Meet Your Hero.
Yep. That's me, circa 1995, a mere three months before I would start my official training as a professional wrestler. And the guy next to me was none other than my hero, Bret "Hitman" Hart. The photo was taken the day before WrestleMania XI in Hartford, CT. I had loved professional wrestling since I was 12 years old, and spent the better part of the next four years crafting matches with my friends in my basement and attending as many wrestling matches across the country as I could. My goal? Meet as many wrestlers as I could in hopes of becoming a wrestler myself one day. Little did I know at the time, this was called "networking", and boy did it work. The summer of 1995 was spent training with the Hart family in the famous Dungeon in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where I would take my first bumps as a professional wrestler.
This article isn't about my experiences in wrestling, or, my short-lived professional wrestling career, but it's about the feeling you get when you meet your childhood icon and hero. In this case, this started a legacy for me of running into Bret at various events across the country. Eventually, I think he started recognizing me at various events, including one time stopping on his walk to the ring in Minneapolis to slap my hand and say hi, and another time saying hello to me and asking me how I enjoyed the match after his grueling hour-long Iron Man Match against Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XII in Anaheim. I always looked forward to seeing Bret. It was always like adding fuel to the fire of my passion, re-focusing my dedication to be the best I could be.
In my case, meeting my hero brought me face-to-face with the reality that I could actually live my dreams as a professional wrestler. I was fortunate that Bret couldn't have been nicer or more gracious to me every time we spoke. He showed me that how you treat people outside the ring is just as important as the character you portray inside the ring. He showed me that being dedicated to your craft and always giving your best was important if you wanted to be great at something. And, almost thirty years later, he still inspires me to this day. He's a man who has dealt with tremendous adversity and learned how to deal with tragedy first hand. From a career-ending injury to tragically losing family members and friends in the wrestling business, and sustaining a stroke at a relatively early age, Bret has always, in my mind, lived up to his moniker of being the "best there is, best there was, and the best there ever will be", no matter how difficult the challenge. He's also taught me that constant reinvention is necessary as you go through life. Everyone needs to wake up in the morning with a fresh look at life, taking on a new challenge, or trying to achieve a new goal. That's the essence of living - constant evolution and development.
If you search the topic of meeting your hero on the internet, most things you will read tell you NOT to meet your hero. These articles will tell you that inevitably, you will likely end up disappointed. And, to be honest, that's likely true. Generally, heroes are built up in your mind to be everything you aspire to be, and there's a natural let-down when you meet them when you find out he or she is flawed, just like you.
To that advice I say, BS. Meet your hero.
Whether you have a great experience with your childhood hero or if you find out they really aren't who they thought you were, I think meeting your hero validates your values system. There's something about your hero that you admire, usually something about their athletic or artistic abilities. Meeting them will make your realize that you too can embody those talents and skills for which you looked up to them. If your experience with them is poor, you can still admire those superior skills that made them your hero in the first place, but you can also realize that there are ways it which you can actually be better than your hero. Sometimes, it's such a jarring reaction, that you realize that those other traits are just as important as those athletic or artistic abilities and you can become a better more rounded individual for seeing the flaws within your hero first hand.
For me, meeting my hero was an incredible experience that validated my amazing eight-year experience in professional wrestling. I look back with fond memories on those days. I wouldn't change any of it for a second.
If you had the chance to meet your hero, would you take it?