Sophisticated Professionals was privileged with the opportunity to call Gary Balletto and ask him some questions about his life and boxing career. Gary Balletto or “The Tiger” is a world champion boxer. Since 1996, he has won 3 lightweight titles including, The Eastern Boxing Association, The United States Boxing Federation, and The International Boxing Union. Currently, he owns a boxing gym, a realty company, and a construction company in his hometown Rhode Island.

His story is unusual, as he never went to college and bought his first house at the age of 20. As boxing became very natural for him and turned pro right before his 21st birthday. As a professional, he has had 36 fights, winning 31 of them. 

In June of 2013, Balletto injured his spinal cord from playing in the backyard with his son. From spinning around on a pull-up bar, he broke 6 vertebrae in his neck, leaving him with a C5 spinal cord injury. This caused him to become paralyzed from the waist down. “In 2017, Balletto founded “The Gary Tiger Balletto Foundation” to bring awareness to and provide resources and assistance to those with paralysis injuries.” During this interview, Balletto talks about his young life as a boxer to where he is now. His story is inspiring and unlike anyone else. He is currently married and has three children, Gary, Hailey, and Aiden.

Making and Breaking Records

We first asked Balletto, “You’re perhaps most known for your stellar boxing career where you had a 30-3-2 record and won 3 lightweight titles. Tell me about how you got into boxing.” He started boxing at the age of 13 as a hobby and did not realize where he would go with it. He never saw this big of a future in boxing. The first few fights he won and realized he was naturally talented in the ring.

After high school, in October of 1993, he said he moved back to Rhode Island and picked up boxing again, after a three-year break. He immediately got right back into the swing of things and in January won a first and second match at the golden glove boxing tournament. “I knocked out my component in the first 40 seconds. 

We also asked him “What was the experience like stepping into the ring for your first fight?” Everything was so exciting. “You got this rush of adrenaline before stepping into the ring.” Each fight I would gain more and more confidence. The first few fights I was very nervous, but I finally got to a point where the nerves were not there. You’re literally on national television and everyone watching you try and knock someone out”

Success in the Real Estate Business

Many people do not know that Balletto is also a successful entrepreneur. We asked him to tell us about his real estate business. He stated that he has been in the building business since he was sixteen years old. “I was a lot better at building than boxing. I bought my first house at twenty years old for $46,000, flipped it, and sold it five years later for $220,000. Buying more and more houses and flipping them was what I loved. Someone told me I could retire from doing this.” Even in a wheelchair he still flipped houses. 

Balletto is had many passions and was pursuing both boxing and renovating houses. When asked where he learned the business side of all of this, he simply said: “I just learned by doing”. When looking for a house to flip, he says that there is not a house that he can say he didn’t like. All he had to do was read between the lines. One of the most helpful skills he learned was how to understand finance and how to make valuable investments. 

Surviving the Real Estate Market Crash

Balletto made mistakes in the process and had overcome obstacles such as the Real Estate Market Crash. During this time he lost over a million dollars. From there, Balleto was forced to rebuild his wealth. How an entrepreneur approaches and overcomes obstacles determines their success. For those just starting out in the business, Balleto suggests that “the smartest way to make money is to use other people’s money”. The key to this is to be trustworthy.

He warns that staying in debt is a sure-fire way to spoil this route for yourself and ruin your reputation. In fact, Balletto notes that the top principle he learned in his boxing career was to have a good reputation. If you are looking to make a profit, make sure to do a market analysis. The sale may come later than you think, so Balleto says to not expect it right away. Instead of giving up in hard times, an entrepreneur must stay hungry. 

Searching for houses is another function of Balleto’s renovating business. He says that two things that will disqualify a house in his search would be if “you might as well knock it down” and if it has terrible depreciation. These are tips that Balleto has learned from years of renovating that those looking into real estate should take note of. 

From Victim to Victor

The last part of our podcast was deeply inspiring. Gary Balletto took several moments to tell us about the incident in 2013 that completely changed his life. At this time, he was at a great time of his life. He had a great year in his career, was in the best shape of his life, and had a wife and 3 beautiful children. One day, Balletto was playing the backyard with his son. he was showing him how to do a pullup as he had never done one before. in an attempt to spin off the bar, it gave way, and Balletto injured his spine. He was left with a C5 spinal cord injury from 6 broken vertebrae in his neck.

Balletto was paralyzed from the waist down. 

He says “It was a terrifying experience”.

Balletto was in a medically induced coma for weeks. 

How is it possible to recover from this extreme of a setback? Balletto says that he had to find a way to do everything he has always done. Now he is busier than he has ever been.

Choosing to be a Champion

In response to his experience, he created the Gary Balletto Foundation, which is meant to educate others on spinal injuries and support those struggling to pay for rehab. He also conjured the idea of the very first adaptive gym. Attached to his local YMCA in Rhode Island, this gym helps those with paralysis to exercise, preventing muscular atrophy. 

Gary Balletto chose to “be a victor over being the victim”. To close, he reminded us that hard times will always come, but the key is to keep going and to keep finding people who support you. In the end, champions are those who show the most discipline in adversity.