Juan "Juanito" Ballesteros calls Taos home – he was raised here since he was a small child – but he competes on the big stage of strongman competition by representing Mexico, his family's country of origin and a place that is near and dear to his heart.
Ballesteros, 28, is a three-time strongman champion of Mexico and South America's strongest man of 2016. He has been competing since the ripe age of 18.
Currently, Ballesteros has been in Mexico since the novel coronavirus hit and borders were closed. He was there to compete in a strongman exhibition in Mexico City, but now he is just waiting to get back to his Taos home.
Ballesteros didn't exactly enter strongman competition by way of a direct interest ithen the sport. It started with being an overweight teenager – around 330 pounds at 16 – who lost weight and realized he didn't want to stop there.
"I wanted a six-pack," Ballesteros said. "I wanted to be fit."
But Ballesteros said that working out – and competing in strongman – also kept him out of the drugs and gang violence that he was around while in Taos as a teenager.
"Strongman changed my life," Ballesteros said.
The sport is somewhat like weight lifting, except the participants lift heavy things – whether it's a log, a firetruck or a tire – that are nontraditional to weight training itself.
Some of those workouts are the Farmer's Walk, where an athlete must carry a heavy amount of weights while walking forward. Or there are vehicle pulls or even the Hercules Hold, where the participant has to hold two pillars with each hand and not let them fall down.
At that point, after losing weight, Ballesteros wanted to keep going, so he and his trainer turned their attention to strongman competition, something neither knew anything about.
"When I first started I didn't know anything," Ballesteros said. "How to train, what safety equipment to use, the rules. We didn't know nothing."
At age 18 , he entered his first local competition in Mexico and he won 4-out-of-5 events. That kept Ballesteros motivated.
He then competed in a state competition in Chihuahua, in which he placed second out of 63 competitors from age 17-21. "I was furious, though, because I was bigger than the guy who beat me," he said.
So from then on, Ballesteros upped his motivation – he didn't want to be second best again. He competed in all the competitions he could.
Ballesteros' next competition he ended up winning and, in an open class competition against all, he pushed a fire truck the farthest and fastest out of all competitors, including the heavyweight champion.
He then took a year off at the age of 21 for work-related issues, but came back to compete. During that time – and at that age – he had to decide if he wanted to compete against the juveniles, or if he wanted to compete at heavyweight. Ballesteros decided that he would compete again, and said to his trainer, "You know what? Let's go ahead and give it a try. And if not, I'll try again next year and if I don't win I'll retire."
Ballesteros didn't win that competition, and he said others were laughing at him, which put him down. He cried and told his trainer "this isn't for me."
"I was disappointed in myself," Ballesteros said.
His trainer responded: "They laughed at you and they laughed at me also, and we are a team so I'm not gonna let anybody laugh at us."
That pushed Ballesteros, who won many of his next competitions – including a state competition three months after the fact.
Ballesteros competed in Columbus, Ohio, and finished 32 out of more than 60 of the strongest men in the world.
Later down the line in 2016, Ballesteros started competing nationally in Mexico and also regionally in South America. "When I went to Bolivia, I won five out of six events," Ballesteros said.
Ballesteros came back to Mexico after that, and competed nationally once again. He won, and found himself pitted against "11 of the strongest men in the world," Ballesteros said.
"They're faster, they were stronger and it freaked me out," he said. "Competing against guys I used to watch on TV."
Ballesteros also competed in Spain and in other places in and around Europe. That included a second-place finish as Europe's strongest man in 2017. He officially became pro that same year, Ballesteros said.
Keeping motivated is something Ballesteros said he always has to do. "It sucks to get up early and go to work when it is snowing in Taos, but you got to think about your needs, what you love and why you're doing it – and that gives you motivation.
"I tell a lot of people that strongman is 20 percent strength, 20 percent technique and the other 60 percent is mental," Ballesteros said. "Because once you start saying I can't do this, you're never going to flip that log, or that car. There are a lot of things that go into this that isn't just training."
That includes food, too. Ballesteros said that during competition time, he eats between 15,000-20,000 calories a day. When he isn't competing, he is consuming around 10,000 calories a day. It's part of the job, he said.
While Ballesteros is currently out of competition due to the coronavirus pandemic, he is still training and keeping in shape down in Mexico.
Ballesteros – as well as three of his friends – are moving toward helping create a strongman program in Taos. It just might be delayed a bit for the time being.
He said that bringing strongman to Taos isn't about the money, but to bring a new variation of sport to Taos.
"A lot of people think, 'Oh, this is a small town.' And it's like, yeah, but there are good athletes coming out of small towns."