I have a confession to make. I don't eat, sleep, and breathe the practice of law. In what passes for spare time, I teach, I write articles and books, and I lecture.
But every now and then, my gaze drifts over to that Mexican wrestling mask I brought back from a trip to Cancun, and I think "What if . . . ?"
Could I battle it out in courtrooms by day, and by night enter a wrestling ring as "El Abogado Luchando" (The Fighting Lawyer) in the lucha libre? Okay; actually, I don't have that pipe dream. But Chicago lawyer Tom Benno does, and he's actually turned his dream into reality.
To casual observers, the 57-year-old Benno is your typical suburban Chicago trial lawyer. But a couple of years ago, the former high school wrestler and longtime wrestling fan had an itch he wanted to scratch.
He learned of Carlos Robles, a real estate agent/wrestling promoter who was running an independent wrestling league, GALLI—Gladiator Aztecs Lucha Libre International—patterned after the "lucha libre" Mexican wrestling, complete with capes, masks, and fast-paced athletic moves.
Benno and Robles became business partners, and the league started taking on some of the characteristics of American professional wrestling, featuring heroes and villains and storylines. Shortly after Benno got involved on the business end and provided legal advice, another idea struck him—why not wrestle as well?
Benno began training—losing 40 pounds, building a wrestling ring behind his wood-paneled law office and perfecting his moves. Equally important, he developed his wrestling alter ego: "Apocalypto," a character who "plays the mediator, staying neither good nor bad, leaving audiences uncertain."
Befitting this new persona, Benno-as-Apocalypto wears a mask with one side depicting a grin, and the other a frown. Apocalypto made his wrestling debut last November, entering the ring at the Addison Park Community Rec Center to the Darth Vader "Imperial March" from Star Wars. After some flying leaps off the turnbuckle, and a few more well-choreographed moves, Apocalypto had his first "victory."
Friends and family have been mostly supportive of Benno's masked moonlighting. While his wife Terri appreciates the fact that he has an outlet that's gotten him into better shape—she says "there are worse things he could be doing than wrestling"—she is not completely sold on "Apocalypto."
She says "I know Tom is a lone ranger and he doesn't fit into boxes too well . . . . I guess I just hoped this whole thing would be a like a fleeting fancy. Except obviously, it's really not."
Benno himself knows that, at 57, his days in the wrestling ring are numbered. But he's thoroughly enjoying it while he can, and even finds similarities between his profession and his avocation.
Practicing law and wrestling, he says, both require you to "be dramatic, have presence and be spontaneous and always think on your feet."
Tom Benno is not the only lawyer who moonlights by slamming into people. Amy Dinn is a 36-year-old civil litigator by day with the Gardere Wynne Sewell law firm's Houston office.
But at night, she becomes "The Prosecutor," competing with a roller derby team in Houston. Dinn competes in three to four games a month at the local and national level.
Dinn notes that "The roller derby of today is not the same as it was in the Seventies. It is an empowering sport for female athletes. It's also a sisterhood."
It's also a painful one; the 5-foot, 10-inch Dinn works out at least three times a week, in addition to three to four team practices each week that can last up to three hours, and she's endured reconstructive knee surgery and back surgery.
Dinn says that co-workers were surprised at first about her unusual hobby, but that the physical demands of it made keeping her roller derby competition impossible.
"The first time you get hurt the cat's out of the bag at work. I come in bruised or walking funny and co-workers ask questions."
Like Tom Benno, Amy Dinn also observes that her chosen sport has much in common with her day job.
"Litigation is a high-stress profession," Dinn notes. "Sometimes you have to be aggressive and stand your ground on your position."
Young lawyer Emeka Onyejekwe took a less painful path to moonlighting and, eventually, a career change. The attorney seemingly had everything he wanted after graduating from NYU School of Law in 2006, taking a job as an associate with one of the most prestigious law firms in the country.
But something was missing; Onyejekwe had a deep, abiding interest in music since the age of 8, and had even been in a band during college. After toiling less than a year in the legal trenches, the lawyer embarked upon a different path.
He became hip hop artist "Mekka Don"—"the Legal Hustler." "Mekka Don" proclaims "Music is my calling. God spoke to me and I listened."
And, really, isn't that what it's all about? A law degree affords a person many opportunities, but sometimes it's just not enough.
So, even if you don't quit your day job, you don't have to abandon your passion—whether it's wrestling, roller derby, rapping, or even writing. I'm sure John Grisham doesn't regret following his dreams after long days at the courthouse.