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After graduating from Kenmore East High School in 1989, Robby Dinero put his salesmanship abilities to the test, working as one of the youngest new car salesmen in the area.

“I worked at Flannigan Chevrolet in North Tonawanda and every month I was in the top four for sales and it felt good,” Dinero said.

But he soon realized there was more to life than making money.

“I wanted adventure and I wanted to be tested.”

So, he gave up selling cars at age 20 and enrolled at Buffalo State College, supporting himself by plowing driveways in the winter and sealing them in the summer.

“I graduated with degrees in political science and criminal justice, but while I was at Buffalo State I played on the rugby team and became captain. I realized I had leadership skills and I wanted to follow in my family’s footsteps of military service. My father and his three brothers all served,” Dinero said.

Wanting to make the right choice, he visited Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps recruiters. The first three said he could basically write his own ticket in their branches.

It was a different story with the Leathernecks.

“I walked in and told the Marine Corps recruiter I wanted be an infantry officer and he told me to sit down and shut up. He told me I would be lucky just to finish officers’ candidate school, if he let me join. I was sold on the spot.”

Dinero’s journey with the Marines would take him to a number of global hot spots, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, during his second deployment to Iraq in 2008, he earned the Bronze Star for taking decisive actions against the enemy.

“There had been multiple vehicle ambushes. It would be a combination of lots of improvised explosive devices and rockets,” Dinero said. “I was very lucky and brought all my men home with me.”

A few years earlier, in 2005, Dinero had spent eight months in Afghanistan.

“I was with another Marine and we were living with a company of Afghan National Army soldiers. I was a military transition team leader and my job was to train those soldiers on how to work with a U.S. Special Forces team,” the 41-year-old recalled.

Back home in his final stateside post, Dinero served as the commanding officer of a 23,000-square-mile recruiting territory in the vicinity of Pittsburgh. It was there that he embarked upon a path that would lead him and his family back to civilian life.

Always a physical fitness enthusiast, he said he leaned on exercise, in particular boxing, to overcome the mental stresses brought on by his multiple deployments.

Dinero joined a gym in Gibsonia, Pa., where “functional fitness,” also known as “CrossFit,” was the specialty.

“I was literally in the best condition of my life,” he said, adding that the experience reminded him of how much he enjoyed training and training others. “You could see the physical and mental transformation that occurred in people.”

He and his wife, Jennifer, also realized the time had arrived to move on from the military and put down permanent roots for themselves and their two children.

“At this gym called R.A.W.-Training in Gibsonia, I experienced the same camaraderie and close community that I experienced as a Marine, and that caused my wife and I to realize we could probably build the same thing for ourselves in Western New York,” Dinero said.

And so last April, the Dineros departed from the security and familiarity of the military and returned to Western New York, where they have opened a fitness facility, Athletes Unleashed CrossFit AU, on California Road in Orchard Park.

“It’s going spectacularly well. We opened Nov. 3 and we have around 30 members and I’m booking people into February,” Dinero said.

“I wanted to come back and change people’s lives, and physical fitness does that. I see it every day, this transformation in physical and mental well-being. We just don’t build strength here, we build character,” Dinero said.

Robby Dinero, 41

Hometown: Buffalo

Residence: Holland

Branch: Marine Corps

Rank: Major

War zones: Iraq, Afghanistan

Years of service: October 1998 to April 2012

Most prominent honors: Two Combat Action Ribbons, Bronze Star, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Joint Service Achievement Medal

Specialty: Infantry Officer