“How do you feel about donating blood?” Ben asked.
“I’ve done it a few times,” I replied. “Not a big deal, I guess.”
“Not even blood, just platelets.”
It was my first day in Peru and Ben was showing me around the neighborhood where I would be living. He was telling me all about the charity he started, Luchas Nobles, which helps impoverished children. The previous Christmas they visited a children’s leukemia ward.
“It broke my heart to see these kids suffering,” his eyes narrowed and lit up with a focused and intense fire. “Most of them come from poor families from the provinces so they’re away from home too.”
Listening to him speak of these children broke my heart too. Most of us had pretty normal childhoods, and even if you had it rough, these kids were on a whole different level. Many of them spend years in the hospital, snaked with tubes, undergoing chemo. And some don’t make it.
“We lost two of them since I was there last, it’s terrible,” he said solemnly. “One of the big problems with leukemia is it depletes their platelets so their blood doesn’t clot. When we went in to visit, they said they’re chronically low on supplies. Apparently if eight people donated every day they would be able to meet their needs. So I’m trying to use my name as a fighter to get others to donate too.”
“So you’d be willing to help?” he asked.
“Of course, Ben.”
He lost no time in recruiting me to the cause he cared so deeply about. But this was nothing new, Ben had always been that way. In college he was always involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters and would often try to recruit volunteers from our wrestling team to help out.
After college, Ben volunteered with an educational program called Global Vision. He was assigned to teach English in a small village in Peru called Chiguata, near the city of Arequipa. There he came across a girl named Katy. She was afflicted with a disorder known as Treacher Collins Syndrome, which causes deformity of the jawbone. It hindered her ability to breathe, speak and close her mouth. Ben was deeply impacted by her suffering.
The proper surgery could correct her condition, but her family didn’t have the money. So Ben set about raising it. Around that time, he had his first professional MMA fight, and he subsequently won the light heavyweight title in the Inka Fighting Championship. He donated his fight winnings to help Katy and hosted fundraisers with other fighters. He created a Facebook page and was able to solicit donations from friends and fans.
After one of his fights, Ben was interviewed by a local news channel. At the end of his interview he mentioned Katy’s struggle and asked if they could help spread the word. He didn’t expect much, but a few days later they came back with good news: they had found a clinic that was willing to sponsor the entire surgery. Ben prevailed, but more importantly, Katy prevailed.
As his fighting progressed, he moved to Lima, the capital of Peru. He started training with legendary Peruvian fighter Ivan “Pitbull” Iberico. Here, he formalized his charity by establishing an official organization, Luchas Nobles, or Noble Fights.
Now he had Ivan in his corner. Ivan is one of the most respected fighters in Peruvian history. He is also the founder and president of the Inka Fighting Championship. The IFC adopted Luchas Nobles as its official charity and helped host fundraising events.
One of Ben’s first projects was to help people in the village of Ituata in the Puno Province. “The town is at 4,000 meters elevation, way up in the mountains,” Ben explained. That’s 2.5 miles high to those as metrically challenged as myself. “In the winter it gets freezing and the people live in tiny shacks without heat. A lot of time they are missing walls. It gets a lot of attention in the local media here.” So he took a 32 hour, multi-leg bus ride up into the mountains with bags full of warm clothes and blankets. And he delivered them to grateful arms.
On his return to Lima, the bus was suddenly stopped on a rural country road. The door opened and five bandits boarded, all wearing black ski masks and brandishing pistols. “They came right over to me first and put a pistol to my temple,” said Ben, as if surprised that they would secure the 230 pound professional fighter first. Eventually they lined up the entire bus face down on the ground outside. They took everyone’s wallets, cellphones, and watches. “And they even took my shoes.”
But not all of his initiatives are fraught with peril. Before Christmas every year, they do a toy drive for children at orphanages and hospitals. “This is where Ivan helped out a ton. He got on the phone and really used hisinfluence.” Thanks to their connections, Luchas Nobles gathered over 3,000 toys for these children. In the process of disbursing them, Ben learned about the platelet shortage at the leukemia ward.
To Ben Reiter charity isn’t an event or a project, it is a way of life.
Want to hear more about Ben’s story? Check out my book about fighting professional MMA in Peru: The Cage: Escaping the American Dream.