You might guess this about me but for those who do not know, I’m pretty passionate about professional wrestling.
Pro wrestling helped me escape from life when I couldn’t cope. Pro wrestling provided me with common ground from which I could build foundations for lifelong relationships. Pro wrestling gave me a career and sense of direction when I needed it. My involvement with pro wrestling (more specifically WWE) saved my life when I was at a turning point. My subsequent recovery gave me my career back as well as the courage to pursue new career opportunities. To say I’m grateful for what this industry has done for me would be an understatement.
My name is Zach Gowen and I’m a professional wrestler. What makes my story unique is the fact that I lost my entire left leg to cancer at the age of 8. At 18, I became the world’s first one-legged professional wrestler. When I hopped (literally) into the House of Truth Wrestling School in 2001, I had no idea how much of an impact my story would have on the people who watched me. I was just a kid that loved wrestling and wanted to be a part of the magic.
The genesis of that love began 10 years earlier.
In the spring of 1991, I was in the second grade. I was a handsome, healthy, athletic, smart, and very hyper little boy. I got into a lot of trouble because of my hyperactivity. 1 thing that helped me curb that behavior was my involvement in sports. I was playing soccer one warm, sunny afternoon at recess when a ball that was kicked collided with my left knee. I instantly fell down, registered a little pain, but got back up and continued playing. After a few days of the pain not subsiding, mom took me to the doctor and I was diagnosed with a sprained knee.
They put me leg in a brace and said I should be fine in 2 weeks. 2 weeks turned into 4 weeks. 4 weeks into 8….
By the summer of ’91 I was getting incredibly impatient and antsy with this leg brace I had on. It was hot and itchy and I couldn’t play with my friends. One day I found myself at the bowling alley with all of my friends and I decided that I wasn’t going to sit on the sidelines and watch anymore. I grabbed a bowling ball and (leg brace and all) flung that sumbitch down the lane. I realize that I slipped on the grease on the lane. I fell to my butt. I heard a lady scream. I tried to get up but can’t. I looked back at the mom who was watching us and she asked me (with a horrified look on her face) if I was alright. Confused, I said yes. Then I looked down. I saw my foot pointing one direction and my knee facing the opposite direction. That’s when the pain hit me. My leg literally snapped in half.
Fast forward a few months to the fall of ’91 and the same doctor that I’ve had since the initial sprain is cutting my leg cast off. He can’t figure out why the bone isn’t healing. He can’t figure out why I’m in so much pain. The cast comes off and right before my eyes, the area above my knee swells up to the size of a grapefruit. “Well, that’s not normal”, he says.
A biopsy commenced and it was quickly determined that I had a cancerous tumor growing on my left femur and it had been there for a while. It caused my leg to weaken to the point that a kicked soccer ball sprained my knee and an errant throw at a bowling alley caused my leg to snap in half. It explained all the pain I was in. Osteosarcoma was the official diagnosis. In most cases of osteosarcoma, doctors can perform a limb-saving surgery however due to the advanced and aggressive nature of my tumor, amputation was clearly the best option for me. Literally cutting the disease off at the source to prevent the spreading to my vital organs. Definitely a war of attrition scenario but ultimately a life saving power play. A full year of chemotherapy followed.
How does pro wrestling fit in to all of this? Well…
On January 19, 1992 an event took place live on Pay-Per-View that would change my life forever. I’m talking about the annual WWF Royal Rumble emanating from the beautiful Knickerbocker Arena in Albany, New York. (On a side note, one of my career highlights was not only performing in the same arena some 10 years later, but bonding with Chris Kanyon over the fact that we were preparing to perform in the same arena some 10 years later :-D) To put things into perspective, we are 17 days removed from the surgery to amputate my leg. This is the first day the doctors allowed me to leave the hospital.
As a welcome home present, my grandma ordered the PPV for me at her house because she knew I loved wrestling. With a few cousins and aunts and my grandmother, we sat around her TV set to watch arguably the greatest event in wrestling history. Here’s what I remember from that night: thinking there was no possible way Ric Flair would win. I remember rooting for The British Bulldog to win the whole thing. I remember being mad at Hulk Hogan for pulling Sid Justice out at the end. I remember lots of yelling and cheering and jeering coming from all of us.
Here’s what wasn’t going through my head: the pain coursing through my body. I wasn’t thinking about the friends I lost from the hospital. I wasn’t thinking about how I looked weird with a bald head and a missing leg.
That’s the magic of professional wrestling. That’s what pro wrestling can do for someone. It literally allowed me to escape into a world with no pain. That’s incredible!
I’ve been wrestling for 11 years now. Mentally, physically, spiritually I’m in the best shape of my career (and life for that matter). I have the opportunity to perform every weekend at independent shows all over the globe as well as share my story during the week at schools across America. I feel that it’s my duty not only as a wrestler and speaker but as a human being to attempt to affect a child the same way I was touched by the magic of pro wrestling when I was a little boy.
At the bare minimum, if 1 kid isn’t thinking about their unstable home life, being bullied, feeling different etc. for the 30 minutes I’m on stage or in the ring, then I’ve done my job. If a life happens to be changed for the better because of my story… wow man. Life is hard, no matter who you are or what you’ve been through. I truly believe that we’re all here to help each other. I’m alive and have been blessed with these opportunities to share my story for a reason.
I will continue to travel on this road of faith with my head held high. Thank you for being a part of my journey!
This is going to be a weekly installment exclusively here on PWMania.com so if you have any topics or suggestions or questions, shoot me an email (TenaciousZach@aol.com) or comment below and I’ll be sure to include them in the following week’s blog! Thank you!!