There comes a time in everyone’s life when things become crystal clear—a time when one knows when to decipher between fantasy and reality. For me, that moment came hard and fast, like a freight train in the night.
It would be easy to say my cerebral palsy sparked it all. It would be even easier to say the struggles that come with my disability prompted me to put my “toys” away a long time ago. These are very reasonable assumptions, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking that way. However, there’s a part of me that hasn’t quite let go of what “fantasy” means or what others believe it is.
I’ve been a fan of professional wrestling for as long as I can remember. It wasn’t something that I regarded as silly or a waste of time. I don’t know why, but I just didn’t see it that way—and still don’t. In my younger years, my ten or eleven-year old conscience admittedly just saw a bunch of men in tight, sweaty spandex.
As time went on, however, I saw something I didn’t see before. All these 250-pound, Herculean guys were moving their bodies in ways I couldn’t even attempt if I wanted to. Not only that, but there were a few guys in the ring who didn’t “look the part” and didn’t measure up to the others from a physical standpoint. Everyone—fans and critics alike, thought that the smaller guys like Shawn Michaels were the most unlikely to become a champion. I rooted for them because I knew what it felt like to constantly be doubted, but the one I really gravitated towards was The Hardcore Legend, Mick Foley.
There was just something about Mick’s ability to have fun and be creative while still being a tough guy that I related to. His creativity shined every time he wrestled as one of his three personas: Mankind, Dude Love or Cactus Jack—and I couldn’t wait to see which one he’d bring out each week. I also loved the fact he didn’t look or act like a “typical” wrestler, but still broke stereotypes and won matches. Somewhere inside me, I knew and understood there was nothing “fake” or fabricated about that—and I was happy about it.
In fact, I watched my first WWE Pay-Per-View, The Royal Rumble, on my couch in January 1999. The main event was Mankind vs. Dwayne ‘The Rock‘ Johnson for the then WWF Championship. Dwayne brought his muscles and genetics to the ring. Mick brought his unique style as champion. In the end, Dwayne pulled out a victory, but I believe this was one of the many matches that put Mick on the map. My favorite moments from the archives are when the two formed The Rock ‘n’ Sock Connection and went on to the WWF Tag Team Championship. They made comedy magic that brought tears of laughter to my eyes.
Fast-forward to August 27, 2016. The place was People’s Natural Gas Field in my hometown of Altoona, Pennsylvania, where I’ve watched dozens of baseball games being played. On this particular day, however, baseball was the last thing on my mind. It was Pro Wrestling Day at the ballpark—and Mick was meeting with fans and signing autographs.
I was waiting in a long, long line with my Mom and older brother. The mid-day sun was beating down on us with 90 percent humidity. I carefully navigated my motorized wheelchair through the line—which was blocked off by a thin row of orange plastic. I couldn’t see anything from my vantage point, except the legs and feet of a sea of humanity, but Mom told me she could see a large figure in a white custom baseball jersey, moving around up ahead.
I immediately felt the palms of my hands begin to sweat. As the line inched closer to the table where Mick was sitting, I clutched my copy of his autobiography, “Have a Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks”, in my hands and made sure there weren’t any drops of my own sweat on it. I knew we were getting closer. I didn’t want to make a fool of myself.
We were still in line an hour later when a tall gentleman who looked to be a security guard came up to us and said, “Come with me, please. You’re next.”
Two minutes later, I was sitting in front of one of my idols and shaking his hand. When he saw that I couldn’t quite reach over the table, Mick gently said, “You stay right there, Erin. I’ll come to you.” He got up out of his seat, walked around the table, bent down and put his hand on my shoulder. His big, mountain man-like stature towered over me.
He had a warm inviting glow on his face that made me feel like I could conquer the world. He also had a jolliness about him, almost like that of Santa Claus, which I greatly appreciated as well. He wrote, “To Erin, very nice to meet a fellow writer!” in my copy of his book. Before he did, however, I nervously gave him a booklet of my own poetry—a gift which he accepted with glowing enthusiasm and excitement.
To my surprise, he opened it and started reading my work out loud. He picked “Happy Girl Syndrome”, a poem I’d written about written about wrestling, and read it loud enough for my Mom and I to hear, word for word, in its entirety. He asked a little more about my work before giving me a big hug and snapping a few pictures that my brother happily took.
I looked over my shoulder to see a string of people still waiting in line. So I maneuvered over to the side after my hands stopped sweating and my nerves calmed down. I felt a sense of pride rush over me—not just because I’d just met someone who I’ve admired since I was a kid, but also because this is truly one of the “good guys” in the world, even though he might have played a bad guy a few times in his career.
I’ve always been under the impression that celebrities aren’t quite what you perceive them to be when you meet them in person. That can be good and bad. In this case, it was more than good. It was an experience that exceeded my expectations, and I’ll never forget it for the rest of my life.
So Mick, thank you. Thank you for being a role model of a different kind, at least for me. Most importantly, thank you for being a true class act!
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Photo courtesy of author.