Erin Coulehan and Amber Lanahan
Photography by Sergio Olivas
All hail, Horacio Gutierrez Jr., El Paso’s Herculean heart throb. Gutierrez Jr. is an athlete and adventurer who captured the hearts of millions of people across the country when he appeared Telemundo’s “Exatlon Estados Unidos” then on MTV’s reality show, “The Challenge,” where he was disqualified during the final challenge after his partner, Olivia, was medically removed.
Despite the loss, fans on the internet and IRL still say he’s a champion.
“Him and Olivia were the best,” reads a viewer comment on The Challenge’s website. “He’s definitely gonna be a fierce competitor and future champ if they bring him back.”
Despite his adventures and busy travel schedule, El Paso is home.
“This is where I was born and raised,” he says. “My family lives here and I will always proudly say I am the 915. El Paso moldred me to become the person I am today, and I will eternally have love for my city.
Something to know about Gutierrez Jr., who graduated from El Dorado High School in 2014, is he doesn’t turn away from a challenge — he sprints towards them, quite literally.
We’re inside the Franklin Mountains on one of the windiest weekends of 2023, where we meet Gutierrez Jr. in-person for the first time. His Instagram — with more than 100K followers — showcases the life of a soccer super star who embraces new experiences and has a knack for physical fitness. IRL, he’s a down-to-earth individual with an honest enthusiasm for experiencing the world around him, who is game for a challenge and able to adapt quickly.
Upon his arrival to the shoot, the fitness star opted for an achromatic style with a white linen shirt, distressed gray jeans, and a pair of clean white sneakers. The only accessories were a simple watch, sunglasses, a small gold chain around his neck, and pristine white sneakers that would later be dust ridden from the hike.
Making the walk to the shooting location, Gutierrez Jr. gave us a glimpse into his busy lifestyle, getting prepared for training with his San Diego Sockers teammates, a Grand Canyon Run, and coming home to visit his beloved little sister.
“I practically live inside of my car, ” he laughed, “in the course of these past few days I finished working a job that included filming, drove straight here afterwards to spend time with my family, and tomorrow I’m heading back to begin training with my team in San Diego.”
Once the photo team and he were atop the mountain, the team took full advantage of the afternoon overcast to take snapshots with the El Paso cityscape serving as the shoot’s backdrop. Offering his full attention to the photographer’s direction, Gutierrez Jr. engaged in some light banter, contrary to the perceived notion of the many who have assumed the fitness star was a bit abrasive.
“People tend to have the wrong first impression of me before they speak to me, assuming I’m ‘arrogant’ or ‘intimidating’ (I’ve been told). I am the complete opposite! I’m a very quiet, shy guy. I spend most of my time alone, so people may see that and immediately think negatively. Once someone initiates conversation, I am good to go; but I’m not the best at ‘making the first move,'” he shared.
After completing the glamor part of the shoot, it was time to capture photos in the element he feels the closest to himself, fitness.
Consulting with the team what these shots were to entail, Gutierrez Jr. took it upon himself to run — not walk — back to his car for an outfit change, a true testament to his earlier statement about his car becoming his second home. Descending the mountain at a steady pace with relative ease left The City Magazine team with a feeling of envy and a budding sense of foreboding for the fitness shots to come.
But the heavens appeared anxiously awaiting the fitness shots.
The sun was lambent on Gutierrez Jr. with a gentle beam that provided a natural spotlight as he worked his way back up the mountain in a jog. The snap-snap-snap of the camera’s shutter could be heard as the lens worked to capture Gutierrez Jr. ‘s every movement.
As the team transitioned the shoot to Tom Lea Park, he shared an unexpected side gig he’d had in high school with hip hop dance crew and quinceañeras maestros, Weros Production. No less physical than anything else for this fitness aficionado, Gutierrez Jr. shared how he and his crew would attend quinceañeras and help get the party started with rhythmic choreography and intense feats of physical prowess.
“Ever since I was five years old, I’ve wanted to be a professional soccer player,” he said. With this goal — or challenge — achieved, Gutierrez Jr. is now thinking about his next adventure.
“I’m slowly moving away from the soccer dream. I’m not sure what my dream job would be. Although, there was a point in my life where I wanted to have an ice cream truck solely to eat all the ice cream myself.”
Ice cream dreams aside, his goal is to continue to challenge himself.
“I know I want to demand my body and mind to do difficult things,” he explains. I want to expand my knowledge and grow through different experiences. I want to travel, I want to push my limits physically and mentally — and simply enjoy life.”
His positivity is magnetic, and recognized when he’s out in public.
“I was at Peter Piper Pizza with my mom and little sister, then some girls started saying, ‘Horacio, Horacio!’ and asked to take some selfies,” he says of his most recent visit home.
Gutierrez Jr.’s innate charm was not lost to those around him during the shoot, as shown in one instance with a young teen couple, who’d seemingly come to the park to enjoy the romantic cityscape without parental interference.
Initially, the pair were in their own romantic little world.
However, the subtle glint of a cell phone screen caught the light of the setting sun soon revealed the young lady of the pair “discretely’ panning her camera over the city view and those around her until the camera was stilled on Gutierrez Jr. for several moments before she quickly returned the camera to her boyfriend as the video’s closing shot.
All of this was unbeknownst to Gutierrez Jr., who’d been focused on creating the perfect image for the camera.
With a crane kick that’d put Daniel LaRusso to shame, he concluded the shoot with a single jump kick in the air.
As we return to our vehicles, a quinceanera court arrives to take photos, the girls not too inconspicuously eyeing Gutierrez Jr. and excitedly squeezing each other’s hands, as if pinching themselves to prove the celebrity sighting.
“Maybe I should get Weros Production back together for one night only” laughs Gutierrez Jr.
The city of El Paso is a place that helped shape his character and his efforts to never let go of the home he came from. “I don’t know exactly what is next for me or what my dream job is, which is okay to not know,” he says. “But God and life will guide me to it. I am just along for the ride.”