Chances are, if you wrestled your final WWE match at the tender age of twenty, you’d mope about it bitterly for years following.
Not if you’re Zach Gowen.
For a five-month frame in 2003, the pre-booze-age Gowen lived the dream of any fan, coming to the aid of Hulk Hogan, scoring pinfalls on The Big Show and Matt Hardy, and even had a pay-per-view battle against wrestling’s most powerful figure, Vince McMahon. That’s plenty to take in for someone barely out of grade school.
“The first day on the job, at a Smackdown taping, here I was having a conversation with Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, and Vince McMahon before the show. I loved wrestling Vince. It was so cool for me to see just how freakin’ dedicated and hard working this man is. He’s truly a pioneer and is up there in the same ranks as a Steve Jobs or Bill Gates.”
For anyone to be in any position to rub shoulders on a national stage with such storied icons is unfathomable, triply so when you’ve got only one leg.
To know of Gowen is to know that, following a cancer diagnosis, his left leg was amputated at age eight. This made the pipe dream of finding success in any physical vocation, let alone touring as a professional wrestler, even more exceedingly daunting.
Yet to see Gowen perform, compensating for the missing limb as imaginatively as his mind and drive allow, is a thing of beauty. Running the ropes with a striding hop, and skipping up turnbuckles, represent two parts of a spectrum: artistic grace, and defiance toward hindrance. Now 31 years old, Gowen feels he’s perfected his act.
“The obstacles themselves have become almost obsolete. I was signed and put on the road after having less than 20 matches,” Gowen reveals. “It’s crazy to think about the idea of me being in WWE was a live experiment being played out on TV in front of millions on a weekly basis!”
“I didn’t know what I had, and the WWE didn’t fully comprehend how to get the most out of me, so there was a lot of throwing s–t against the wall to see if anything would stick. It bothers me a little bit that some fans think what they saw on TV is what my act is all about. That’s why it’s always a treat to wrestle at these independent shows for kids who have never seen me before, *and* for the fans who think they know all I’m capable of!”
Zach Gowen would last less than a year under WWE contract, but rather than chalk up the parting of ways as a failure, he instead looks at the positives of the reality check he received at a young age.
“I learned many lessons in the ring, but the biggest lessons learned were life lessons. Unfortunately for me, I had to learn most of these lessons by dealing with the repercussions of doing the exact opposite! Show up on time, how to conduct yourself as a professional, be kind to everyone, be helpful, etc. Wrestling has really laid the foundation for my life in a lot of ways.”
Post-WWE, Gowen lent his services to a number of high-profile organizations, including TNA, Ring of Honor, and even the Insane Clown Posse’s cult-status JCW promotion. Perhaps as he was destined to do, Gowen found his kindred spirit in Gregory Iron, a popular independent star most notable for overcoming his own affliction, cerebral palsy.
Together, Gowen and Iron perform as “The Handicapped Heroes”, serving to both inspire and dazzle onlookers across the globe. They even took on a manager, a young woman named Jill Dials, who’s confined to a wheelchair thanks to spina bifida.
“To have had, and to continue to have, the impact on the lives of fans with disabilities worldwide, Greg and Jill included, is absolutely astonishing and mind-blowing to me. I appreciate that more than ever now. I’m blessed.”
Gowen openly embraces this lot in life, to be seen not as a sideshow act, but as a real person making the most of life’s hand, showing others that anything can be achieved. By mining success and reward out of each day, each performance, and each appearance, it’s more than within reason that others can do the same, disabled or not.
“After disappearing from wrestling for a number of years, I came back stronger. I’m fully engaged and living life on my terms. I’m a father and a husband. I wrestle full time on the independent scene, speak full time to the youth of America, and just released the most in-depth piece on my life ever made: a documentary called “Finding Zach Gowen”.
The documentary timelines Gowen’s life and career, featuring testimonials from peers such as Truth Martini (Gowen’s trainer), Rhino, Jimmy Jacobs, former WWE official Jim Korderas, along with Gowen, his mother, and numerous others. Within, Gowen opens up about not just the obstacles of his cancer diagnosis and subsequent life adjustments, but also the drug use that plagued him in adulthood.
Gowen makes no excuses for his choices, and puts them on par with his childhood illness: just something else to defeat.
“I believe the sole purpose of my existence is to be of maximum service to God and to my fellow human travelers on this planet. One way I do that is by sharing my story through various platforms, in this case, professional wrestling.”
“I have no goals in wrestling except to shine inspiration on whoever needs it when they see me in action. I would be an asshole if I asked for anything more, not only in wrestling, but in life. Wrestling has provided me a life beyond my wildest dreams and for that, I’m eternally grateful.”
Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.
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