45-year-old born to new life after hitting low point

Give a man bankrupt physically and spiritually a challenge and he’ll pay back his figurative debts with interest.

That’s the lesson that Ray LeClair learned when he suggested that his down-and-out friend John Muntean train for a triathlon with him.

Muntean is a New York native who moved to Las Vegas six years ago with hopes greater than his means. As the 45-year-old puts it, he lost everything there was to lose — his savings, his girlfriend, his house and his car.

He was on the brink of losing all hope when he started training for a triathlon, a race involving biking, swimming and running, while juggling graveyard-shift work and being a volunteer firefighter with LeClair.

“With a little poking and prodding and laying down the gauntlet, I picked up the challenge,” the Paradise resident said. “I didn’t know what a tri was. I had to Google it.”

He has since completed seven triathlons, shed 60 pounds and is gearing up for a triathlon qualifying event in August for the Ironman World Championship planned for October in Hawaii.

Along the way, Muntean began studying to be an emergency medical technician and found his spiritual compass, which has led him to become a minister.

He has started a triathlete ministry via his nondenominational place of worship, Paradise Church, 2525 Emerson Ave.

After a kick-start, Muntean was his own propeller.

“I’m all in; I’m black or white,” he said. “I’m not really a gray kind of person.”

He moved to Las Vegas in 2005, hoping to become a bartender. He purchased a home in Henderson and was soon scrambling to keep up with payments.

Muntean was forced to surrender his house and start from scratch, he said.

Muntean trained himself on equipment in the gym of his condominium community. Triathletes often invest thousands of dollars into proper racing equipment, but Muntean did it all via treadmill, a simple stationary bike and a community pool.

“I didn’t know what I was doing,” he said. “I ended up overcompensating. I floored other athletes.”

Muntean works nights as a security guard at McCarran International Airport. The airport was where Muntean reconnected with Michael Matijevich, pastor of Paradise Church.

After a lunch meeting, Muntean decided to return to church and answer a calling to be a minister.

Muntean is now using his bright outlook to get people in the seats at Paradise Church. He brings guests often, and he is forming a ministry for triathletes and race spectators, said Matijevich.

“Sometimes you have to pay for a full-time staff member to get this kind of work out of someone,” he said. “We get John for free.”

Matijevich helped Muntean into the church’s Bible institute, and Muntean will probably be a minister when he completes the requirements in about five years.

In turn, Muntean challenged Matijevich to become more active, and the pastor has shed 18 pounds.

“He pushes me in a nice way,” he said.

Muntean said he wants to use the sport to bridge the gap between secular and spiritual.

Muntean and LeClair were newbies to triathlons when they started training together. They keep tabs on each other’s progress, LeClair said.

He said he never expected Muntean to take his simple challenge so far.

“He’s rejuvenated my spirit with this,” he said. “It’s really amazing where he’s gone.”

Muntean hopes to become a Clark County Fire Department firefighter next year and serve as a chaplain with the department.

He is currently training for the triathlon event in Boulder, Colo., which could qualify him for the Ironman World Championship. Muntean had to receive an invitation to even vie for a qualifying spot.

In addition to his training and study, Muntean is looking to form a nonprofit group based on his ministry and possibly participate in a reality show.

“I’m juggling chain saws and bowling balls here,” he joked. “I represent John Q. Public. I represent the average person trying to reach for their goal. I reached, and I did pretty good.”

To reach Muntean, email johnmuntean@hotmail.com or call 467-7362. For more information about the ministry, call 732-8555 or visit paradisechurchlv.com.

Contact Centennial and Paradise View reporter Maggie Lillis at mlillis@viewnews.com or 477-3839.

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