I don't know how much you know about Muay Thai, but here it is in a nutshell. Muay Thai is an especially brutal form of martial arts that encourages combatants to use fists, elbows, shins and feet to subdue their opponents. As the name suggests, its origins are in Thailand, and professionals can make a living fighting regularly in South Asia. As you might guess, not a lot of fighters go on to be models. But Brandon Mills did.
I met Mills on a Thursday morning at Toronto's Delta Chelsea Hotel. Sutherland Models had brought him in on a direct-book for Tip Top Menswear, and this was his last of a three-day stay before returning to New York.
Tall and confident, he made his way to the concierge desk with a relaxed, Zen-like quality that seemed so out of place in the hectic environment of travellers checking out and bellhops scrambling to earn a tip. His manner also seemed in conflict with nearly every image I had ever seen of him. He wasn't at all what I expected.
We found seats in a quiet area of the lobby and began conversing. He first told me, as I expected, that he never expected to be a model. Men - especially the straight ones - seldom do. But in light of his particular upbringing, the notion that this guy would end up in this career seemed almost unbelievable.
Born in a Pennsylvania trailer park, Mills was raised by a single mom, moving frequently until they wound up in a rundown area of Vancouver. He describes the relationship as "tumultuous," and the finances "difficult." By age 14 he moved out.
In the years that followed Mills relocated to Calgary and immersed himself in martial arts; a lifestyle that despite its combative nature, still helps him find peace today. It was a violent course however, that soon led to the jungles of Thailand, where he spent twelve hours a day kicking banana trees to build strength and stamina. To support himself, he fought.
The Muay Thai career ended abruptly however, when he crashed a motorcycle at 60 kph, wearing nothing but shorts. Badly hurt, he was taken to a jungle medical clinic where his leg became so seriously infected he nearly got gangrene. "Just by the grace of God," he now recalls, "I found a gentlemen - a Thai doctor that owned a clinic - and he had trained in Canada for sports medicine. He analyzed the medicine I was using and told me it was fake."
Over the following three weeks, stacked on an I.V. and ingesting three different antibiotics, Mills lost 45 pounds. "It killed everything in my system, but luckily I got to keep my leg." His fighting career however, was done.