A FORMER PROFESSIONAL WRESTLER TURNED COMPETITIVE BODYBUILDER SHOWS KIDS THE IMPORTANCE OF STAYING FIT AT ANY AGE
BY RODOLFO ROMAN
Special to The Miami Herald
Wearing a traditional Indian headdress and flexing his biceps, professional wrestler and bodybuilder Cristobal Gutierrez preached the importance of practicing a healthy lifestyle at Everglades K-8 Center Career Day.
But Gutierrez is not your ordinary lifter. Better known as Chief Running Deer inside the squared circle, the 66-year-old continues to pump iron in addition to his mission to inspire youngsters at local schools.
“I feel so lucky every time I go out,” said Gutierrez, who lives in in Westchester. “People look at me and ask me for my age. They always think I am 50.”
Age isn’t a factor for Gutierrez. He spends countless hours working out at a nearby Bally’s or at his home gym, squatting 315 pounds. Gutierrez follows a strict diet, eating five small meals daily — including oatmeal, egg whites or tuna — and doesn’t drink or smoke.
Joanka Lana, physical education teacher at Everglades K-8 Center, said his words are encouraging.
“He is a good role model for students by spreading the message that if you stay focused and exercise, you will live a healthy long happy life,” said Lana, who like Gutierrez, has competed in bodybuilding competitions.
“When an outsider comes, it has a different impact,” said Lana during Gutierrez’s May visit. “He is reinforcing what I do here. They see that at his age you still look good, so that paints a different picture.”
The Colombia native first began working out at age 15. He said he was scrawny and wanted to bulk up, so he read magazines featuring exercising tips by the late bodybuilding great, Charles Atlas.
“I told myself, `If they can change, why can’t I?’ ” said Gutierrez, wearing a bandanna and black and blue jogging pants reminiscent of the 1980s. “I wanted to change.”
He would exercise in his backyard using anything he could find — stools and chairs — because he didn’t have money to join a gym.
In his late teens, he tried out professional wrestling.
His first bout was against a 300-pound wrestler in front of an audience made up of Colombian soldiers. The weight difference wasn’t an issue, he said.
“I had the love of learning and wanted to do it professionally,” said Gutierrez, who looked up to famed Mexican luchadores like El Santo and Frankenstein. “I had the conviction of wanting to be the master.”
In the match, he suffered a large gash under his right eye. He earned 50 cents for the performance.
In the mid 1960s, he immigrated to the United States where he appeared in matches in New England put on by wrestling outfits, including the World Wide Wrestling Federation, now known as World Wrestling Entertainment. His wrestling career in North America didn’t last long after he suffered three herniated discs. He retired from the ring in the late 1970s and claimed disability for three years.
Despite the injury, he never quit exercising.
“I would walk around with a cane,” he said. “I told my doctors that no matter what, I had to go to the gym and work out.”
He rejected back surgery out of fear that it would make his condition worse.
After wrestling in New England, he moved to Miami with his wife, Titi Gutierrez, and his two children, where he competed in the South Florida bodybuilding scene. He won the titles of Mr. Miami and Mr. South Florida in the over-55 category.
Gutierrez credits his faith in God for keeping him mentally strong.
“You need the spirit of doing what you want,” he said. “Your mind is bigger than your pain.”
Trainer and professional bodybuilder Sergio Pacheco said Gutierrez is one of a kind.
“He has endless energy and is a man close to God willing to help those in need,” said Pacheco, who runs Physique World Gym in Hialeah.
Nursing assistant Maiyte Mendez, 42, has been trained by Gutierrez and credits him for helping her lose 10 pounds.
“I feel new,” she said.
Although approaching 67, he plans to soon hit the stage to impress the judges in upcoming body-building competitions.
During a career day visit to Rockway Middle School earlier this school year, Gutierrez showed students the proper way to exercise and even pulled off a couple wrestling moves on Jim Thomas, administrative assistant for discipline.
Thomas has known Gutierrez for several years.
“Look at the shape he is in,” Thomas said. “He is an inspiration. To maintain his physique is motivational.”