It’s 9 a.m. on a Monday in Burbank, California, and Jonathan “HarryHook” Rua walks along a footpath, darkened by rain from the night before, that leads to the door of the Burbank Fitness Club. He swipes his card at the front desk as the receptionist greets him. HarryHook nods, and heads straight to the treadmill.
His personal trainer, Paul Buitrago, strides in five minutes later. He’s everything you wish and fear a trainer to be—contagiously cheerful, big smile, and always demanding one more set. He got into fitness through the influence of his mom, who was a police officer in San Francisco. He knows everyone here.
“I told him to warm up before I got here,” Paul says. He leads HarryHook to a rowing machine and tells him to row for 750 meters. “You look really excited this morning,” he teases.
Any regular gym rat will recognize the mannerisms of people who work out. Some people grunt and fling themselves around like going to the gym is the best part of their day. Others laugh and joke around, like they need to amuse themselves to get through their circuit. And some just go at it with quiet determination, accepting that what they’re doing is good for them.
HarryHook falls into the latter category. He stares straight ahead as he rows, beads of sweat forming on the back of his neck while Paul asks him about his weekend. He’s used to this; he sees Paul four times a week.
“I hate him!” HarryHook says later about Paul, laughing. “I mean, he pushes us to the limit all the time, we are so tired all the time. But it’s good—that’s the way to work out.”
As he moves through his workout, Paul bombards him with directions and affirmations.
“Push, push, push—switch!” he yells as HarryHook does a variation of a plank. “Say ‘I got this!’”
“I got this,” Harry grunts, sweat dripping from his face.
“He’s a sweater!” Paul laughs.
About halfway through his workout, HarryHook begins to light up, his eyes growing wider. He grins as he lifts weights. “That’s it, smile for the core!” Paul hollers. “Come on, big time!”
After the workout, HarryHook sits in the lobby, drenched and beaming. Before joining the Dallas Fuel, he’d never gone to the gym. Now, not only does he have his four weekly training sessions, he sometimes goes extra, by himself.
“I’ve always wanted to do something, because… you know, I’m fat, so…” he says, laughing. The struggle isn’t necessarily with working out, but with eating well. “I’m eating chicken a lot,” he says. “And when I say a lot, it’s a lot. Five days a week. Then I try to have one free day to eat pizza or whatever I want. But it’s really hard, sometimes I’m like, ‘Ugh, I’m going to eat some ice cream, whatever.’”
HarryHook’s determination isn’t just showing on the outside. To him, the greatest product of his fitness journey is his outlook. “Before, I never had confidence in myself, in how I look. I mean, I still don’t look super good,” he adds modestly. “But I am more confident than ever.”
His eyes flick to the entrance as the perpetually beaming Pongphop “Mickie” Rattanasangchod approaches the front door. “Ugh, I hate him!” he exclaims, grinning as Mickie pushes through.
It’s Mickie’s turn now, and HarryHook walks back into the gym to do another round of cardio.
“It’s better when you have gym in the morning,” Mickie says. “Normally people wake up, shower, then scrim. But if you have gym in the morning before scrims, you have to wake up earlier. Gym wakes your body up.”
The Mickie you see on the Overwatch League stage, on camera, and on his stream is the same Mickie that Paul has to deal with in the gym: strongly determined, and very funny. He’s definitely in the second category of gym regulars, the ones who whistle while they work out.
As Paul demonstrates what he wants Mickie to do with a kettlebell, Mickie quips, “Why do we do this?”
“He asks too many questions,” Paul says, laughing. “I’ve never had a client ask so many questions.”
“Why? Why though?!” Mickie yelps, before taking the kettlebell and doing exactly as he was told.
“Breathe,” Paul reminds him.
“I can’t breathe!” Mickie retorts, breathing smoothly.
Mickie has a habit of copying everything Paul says, parroting it back to him—everything, from prompts to breathe or push, to affirmations like “great job” and “yeah, baby”—which has everyone around them giggling. At first, it sounds like Mickie is making fun of him. As he moves through his workout, though, this mimicking seems to spur Mickie to work even harder. He complains and teases Paul—pretty much the lone recourse for those beset by a personal trainer—but he always ends up completing the exercises to perfection, even beyond the reps he initially expected.
“Paul never stops talking,” Mickie says. “He used to say ‘big time’ all the time. And ‘squeeze!’ Everyone on the team knows, if I say SQUEEEEEZE, people are like, ‘That’s Paul.’”
Unlike HarryHook, Mickie was no stranger to the gym before he joined the Dallas Fuel, but he says that working out with Paul is a lot more intense. “He tries to push me,” Mickie says. “If I say ‘No, no, no,’ he will say ‘More, more, more!’ If he says to do two more, I push and do two more, then he says, ‘Three, keep going!’”
Even though Mickie’s fitness gains are evident on social media, looking good isn’t the end goal. For him, it’s more about being the best he can be for the Dallas Fuel. “I got this from the team,” he says. “They pay for a personal trainer, so I do my best.”
Paul is pleased with the work HarryHook and Mickie continue to put into themselves, and beams with pride when asked about their transformations.
“It’s one of the most joyous parts [of my job] because it’s far from just the physical,” he says. “When you see those tangible results, it is phenomenal. It shows the work we’re putting in matters. Not only are we gaining confidence, but it’s starting to exude and translate to our body. I really believe if you train your mind—if you train your inside enough—the body will follow suit.”
Paul is an avid supporter of his clients both in and out of the gym. He attends their matches at Blizzard Arena and has huge respect for them as athletes. “I think pro gamers should be getting a lot more credit and respect for what they do,” he says. “They have 12 to 14-hour days. They stream, they scrim, they’re playing matches, they’re doing interviews. They do so much more than meets the eye.”
Because of the repetitive motion that they undergo while competing, Paul’s training centers on correcting posture and movement, which works twofold. “For the body, it’s great, but what it also does is improve their mental endurance,” he says.
That fortitude benefits anyone in a tough situation, not just pro gamers, Paul explains. “Let’s say you’re depressed, which is not uncommon in any athlete who’s traveling or away from their family. Fitness and exercise is always one of the things at the top of the list to maintain a healthy balance in their life. It’s a positive and healthy outlet for them to turn to.”
For those who have watched HarryHook and Mickie transform both inside and out, who are wondering how they can do it, too, Paul says it’s a matter of challenging yourself.
“Take the step, try it out,” he says. “If in-person [training] is too much, there’s online training—maybe that’s more comfortable for some people—or you can get a coach like myself to push you, challenge you, to make sure you’re in proper alignment and to make sure you’re having fun and staying safe.”
As for Mickie, he feels that people think too much about the concept of getting fit, when what they should be paying attention to is their health.
“If you play games all day, if you never go outside, I think you need to do something,” he says. “Go do some activity—skating, surfing, anything. Just move your body. If you just play games, eat, sleep, that’s not a normal life. Your health will go down so fast. The best way to maximize your time, I think, [is] going to the gym.”
HarryHook, the previously un-gym-ed, says that if anyone is feeling too self-conscious to work out in public, or if they’re afraid, they should try to be selfish and think about themselves.
“Feeling good with yourself is the most important thing to do,” he insists. “That’s the reason I do it, so don’t be afraid of it—it doesn’t make any sense. Just do it.”
Photos and gifs by Margaret Lee.