Early-morning jogs, strict diets and punishing workouts are par for the course when you are a professional athlete. But what about the attorney, salesman or student who has a relentless passion for a particular sport? We’re not talking about your typical weekend warrior, but the hard-core athlete driven by something deeper than a desire to have fun or shed pounds.

Dropkick king: Justin Boyd

Justin Boyd is not a guy you’d want to fight, or go up against in any sport, for that matter. His hair is a wild shock of dreadlocks; his muscular thighs are as big as watermelons; and his eyes say, “I am here to play, but I will destroy you if necessary.”

The 2003 LHHS grad played football during high school. It wasn’t until his senior year that he discovered rugby. A friend had joined a league and invited him to play.

“It started as almost a joke, like, ‘Aw, rugby, ha, ha’,” Boyd says.

But it didn’t take long for him to become serious about the sport. He played throughout college at Texas A&M and rather quickly gained a reputation and garnered invites to United States national camps. Today he plays for Team USA, where he competes in the world’s biggest rugby tournaments. The required training is tough, Boyd says, noting that in addition to his 9-to-5 job with a company that sells aircraft parts, he works out and/or scrimmages at least twice a day.

“You are playing the best of the best from every country, so you are going to need to do some pretty intense work,” he says. “I used to watch these teams, these athletes, on television, now I’m playing against them. There’s no feeling like putting on that USA jersey and being one of the select 12 to represent your country.”

The rough-and-tumble sport has gained in popularity in the past few years, Boyd says. In fact, last year rugby was approved for a 2016 Olympic sport. Boyd, who will be in his 30s then, says he’ll probably be “to old” to play in the Olympics, but that doesn’t lessen the satisfaction he feels about the decision.

“I am just happy to have been part of the push to get rugby to the Olympics,” says Boyd, whose passion is making the sport bigger and opening it up to new players.

“I want to be able to give back to young people, grow the sport, see kids get college scholarships. This is a great team sport. All the friends I have today are associated with rugby. There’s just nothing like it.”

Triple threat: Katie Paulson

Take Lake Highlands resident Katie Paulson, for instance — she’s a corporate attorney by day, but on early mornings, evenings and weekends, she’s a bicycling, swimming and running superwoman. She has completed nine Ironman-distance triathlons (that’s a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run, the best of which she finished in 11 hours, 37 minutes).

And though the Ironman is grueling, thousands of people every year claim one, which is why, for Paulson, the achievement lacked luster. She wanted to go even harder, so last fall she entered the three-day-long Ultraman — effectively a double Ironman. “I want to see how far I can push my body,” she says.

Pushing to this extent requires sustained mental toughness, decided dedication (working out six days a week and often twice a day) and a high pain threshold.

“When I feel like stopping — and it’s rare that I don’t at some point during a race — I ask myself what hurts and tell myself I don’t need to walk … and that stopping will just prolong the agony,” she says.

Paulson played high school basketball and volleyball, and she attended college on a basketball scholarship. After working a few years, she returned to law school — those years didn’t allow much free time for sports. After law school, however, she found that “just working one job” made room for something recreational.

She joined some friends for an informational meeting with Team In Training, an extension of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society that trains people to compete in endurance sports.

“I didn’t even really plan to sign on for the goal race (the LA Triathlon) but got pulled in,” she says. “When I showed up for the first training ride, the group nearly laughed me off the parking lot.”

Paulson had shown up with a bike from 1975 that was bigger than the Mazda Miata in which she pulled up, she says.

“I needed a lot of education, to say the least.”

In the years and miles leading up to the Ultraman, Paulson built bonds with her fellow athletes. She says the social aspect is one of the main reasons she has stuck with the sport. In fact, if it wasn’t for the friends she has made, she might have never entered the Ultraman.

For her 40th birthday, her buddies paid the $1,000 entry fee.

Hard hitter: Ashley Benson

The spirit of camaraderie similarly fuels Ashley Benson’s allegiance to the North Texas Amateur Baseball League.

“It’s a lot of fun for us old guys, and it keeps you from feeling like you’re getting old,” says Benson, who looks closer to 45 than 57.

Baseball, for Benson, is detectably more competitive than he lets on at first. This is evidenced when his daughter, Misty, produces a team photo of the Dallas Blue Jays, Benson’s team that won the Men’s Senior League Baseball World Series two years ago.

The World Series is held each year in Phoenix, and Benson, who lives near Lake Highlands High School, has attended 15 of the past 16 years — if not as a player, as a spectator.

“The only year I didn’t go was the year my wife was in the hospital.”

He played college baseball at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, but the baseball program was eliminated his junior year to make way for women’s basketball. After graduation, he played competitive softball for more than a decade before joining the amateur baseball league.

These days, Benson makes a living in insurance sales, but his heart is in sports. He plays for two baseball teams and referees volleyball and basketball, which brings in a little extra cash and helps keep him in shape for baseball season, he says.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the summer league doesn’t draw a lot of fans.

“It’s hot out there; too hot for even the families of players,” Benson says. “We do it not for the fans, [but] for the love of the game.”

Martial Arts master: Dylan Domizo

Quite the opposite end of the sports spectrum from the comfortingly traditional game of baseball is Mixed Martial Arts. MMA is a fast-growing, full-combat sport combining elements of boxing, wrestling, jujitsu and other disciplines — its mention might conjure images of a wild-eyed Kimbo Slice dominating an octagonal ring as he kicks, punches, grapples, stomps and throws his opponent to the mat, ready to “tear the guy’s arm off and beat him with it”, as he once told ESPN magazine.

But the pride of Lake Highlands fighters, Dylan Domizo, defies the scary stereotype. The polite and intelligent LHHS sophomore — who has won six Golden Gloves boxing titles, national and world championships and has 13 belts displayed in the LHHS trophy case — has lent his face to brands such as Adidas, Abercrombie and Hollister.

“No, if you met me on the street, you’d never know I was a fighter,” Domizo says. “I’m really very loveable.”

His father was a professional fighter, his mom a third–degree black belt in Taekwondo. Domizo started fighting at age 4.

“I’ve been very competitive from a young age, and I had a temper when I was little. Fighting was a good outlet for that in the beginning, but as I got older, it also taught me a lot of discipline.”

Despite a modeling career that has him working once a month, give or take, and untold hours spent training and traveling for fights, Domizo manages to maintain good grades in school, and he says academics are more important to him than any of the other stuff.

“I want to go professional, but I want a backup plan. I am going to go to college and do something bigger with my life, he says.

“If my grades start to go down, I just take a little time off fighting.”

Domizo often works out during the week at the Dallas Jiu-Jitsu Texas Gladiators gym in Lake Highlands, where he can be found sparing with owner/coach Felipe Espinoza, a fellow neighborhood resident who shares Domizo’s love of MMA. The former paramedic fought professionally before buying his own gym, where he helps not just fighters, but also marathoners, cyclists and bodybuilders get in shape.