If João Correia is the boss, then his father, Manuel, is the president, the mayor, el jefe … or rather, since we’re talking the Portuguese here, o chefe. Spending a day with him in Palmela, Portugal, where he lives half the year, is like wandering around with royalty. From the ladies at the morning coffee shop, to the local police, right down to the man preparing your dinner, everyone knows “O Patrão” – yet another fancy name for The Boss.
It’s not hard to understand why he’s so popular. He’s rarely seen without a broad smile, and it seems like the overriding drive behind everything he does is the need to wring as much joy out of each and every day as humanly possible. He’s also a man of charmingly simple pleasures. Manuel likes hanging with the guys and loves riding his bicycle. In the evening, he enjoys a nice piece of fresh fish, and a glass of wine or two, at one of the many unpretentious little neighborhood eateries near his home. He’s the first to arrive and the last to leave. And he makes friends where ever he goes.
Can you remember the first time you rode a bicycle?
I began riding at eight. I traded a goat for my first bike.
What was your first job?
I was born into a poor family in a small rural town called Sarzeda. I started working at a grocery store after the 4th grade, when I was 13, to be able to help my parents. At 16, I went to work in Mozambique, which at that time was a Portuguese territory. Then in 1974, when it was returned to the African people, I came back to Portugal.
What did you do for a living?
I emigrated to the US in 1986 and found work in construction, eventually driving a truck for various companies until my retirement in 2013.
Where do you live now?
Now that I’m retired, I split my time between Portugal and US. The winters, I spend in the US, spending time with grandchildren, friends and family. Then I spend the spring and summer in Portugal, riding my bike and joining an inGamba tour when I can with João.
Do you remember when you realized João would be a good bicycle rider?
Since he was very young, João always liked to ride his bike. I bought him his first bike and entered him in his first official race at age six. He won his very first race against other kids who had been training for a lot longer. After that, any race that I entered him in, he would win. It was soon clear that he had something special. When he was 11, I decided to move the family to the US too so that he and his sister could have better opportunities.
You have one more story about João as a young man:
João has always been very persistent. One story I can remember was when he was 16, he really wanted to race with the Portuguese Federation, but at the time our family was still trying to become legalized in the States and he needed to wait two more months until everything was finalized. If he left the country, he would not be able to get back in. Determined, he went to New York and he approached the Finnair team to sponsor him. Anything that he wants, he finds a way to make it happen. He has always carried that work ethic with him.
You ride a lot. What keeps you motivated?
Now that I have time, I’m able to dedicate more of it to getting stronger. I enjoy the challenge of beating my own records, surpassing 12,000 kilometers this year alone across New York, California, Portugal, Spain and Italy. Also, having João as support helps!
You have been on a quite a few inGamba trips. Which was your favorite and why?
My favorite is the Portugal one that starts in Lisbon and goes up north. You see the best that the country has to offer. The scenery is amazing and the trip stops at some of the best establishments to eat and socialize along the way.