A mortgage broker trains to slay demons
Joel Suprenant's state of mind these days lies somewhere between nuts and spirited. His family and some friends say nuts; he says spirited, with some 'sick and twisted' mixed in.
On Dec. 6, the day after doctors diagnosed his son with autism, Suprenant celebrated his 39th birthday and made a pledge to do three things before he turned 40 to honor the child: lose 100 pounds from his then-285, and fight in a professional mixed martial arts match and compete in an Ironman-type triathlon on the same day.
'The project' became clear. He would film every moment, document every day in writing. Then he would try to sell it, a bit of capitalism and humanitarianism wrapped into one.
As reality set in, the project has been derailed somewhat. He'll be close to 185 pounds by the time he fights in a cage and competes in a triathlon in November. And, because 'it's physically impossible,' Suprenant will not be fighting and doing the triathlon on the same day in November.
'It'll be the same week,' he says.
Friday at Lemoore, Calif., Suprenant, now 235 pounds, will fight big Wes Sims in the World Extreme Cagefighting event, 'because nobody else wanted to fight him,' he says.
Instead of training for the triathlon, he has retained weight to try to fight Sims as part of the event's benefit to help the family of the late mixed martial arts writer Ryan Bennett. And it's on television - HDNet.
But the project remains on schedule. A videographer has been shooting footage about five times a month; a writer has been penning some opening words for a book. And Suprenant, an ex-car salesman who understands self-promotion, admits that he hopes that somebody literally buys his story; half the proceeds would go to autism research.
'This is what I'm going to do because of my son,' says Suprenant, a mortgage broker who lives in West Linn. 'Hopefully, I'll turn it into a multimillion-dollar thing.
'Plus I've painted myself into a corner. I'll figure it out.'
An amateur athlete with lofty goals, Suprenant seemingly has the fortitude and motivation to complete the project. The tough thing will be the Silverman triathlon at Henderson, Nev., on Nov. 12.
In June he completed the Honu Half-Ironman in Hawaii, which he uses as an example of being able to get the job done - 'a life-changing event,' he says - although he stumbled to the finish line half bent over because of back soreness.
The Silverman will be double the mileage: 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run. His goal would be to finish each discipline under the time limit, and finish the whole thing under 17 hours.
After the Sims fight, he'll have four months to train, and he'll also fight in August at the Roseland Theater at 205 pounds to remain sharp in the cage.
'I got time,' he says.
If he can't get another World Extreme Cagefighting bout in the same week as the triathlon, he'll make sure his buddy and promoter Chael Sonnen puts together a mixed martial arts card. Suprenant would sign a contract for $1, and then get it on.
An athlete shifts gears
An ex-collegiate wrestler, originally from Illinois, Suprenant knows something about athletics. He owned the now-defunct USA Auto on Southeast Stark Street, where famed mixed martial arts fighter Randy Couture and partner Matt Lindland trained in the back of the car dealership building from 2000 to 2004. Suprenant remembers many days of being pounded on by Couture, a friend of his.
He fought in amateur bouts, but stress led him down another path. His auto dealership went under in 2004, his weight went up to 290 pounds - 'my wife's a great cook,' he explains - and he smoked a pack of cigarettes a day.
Suprenant and his wife, Jennifer, welcomed their son Ladd into the world May 24, 2003, 11 weeks premature. The autism diagnosis hit Suprenant hard. He vowed to show Ladd that you can accomplish anything with heart and determination. Hence, 'the project.'
Since last December, Ladd has improved to 'middle of the spectrum' autism, his father says. Suprenant finds motivation in just about anything regarding his son - a new word or a new thought boosts him. He saw another competitor wearing an 'Autism Won't Stop My Son' shirt at his half-Ironman, and tears flowed.
And Suprenant finds other boosts, like thinking of Bennett, a young pioneer in exposing mixed martial arts to the public who died in an automobile accident - his four kids survived - or like stepping back and realizing the travails of his own wife. Jennifer's right leg was amputated just after her birth because of the threat of infection from a tumor.
'My wife is so amazing,' says Suprenant, who met Jennifer at a dance club in Lawrence, Kan., where he got his degree from the University of Kansas in education.
Inspiration's on the wall
Suprenant has photos plastered on the walls of his friend's garage-training room in West Linn, photos of deceased people in his life who have meant much to him.
'You take advantage of all of your inspirations,' he says.
Couture sparred with him Sunday.
'It's cool,' Couture says of Suprenant's project. 'It's insane. It's a tall order. But he's always been able to step up and make things happen.'
Jennifer Suprenant likes the idea of the triathlon. She doesn't like him fighting, especially the 6-9, 260-pound Sims.
'I'm afraid for him,' she says of her husband.
Suprenant goes into the fight basically as human fodder for Sims, but he vows, 'I can beat him … it's a competition.' His trademark foot sweep will get Sims, he says.
Suprenant was knocked out in April at an event at the Roseland. He knows Sims should 'beat him up,' and he doesn't know what to expect from the August and November bouts.
'I'm not a professional fighter,' he says. 'I'm a mortgage broker.'
But he'll keep fighting - and training - for his grueling summer in honor of his son. And, he adds, 'I can't think about' injuries in fighting or training or even the triathlon, where competitors have been known to simply collapse.
'Nobody in the world has ever done what I'm trying to accomplish,' he says. 'But maybe no one has ever thought of it.'