Immigrant Stories: Turning his life around at age 28 |

Immigrant Stories: Turning his life around at age 28

Sandro Torres

Immigrant Stories

Immigrant Stories by Walter Gallacher appears on the fourth Tuesday of the month. Gallacher is a photojournalist and independent radio producer. Anyone with an immigrant story to tell about themselves or relatives is invited to email To read past Immigrant Stories, go to

Intro: Sandro Torres is the owner of Custom Body Fitness in Carbondale, the author of “Lose Weight Permanently” and a Watch Fit columnist for the Post Independent.

Torres: When I was 18 all I cared about was having fun. I didn’t care about material things. I was living day to day. I had just gone through a heartbreaking relationship and didn’t know where to turn when my aunt came to me and asked if I wanted to go to the United States.

I had nothing to lose in Mexico. My family is very dysfunctional, and I had been living on the streets since I was 14, so I saw it as a chance to get away from the bad energy and do something different.

I came here in July of 2000.

Gallacher: That was a tumultuous time to arrive, just two months before 9-11.

Torres: I was very much in my own world at that time, and so I didn’t know anything about politics and terrorism. I was very unaware about the way the rest of the world worked.

9-11 didn’t impact my life because I didn’t have the knowledge.

Gallacher: Did you speak English then?

Torres: No, it was all new to me. I remember my boss talking about Osama Bin Laden flying airplanes into towers but I didn’t understand any of it. Now, that I have been living in the United States and making the connections, I understand how drastic it all was.

Gallacher: You said your family was dysfunctional. Can I ask you what your childhood was like?

Torres: Yes, my dad left my mom when she was pregnant with me. I know that because I never remember my dad living with us. He came and visited once in a while and took me to his other family. He had a couple of other women in his life, and he wasn’t stable at all. Now that he is older, he is a different man.

My mom was completely lost in alcohol. She was a good woman and did what she could, but alcohol took her. I grew up on my own without the guidance of my parents. When I was 12 and my little brother was 2, my mom got lost, disappeared.

Gallacher: What did you do then?

Torres: We were sent to live with our grandparents. Having my mom gone seemed normal because she was always drinking or working. Even though she had been raising me, she was never really present. So it was hard to miss her because she wasn’t there.

I lived with my grandparents for a year, and then I went to live with my dad in Mexico City for a short time. When I turned 14 I was confused and angry and I started rebelling against my dad. That’s when I went to live in the streets.

Gallacher: What did you do to get by?

Torres: I started to work at 14 driving bicycle taxis from six in the morning ‘til six at night for $6 a day. When I was 16, I got enough money to rent a room, and at 17 I started driving taxicabs. I wasn’t legal. In Mexico, you are supposed to be 18, but I was able to fool them.

I was a hard worker, and my boss trusted me to take care of his vans, so he never really questioned me.

Gallacher: You said your mother disappeared. Do have any idea whether she is dead or alive?

Torres: No, we hope she is alive. My aunt has tried to find her, but she hasn’t had much luck. We think that she is somewhere in Juarez.

Gallacher: Juarez is a dangerous place for women with an alcohol problem. Many women have gone missing.

Torres: Yes, that is true, but I believe my mom is aware enough to not get into that situation. We are all hopeful that she is alive. She used to contact my aunt, her sister, but my aunt moved and changed her phone number, and that was the last we heard from my mom.

Gallacher: What happened to your little brother when you moved to the streets?

Torres: When I went to live with my dad he stayed with my grandparents, because we have different dads. When I moved to the United States he came with me.

Gallacher: What was it like when you first came to the United States?

Torres: I came across the border with a “coyote” that my cousin had hired. We walked for eight hours in the dark. I was just a kid at the time, so I didn’t really feel it. I was young, and it seemed like just an adventure to me.

When you are young, you don’t really think about the consequences. I didn’t think about this coyote who was taking me. I just trusted and went. You have to remember that I had been living on the street, so this didn’t feel as dangerous as some of the things I experienced.

When I was in Mexico, I lived in a very poor area, so I saw shootings, people getting beaten and gang fights. I say that not because I am proud of that, but that experience made me numb to the violence. It was normal. I lived there. I wasn’t able to see how dangerous my life was until much later.

Now when I think about my past I am amazed and thankful that I am still alive.

Gallacher: What did you do for a living here?

Torres: I worked for a tree service company in Aspen. But I was still lost and confused like I was in Mexico, partying every weekend. That part of my life hadn’t changed. Working and partying was my life until I turned 28, and that is when I fell into a deep depression and experienced real pain. That is when I realized I was on the wrong path. That is when I stopped thinking about myself and started serving others.

I started being more conscious about my life and my decisions. During these last six years, I have done more and made more than in the first 28 years of my life.

Now I have my own business with four employees, I have started a nonprofit and I have written a book. I am a completely different person than I was six years ago.

Gallacher: How did you start a business?

Torres: I had worked as a personal trainer for other gyms and always wanted to start my own business. But it wasn’t until after my depression that I began to take my life and my career seriously.

I began to listen to my clients in a different, more empathetic way, and they noticed. That’s when I opened Custom Body Fitness and started to grow. In 2010, I opened a small basement studio and stayed there for two years and then I moved to La Fontana Plaza in Carbondale.

Gallacher: You said you also had started a nonprofit.

Torres: Yes, my girlfriend, Sarah, and I started Canine Outreach Care and Rescue. We help pay the vet bills for animals that have been seriously injured. I feel like we need to speak for animals, because they are often neglected and ignored.

When I fell into my depression I adopted Pelon, a Mexican hairless dog, and he helped me a lot. I don’t think I ever loved something or somebody as much as I loved Pelon. He was my family, and he helped lead me out of my depression.

I had thought about a nonprofit for animals before Pelon, but after my depression there was no question what I needed to do.

Gallacher: Is your brother with you now?

Torres: Yes, he works for me. I think he is very focused and on the right path. I wish I could have been like that when I was his age. He is growing little by little.

I am pretty rough with him. He knows I love him, but I am not easy on him. When he does something wrong, I am very straightforward with him. When he makes mistakes, I am not nice about it. I hug him and spend time with him, but I am not very tolerant. When I think he makes a bad decision, I don’t rescue him; I let him figure it out.

It’s not because I don’t love him, it’s because that’s the way people learn. If I protected him all the time, he would become useless.

Gallacher: This “new Sandro” seems very driven.

Torres: Well, the way I look at it, you have two choices in life. You can either go down or go up. You spend energy in either direction. I spent the first part of my life watching myself and other people choosing to go down. I have finally decided to go up.

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