HANG IN THERE

Here is a story of some of my life experiences, during my 24 years as a Pro-Wrestler.

A question was posed to me so I decided to post my answer. The question was "If I know now what I knew then, would I do it again?"

To begin the story, almost not a day goes by when the pain doesn't creep into this road weary body from the years of abuse inflicted in the ring. As I look back, I remember many of my battle scars including 23 or so operations (nine surgeries alone trying to rebuild my knees.) There were broken bones, concussions, and my skull was broken 20 or 30 times. I had a few heart surgeries and even suffered a major stroke. I was even declared legally dead on two different occasions.

I feel very blessed that I was given the chances that I had. Unlike the thousands of other wrestlers who never get a push, I received a few pushes here and there. In fact, my talents have blessed me to branch out into other interesting adventures including radio; TV, movies, and I even broke into film directing.

Ask many of the workers (wrestlers) in our business why they do this and there will be many answers. I know of workers who have been forced to have multiple hip replacements, new knees, new joints, multiple screws, pins and plates just to hold us together, all thanks to our business. There are wrestlers who are now paralyzed and a few more have died doing what they love.

In my case, I put my life on the line everyday for the fans. Laughingly it is not for the money. How many workers besides me have spent $40 on expenses to make $20, just to perform? Some times we made a few thousand for a gig. We "old timers" remember our carny/gypsy type lifestyle when 3 or 4 guys would travel, cramped in a car, journeying from town to town just for the love of the business. Sometimes we made good money, sometimes we broke even, and there were times when promoters stiffed us. (Sorry, that is a whole another horror story that almost every worker has faced at one time or another.)

Back to my pain riddled body. Yes, painkillers are our lifeblood, but that is not all. You see, I tried to visit children's hospitals, senior centers, orphanages, and veteran's hospitals whenever I came to a town. The smile on their faces when they shook my hand made everything worth it, and it reminded me that what I do is for the fans.

About 15 years ago, I suffered a major stroke. I could not walk or talk and the doctors gave me less than one and one-half years to live. Talk about depression. A few days prior, I'm performing in front of thousands of screaming fans, and today I'm buzzing for morphine and a bedpan. It was NOT a happy site!

The doctors all said my stroke was caused from my time in the ring and one too many chair shots to the head. Jokingly but being serious, I told my doctors that since they used shock paddles to bring me back to life two other times, that if they find me dead again, to take those paddles and shove them. I said I paid my dues on earth and am not coming back. The doctors all laughed knowing what just happened to me.

My name in the ring is "The Hangman." I try to sign all my autographs with these three words, "Hang In There." For years I have spoken with children, runaway's, seniors, etc., and always told them, no matter how bad it looks, hang in there. But now I was telling myself to hang in there. It is easy to give advice but hard to take it!

My mind flashed pictures of the veterans I met that had their arms or legs blown away, those children that are struggling everyday to stay alive, and those seniors that society and more importantly, their own families had forgotten. It was hard to see a young child, about 7-years-old, lying in the hospital bed with only days or hours to live. Their courage helped pull me through, and made what I do that much more important.

An example I wish to share is I was visiting a hospital and the word quickly spread that "The Hangman" was here. I would visit with the children and give out autographed pictures and some mini nooses. Well, this family heard about me and sent the nurse to track me down and ask if I would visit their child.

(NOTE: I'm in tears at this moment writing this story, because what happened will always be with me.)

You see the child was 8 years old and a huge wrestling fan. He never got to meet a wrestler, face to face, and this was a dream of his. The nurse brought me to the IC ward and we met his parents in the hallway. They told me about their child's wish and his condition. Asked if I could please step in and say hello to him.

Their emotions hit me hard and there was no way I could say no. I learned this boy was dying and the doctors did not expect him to make it through the night. For at least the next hour, I sat on the hospital bed with that boy. We talked, laughed, hugged and shared a most intimate moment together. When it was time for me to run to make it to the show that night, I reluctantly bid farewell. The young man was beaming with pride, clutching his new autographed picture and his hangman's noose.

His father walked me out to the hall while his mother stayed at their son's side. His father hugged me and thanked me for taking time out to visit with their son. We both shed tears as we said good-bye and I made my way down the hall.

That evening I was called out of the dressing room by security. I was told someone had to see me. I walked with security and I saw the boy's father. I learned his son had passed away a few hours after I left. He filled me in on how the boy bragged to the nurses and doctors of how "The Hangman" came to see him. He showed them his autographed picture and the noose. The news that hit me the hardest was when I learned the boys dying request was to have his father tell me (The Hangman) thank you for coming by the hospital to visit with him. That night was the hardest time I ever had going into a match.

So to try and answer the question "If I knew then what I know now, would I do it again?" Let's just say, that incident with that young man made every pain I felt worthwhile. And YES, I would gladly do it all over again!

Hang In There,
---Copyright © 2002 Bruce Pobanz --- "The Hangman"
(Wrestling Legend and former World Champion)