Unlikely Inspiration: An Open Letter to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson

Born with Cerebral Palsy, Erin Kelly has developed a “Bring it” attitude thanks to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Here’s her letter.

Author Note: Every kid has a hero. Dwayne ‘The Rock” Johnson has been mine for over fourteen years. On the heels of his eighth WWE Championship victory last month at The Royal Rumble, WWE’s annual January Pay-Per-View event—his first title win in over a decade—I felt compelled to write this open letter.

Dear Dwayne,

January 27, 2013 started out just like any other day. I woke up around 9:30, stirred in my bed for several minutes, and admired the shrine of pictures and posters I’ve built over the years. My gaze locked on the autographed, glossy photo you sent me years ago, as it always seems to do.

I wiped the sleep from my eyes as I sent out my morning tweet, and began looking for yours. I didn’t even have to access your account to find it. There it was, right on my Twitter feed: a pre-match photo of you, standing in a WWE ring, dawning sweatpants and a hoodie—alone with your thoughts. The caption underneath the photo, “I Can Feel It Coming in the Air Tonight,” was more than just a homage to Phil Collins’ classic tune. It was a fitting reference to what would be your eighth run as WWE Champion in your storied 16-year career.

They say the second time—or, in my case, the fourteenth—time around is always better than the first. From the moment I watched you “lay the smackdown” and deliver The Rock Bottom to Mick Foley at the 1999 Royal Rumble from the comfort of my living room, I was hooked.

My ninth grade eyes couldn’t believe what they were seeing—partly because I’d never seen anyone twist and bend their body in such awkward ways while maintaining an unbelievable amount of coordination and genuine athleticism, and because I was not blessed with the ability to do any of those things, as I was born with Cerebral Palsy.

I’ve watched you “climb the ladder” to the top of the world. Knowing how hard you fought to escape a life of poverty, juvenile imprisonment, and eviction to become the man—the champion–you are today inspires me to look passed the shadow of my wheelchair, set each one of my goals a little higher than the one before, and say, “Just Bring It!”

That—and the fact that you set a goal last year to replant your roots in WWE—and honor your family history—made me even more of a fan. It reminded me that I could—and do—utilize the magic in my fingers as a writer as a positive influence. However, when I read, “I believe in being gracious with your successes, and humbled by your failures,” in a recent interview you gave with WWE Magazine, it crystallized everything for me.

Your victory over then WWE Champion CM Punk at this year’s Royal Rumble wasn’t about Dwayne Johnson morphing into ‘The Rock.” It wasn’t about the thrill of getting to call my favorite wrestler Champion after more than ten years. It wasn’t even about being a WWE fan in general. It was, however, all about one of my favorite people on this planet leading by his own example.

In this 2011 interview with Ellen DeGeneres, you explained the inspiration behind Team Bring It, the mindset and movement you’ve started as a way to motivate and inspire your “millions and millions” of fans. It didn’t take me long to realize that this fit my lifestyle like a glove, and that Ellen not only shares your outlook on life, but also has a spot on my list of favorite people/role models. However, in 2003, you showed me why you’ve earned the right to be called “The People’s Champion.”

I lost my grandfather after he suffered a heart attack three months before my eighteenth birthday. He never thought much of pro wrestling, but always taught me that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. His death shook me to my core. I felt like I’d lost a piece of my soul, but three days later, I received an envelope in the mail with the autographed picture that’s now framed and still hanging on my bedroom wall after ten years.

It was that simple gesture that told me there’s no difference between you, as a person, and ‘The Rock.” The world took notice of that three years later, when The Make-A-Wish Foundation named you a 2006 Chris Gracious Celebrity Award recipient, along with former US President Bill Clinton, Michael J. Fox, and Chuck Norris.

Fast-forward seven years. You continue to put a smile on my face—one that has widened even more since you’ve worked with Steve Carell, a surprising but bold addition to my list of role models, in the film adaptation of the 1960’s T.V. show Get Smart.

I’ve somehow found a way to incorporate your work ethic, Steve’s humility, and Ellen’s down-to earth approach into my daily routine. It’s a “dream team” of sorts that I’ve assembled based on attributes I not only admire, but have gained the most from.

In closing, January 27, 2013 marked a new chapter in my life. It rekindled a fire inside me that I believe has always been there. Take away all your catchphrases, all the fame, all the singing—you’ve got a modern Renaissance Man who continues to blaze a trail of success—with grace and humbleness.

I didn’t write this letter as an over-the-top fan. I wrote it as someone whose abilities, talents, and dreams have blossomed from watching the rebirth of her childhood hero.

Your fan and proud member of Team Bring It,

– Erin M. Kelly

About Erin Kelly

Erin M. Kelly is the Social Justice Editor at The Good Men Project. She is also a columnist and writer with Cerebral Palsy who wants to be recognized for her work rather than her disability. She’s a 2009 graduate of Penn State Altoona, where she majored in Letters, Arts and Sciences. During her senior year, she was hired as a columnist for The Altoona Mirror, the daily newspaper in Altoona, PA. Her column entitled, “The View From Here,” runs monthly and addresses in a light-hearted, humorous manner the challenges she faces daily. She is also the editor of "To Cope and to Prevail", memoir of Penn State Altoona professor Dr. Ilse-Rose Warg. Find Erin on Twitter @WriterWheels.


  1. What an awesome letter Erin. Thank for sharing it! I kind of always liked The Rock myself. Although I’m not a WWF fan.

  2. Erin Kelly says:

    Thank you, world, for your incredible response to this! I’ve written dozens upon dozens of letters to Dwayne, and I truly believe in my heart that this one will be the one to go all the way. To be able to write a letter of this depth- and to have be read by eyes other than my own0is huge. It means more to me than each and every one of you will ever know. I hope that, together, we can get this in front of the right pair of eyes. Thank you all so much!!!

  3. Debbie Kelly says:

    A special thank you to Cameron and the entire Staff of The Good Men Project for allowing our daughter, Erin, the opportunity to use her talents and share her creativity with the world. We are very proud of her and enjoy seeing how she shares her skills with the world. She certainly can tell a story!

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