite acclimated to the Texas heat. But it beats playing baseball in the cold, so he doesn’t understand why more guys don’t play in the league.

“We should have a lot more than 15 or 20 teams here in Dallas,” he says. “We had that many teams in Wisconsin, even in the bad weather, so it should be at least double that here.”


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