Everyone has a story about how they ended up in the Bahamas. One particularly intriguing and inspiring story involves Ricky "FiveFingerz" Puleo. The Maryland native won his seat to the PCA on PokerStars by winning one of the Steps satellites with a mere $27 investment.
Puleo grew up near Annapolis, MD and started playing cards as a child. He was also an accomplished athlete and played ice hockey at the prestigious DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland. DeMatha is known for both its stringent academics and athletic excellence. The DeMatha basketball team is routinely considered one of the best programs in America and their hockey team won ten league championships since 1990.
"I played hockey for fourteen years including a couple of years at DeMatha,"said Puleo. "I played center and defense occasionally. I was half-way decent and good enough to get some offers to tryout for some AA hockey teams."
Puleo's future looked bright until tragedy struck just before he turned 17 years old when he suffered a disastrous motorcycle accident and hit a tree at 90 mph. He was hospitalized for several months. He was fortunate and did not have any internal or head injuries but the accident left him with a bad leg fracture and his entire left side was paralyzed. Puleo's physical health as an athlete and his willingness to improve his health attributed to a quick recovery.
"Between the accident and playing hockey, it gave me a good drive to get through it and get better," said Puleo. "I got out of the hospital much faster than the doctors expected and impressed everyone with my recovery."
After a year or so rigorous rehabilitation, he nearly recovered with the exception that he lost the majority of mobility in his left arm. That physical impairment did not deter him one bit.
"The accident turned my life around but it made me grow up and realize how short and precious life is," he mentioned. "It made me value things much differently. It kinda ended my hockey career but open doors for me in other areas. I use that as a positive and grew off of it."
Puleo worked in construction and very few people ever noticed his disability. He eventually started his own business that began to flourish.
"I always had that drive that you have to give it 110% no matter what you do and I apply it to poker," he said. "You have to have patience and that desire to win. I try to use that experience everyday."
After a downturn in the housing market that affected his construction business, Puleo made a tough decision to try to play poker for a living. Like so many players on PokerStars, he began his foray into online poker after he watched Chris Moneymaker win the 2003 WSOP.
"Things were good with work until business got kinda slow," he said. "So I took a year off to give playing full time a shot. I play some SNGs online but mostly cash games in Atlantic City. I occasionally play tournaments at the Borgata Casino."
Puleo had a bad run in September playing different events during the Borgata Poker Open. When he returned to Maryland, he deposited some money on PokerStars specifically to win a seat to the PCA.
"I didn't say I'm going to give it a shot, I said that I'm going to win a seat to the PCA. I set a goal for myself and I achieved it by playing the Steps tournaments. I bought directly in Step 2 and won that. The next night, I played the rest of the Steps and won my seat. I was running really good. There's a couple of guys that I play with, like Travis and Paul, who are big online players or play live with me in a home game. Their advice and support were part of the reason why I'm here."
Puleo brought his father with him to the Bahamas. "I unfortunately couldn't bring my fiancee with me," he said. "We have some kids at home, but they're cheering me on and constantly sending me words of encouragement."
Puelo's father mentioned that he was both impressed and proud of his son's accomplishments. "I was a little surprised when he said that he was going to play professionally for a living, but now I have seen that he really applies himself as a student of the game."
Puleo took his seat at Table 36 and drew a tough draw with Nenad Medic sitting to his immediate left which doesn't bother him one bit. Now that you know Puleo's story, you can imagine why he's not afraid of having a bracelet winner at his table. He welcomes the challenge.
"I'm just living life, man," Puleo said before he took his seat.