TRIUNFADOR: Chris López

As Chris López steers his shiny black Mercedes-Benz sports coupe through the streets of Las Vegas, New Mexico, 65 miles east of Santa Fe, the car draws curious stares from passers by. The sleek Mercedes is dramatically out of place among the pick-up trucks and other much simpler cars in the small town that doesn't look like it's changed much since the days more than 100 years ago when it was a hangout for such Wild West legends as Billy the Kid and Wyatt Earp.

Today, López is causing a different kind of stir in town than these men did. He just turned 24 in October and is already a successful real estate investor and entrepreneur, who owns three community newspapers and several small businesses. And it's just the beginning. "I want to be worth $1 billion by the time I'm 35," he says matter of factly, without a hint of boasting.

López has reason to be confident. He has been completely self reliant most of his life and has achieved every goal he has set for himself through a combination of hard work, single-minded determination and fierce tenacity. Nothing has ever come easy for López. And that's just the way he likes it.

López says he became a man at the age 11. That was when he learned his father had died in a car accident. He had never met the man. López's father and his mother had split up before he was born. The only father figure in his life had been his grandfather and he had died of a heart attack when López was three while the two of them watched TV together one evening after dinner.

Even though he had not known his father, learning of his death made López realize that he truly had no one left in the world he could rely on. He and his mother were living in a rundown trailer on the outskirts of town and he did not want to ask her for anything because she was out of work and had little money. He had grown accustomed to providing for himself. Once, when he had wanted a basketball hoop, he made one himself by removing the spokes from a bicycle wheel rim and attaching it to an abandoned crosswalk sign.

Poverty was a way of life for López. The family was on welfare for a time and when he and his friends went to the store he was embarrassed because he had to pay with food stamps. The family car was a dilapidated 1947 Chevrolet pickup truck that more often than not had to be rolling down a hill in order to start.

Even though his mother had little money, she believed strongly in the value of education. To encourage her son to study, she and his grandmother gave López a dollar for every A he got in school. It worked. López applied himself and got straight A's.

But when López learned of his father's death, he suddenly felt that the $20 or so he got every nine weeks from them was not enough. Even though he was just 11, he felt compelled to get a real job and earn more money. He was also motivated by his desire to buy a go cart he had been eyeing.

López went to the local grocery store and asked for a job but was told he was too young. Then he went to the town newspaper, the Las Vegas Optic, and asked for a job delivering papers. They also told him, "No."

López was crestfallen. That night, before he went to bed, he kneeled on the floor and prayed for help. "Please, God, just help me get a job so I don't have to ask anyone for anything, or bother anybody."

To read more about how Chris López secured a job and eventually created his own newspaper, the Las Vegas Times, pick up the February issue of Selecciones on newsstands January 22. You can also heck out Selecciones online at http://www.rd.com/selecciones.

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