Steve Pratico is looking for a fight.
Four times a week the litigator endures 10 rounds of training inside the spartan Dade City Boxing Club to get in the best shape of his life by the time he turns 40.
In the past year, Pratico, 38, has lost 47 pounds, and his trainer, Salvador Jaurequi, is pointing him toward an October Golden Gloves competition — potentially against a heavyweight half his age.
"It's better than running 10 miles or other ways that people get in shape," Pratico said. "Being around kids who are tough and working very hard keeps me going."
Following a scholarship football career as a middle linebacker at Rutgers and Bucknell, Pratico switched to boxing during law school at Notre Dame. At 6-feet-1 and 217 pounds, he attributes his athleticism and determination to growing up in the coal country of Archbald, Pa.
"They're the toughest people on earth," he said.
At his firm, Johnson, Auvil & Pratico, in Dade City, he competes in the courtroom as a commercial litigator, arguing on behalf of clients in contract, real estate, employment and sales disputes. He ponders any comparisons between his strengths in the gym and his courtroom strategies, and laughs.
"I may not be the quickest," he said, "but I hit harder than most guys."
On training days, Pratico swaps his suit and tie at 5 p.m. for a T-shirt and shorts and wraps his hands with tape. He chews a wad of gum to keep his jaw loose during the 45-minute workouts.
When the bell rings, 10 simulated three-minute rounds begin.
"The beauty is that the heart rate stays the same, even during the one-minute breathers," Pratico said.
Throwing punches requires warmups and cooldowns: Round 1 begins in front of a full-length mirror with shadow boxing, followed by strengthening arm circles in Round 2; shadow boxing repeats in Round 3 adding 30-pound resistance bands; he drags a mat over and is flat on his back for Round 4, targeting abdominal muscles with air bicycles, leg drops and situps; rapid pushups in Round 5 begin to wear him down as his heart rate elevates to 146 beats per minute.
Then it's time to climb into the sparring ring for two rounds of "mitts and gloves." Pratico laces up his gloves as his trainer slides on padded mitts. They are in full face-to-face fighting mode.
Jaurequi shouts the combinations and catches Pratico's punches in his mitts.
"Jab, double jab, one-two, straight up, one-two-three, upper cut," Jaurequi prompts. "Bring the gloves up tight. Was that a jab? Bring the hands back."
Pratico calls this exercise the most difficult. His heart rate has jumped to 180.
"The amount of explosive energy required in the ring is way beyond any workout," he said.
One minute later it's Round 8 for building balance and stability with squats and lunges. Pratico takes off his shirt and picks up two 15-pound dumbbells for Round 9 — biceps/triceps curls and extensions. He finishes with punishing "burpees," a dynamic combination of stand, drop, pushup, squat, stand, repeat.
"Sal and I designed this program together," he said. "It's definitely collaborative. We even supplement work to avoid impact on knees, ankles and my back. I recovered more quickly when I was younger. But as long as I stay in the flow three or four times per week there's no soreness."
Pratico married Sheada Madani, a lawyer at the same firm, in 2007. Their son, Marco, was born 20 months ago.
"We took a family vacation to the beach with a newborn, and it was pictures, pictures, pictures," he said. "I was mortified by how fat I was. That's when I went into training."
Despite having his nose broken playing football, Pratico feels protected from injury or losing his million-dollar smile. He describes Sheada as the "most supportive wife any guy could ask for."
"Sheada always tell me how good I look in a spousal way," he said. "Sometimes she's so positive that I have to do a reality check."
Recent advances in nutrition and performance techniques have lengthened many boxing careers: In 1994, George Foreman, 45, shattered records by reclaiming his heavyweight championship belt with a knockout punch to Michael Moorer in the 10th round. Larry Holmes and Riddick Bowe were still fighting at 40; and this year Evander Holyfield is preparing for another fight at 50.
Pratico is looking for a spot in the oldtimers' club. But for the time being he remains in open amateur company until he graduates to senior Golden Glove status at 40.
"If Sal can find me a fight, I'll fight," he said. "Given my strides in fitness and the enjoyment level, the next logical challenge is to find an opponent."