Sunday, September 26, 2021

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Joe's Neighborhood

When life hits you with a metal chair


The trainer sits large at his desk. Clothing loosely draped. Arms and legs wide and open. Hair pulled back in a tight ponytail. He seems too meaty to be your typical trainer. Too much bulk. Picturing him doing a downward dog seems like a stretch. It’s much easier imagining him driving rivets on a steel girder. Yup, a hard man doing hard work.joes1

But the truth is that yoga and kettlebells and free weights and weight machines and bosu balls and rubber bands and TRX straps are all the tools of this man’s trade. Justin LeHew is a certified trainer at Anytime Fitness in Beaverdale. A good one. But at night? Hmmmmm…

“All right. Ladies and gentleman, here to defend his IPW Heavyweight Title, is Juuuuuustin Decent.”

Rock music thunders.

Boos and hisses and catcalls reverberate around the room. A giant of a man at 260 pounds jumps up into the ring. The boos only get louder as he flexes to the four corners. Then the young men in front of me, one with an iconic mullet, begin a chant: “We want Ryan. We want Ryan. We want Ryan.” Ryan Slade is Justin Decent’s opponent for the night. The crowd takes up the chant, stomping and screaming.

Prep Iowa

Justin stops his posing. He points a furious finger at the crowd. The scowl permanently etched on his face becomes only more menacing. And he bellows:

“I don’t care what you want.”

With a roar of defiance, he jumps out of the ring to confront the hecklers. And the audience screams back at him with delight.joes2

A typical night of professional wrestling. Impact Pro Wrestling. The main event for the IPW Heavyweight Title is Justin Decent, the current champion, versus Ryan Slade, the challenger. A match for the history books.

“When I was 10 years old, my dad owned the Country Kitchen in Grinnell. Several of the WWF wrestlers at that time had done a show in Des Moines and were on the way to the next town and had stopped at our restaurant. It was late; the buffet was just closing. They came in and asked my dad if they could have the buffet. My dad said, ‘If you don’t mind signing a placemat for my kid, you can have the run of the buffet.’ I spent the night with the Junkyard Dog, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Hercules, some of these older named guys who I loved and still love.”

Justin LeHew wanted to be a professional wrestler. But this desire had to go on hiatus for a while.

“Two things I wanted in my life. I wanted to be a pro wrestler, and I wanted to be in the army. So no one was surprised when I enlisted.”

After several years in the army, he went back to civilian life and began the extensive training to become a pro wrestler. As life will have it, he was then recalled to go to Iraq.

“I was very proud to be doing what I was doing in Iraq — doing security and road clearing missions for explosives. I finally felt I’d fulfilled the oath I had sworn to. I was very scared during that time. Anybody who says otherwise in that situation, I’d call baloney.”

But safely home he returned, back to becoming a pro wrestler.

And the fight begins.

It is out of control. A Street Fight, they call it. No Holds Barred. Ryan throws Justin out of the ring onto the hard floor. Justin flips Ryan up in the air and then throws him into a large trashcan that then careens into the concessions. Ryan lifts Justin and throws him into the chairs and then climbs up on the ring and jumps off the top to land on Justin’s prone body. Justin tries to bash Ryan with a metal chair only to have Ryan grab the chair and crack Justin over the head. Kicks and punches and eye gouges and elbow throws. All in a day’s work.joes3

“I was very active in theater and speech and debate in high school. I thought I’d become a theater teacher when I left the army. I did one semester of that. I helped coach the debate club at Osceola. But professional wrestling soon took care of my theater urge.”

Justin LeHew, the Iraq vet, trained hard and became a professional wrestler. And once he’d achieved that goal, he was looking around for a day job. With the advice of his wife, who reminded him of his love for the gym, he became a certified trainer. A match made in heaven.

“I get to teach other people to exercise. I get to help them lose weight, gain muscle, whatever their goals are, doing what I love doing.”

But few of his clients know him as Justin Decent.

“I started out with tights that had a parental advisory label on them, and I went and bought an inflatable doll and carried it around as my manager for about five years. I proposed to it in the ring. It was a popular character with the crowds. So I became Justin Decent.”

I didn’t get it. Seeing my befuddlement, Justin said the names slowly again — Just-in-Decent. Ooooh.

“To this day, I still have a rewards point card for an adult novelty shop because in five years I bought 13 of those dolls because inevitably someone would fall on it and it would pop during the match. I’d freak out like my wife just died.”

And what do you think of your career choices today?

“When I’m in the ring, the middle of the show, the crowd is having a good time and I’m having a good time, I’m right where I’m supposed to be. And the kids that come are really part of that. I feel a kinship with them. I look at them, they’re having a blast, they’re cheering, they’re booing, and I think back to that kid at my dad’s restaurant, hanging out with those guys having dinner.”

Hmmm… Justin LeHew, aka Justin Decent. Perhaps Just Decent. A good man to tag team with when life hits you with a metal chair. CV

Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines on his blog:

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