Brand ambassador. Social media addict. Pushup king. We pay an early morning visit to the Coss Athletics founder and Defy Entrepreneur-in-Training.
“I built a workout tailored specifically to my cell – using only my body weight. I lost 70 pounds in six months.”
Coss Marte shakes our hands firmly as we enter the Rivington Street apartment where he’s lived for most of his life. New York 1 is on the television, and the house is warm. Coss is doing push-ups, fifty at a time. We’re sure has more energy at 5:15 a.m. than most people have at any point during the day.
Coss grew up in these Lower East Side tenements, the son of two Dominican parents. It was here that he first learned the art of dealing marijuana and cocaine – skills that, at one point in his life, were making him over five hundred thousand dollars per year. Then he got caught. Coss spent four years behind bars, where he was forced to wake up frightenly early, only to spend most of each day in a cell. To pass the time, he began working out. The routine he devised within the constricted space of his cell is the same one he now teaches several nights per week on Lafayette Street as part of his personal training business, Coss Athletics. But more on that later.
The first thing Coss does when he wakes up is three sets of fifty pushups, and then three sets of ten pullups on the bar above his bedroom door. (“You know, nothing crazy.”) He transformed himself in prison – losing seventy pounds. A different man altogether. He shaves quickly and skillfully, (“we would have only two minutes to shave when I was locked up”) and cooks a proper Dominican breakfast – yucca and plantains (“I boil them with a little salt”) and fried salami with red onions and butter. “It’s how my mom used to do it for us.” He drinks his coffee black – “John Wayne style.”
Coss showers and returns in a dress shirt and textured tie – Career Gear, you could call it, which is the name of the organization where he first met the team from Defy Ventures, a nonprofit that works with ex-cons to develop their business plans. “They’ve really hooked me up,” Coss says with a grin about Defy. He’s prone to shy smiles, like he’s in on a secret. The Defy team arranged sit-downs with fellow entrepreneurs, who schooled him on marketing and social media. “Everything I do is branded now,” he says.
He started showing up in his community with “Coss Athletics” gear, and people took notice. After all, he looked and sounded different than the young drug dealer they had known before. Coss put what little money he had when he was released from jail towards starting a prison-style boot camp class; held three times per week in the evening. He now offers yearly memberships. It is at these workouts that Coss is at his best, presiding over the classes with a charismatic, tenacious approach. “If you haven’t been showing up, I’ll text you,” Coss laughs. “Like a lot!”
“I boil yucca and plantains, and fry up some salami with onions and butter – a proper Dominican breakfast. And only black coffee – John Wayne style.”
Coss sits quietly on the couch returning emails. He posts to his Facebook page and tosses on his jacket before walking south to catch the subway to his day job – Goodwill Industries. We join him. We walk past the corner of Eldridge and Broome Streets where he used to sit on a milk crate and sell drugs and through the park where he says, as a child, “junkies would shoot up right in front of me.” He knows every step. Knows the names of all the locals hanging outside the bodegas. It’s a cold, still morning, and Coss’s brilliant red, “Coss Athletics” backpack is the brightest color on an otherwise desolate stretch of downtown New York. He walks ahead of us, faster now – just another commuter, late to the office. He couldn’t be happier.