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A half-century ago, two skinny brothers named Walter and Arturo Perez started lifting stones in their rural Nicaraguan town; now they are local legends and TikTok sensations known as the “Hercules brothers” and the “Bodybuilding Grandfathers.” Because both are deaf, Walter, who is 61, and Arturo, a year older, have not always had it easy. But their bodybuilding achievements have earned them admirers and drawn dozens of young people to train with them in their small gym in Santa Teresa, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Managua.

The brothers’ audience has exploded since they began five months ago to post videos on TikTok, where they now have 175,000 followers. “They are a legend here in Santa Teresa, and I think that motivates all of us young people to come here to the gym, because... at their age they look magnificent,” 33-year-old Ana Saborio told AFP. Added 28-year-old Porfirio Cortes: “They have long served as an inspiration to me. I was super skinny, but they started training me and telling me what I needed to do.”

Although they no longer take part in bodybuilding competitions, the brothers have become hugely popular online since Walter’s son Yahir created online profiles and posted images for them. Their TikTok videos, including exercise routines and recipes for organic smoothies — which family members and friends help produce — have drawn 5.3 million likes. Coming from an impoverished family of five children, Arturo and a sister were both born deaf, while Walter had some hearing but lost it while still a child.

Their mother taught them to read and write at home, because there were no special schools at the time, Walter told AFP, using a combination of words and gestures that Yahir helped translate. In their youth, the boys sold newspapers in the street, and suffered harassment — even physical attacks — because they could not talk.

That changed when, after seeing a burly new neighbor lifting weights, the brothers began exercising, Walter said. Lacking money to buy weights, they fabricated them from stones, concrete and tubes. Hernan Flores, a well-known Nicaraguan weightlifter, heard about them and invited them to train in his Managua gym. And in 1988, Arturo won his first national prize, while Walter placed second.

$2 a week

When they first competed, in their twenties, the brothers had to learn to time themselves because they couldn’t hear the music indicating when it was time to change poses. But with hard work, they ultimately won 16 medals and around 20 trophies in Nicaragua and neighboring countries between 1988 and 2010.

The awards never paid much, however, and in order to survive in one of the poorest Latin American countries they now supplement the income from their gym with modest jobs — Arturo works part-time as a barber and Walter does welding and repairs bicycles. The gym occupies an old house, its green and white walls covered with old photos of the brothers in competition. Walter used his welding skills to build many of the exercise machines.

Gym users pay just $2 a week, an amount barely sufficient to keep the place going. Still, the brothers are enjoying their newfound fame. Juan Solis, an 82-year-old friend of the family, recalled that when the brothers were young and in “a pitiable state” he worried about what they would become when they grew up. “But now,” he told AFP with a smile, “they have it better than anyone else.” — AFP

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