One-legged wrestler Zach Gowen: Perseverance through adversity

Alex Scruggs | News Editor

Zach Gowen, a one-legged wrestler, came to speak at ODU on Oct. 12 to a crowd of about 20 students and community members in the Webb Center. The speech organized by an ODU initiative enacted by the Women’s Center called Man of Quality.

A Women’s Center volunteer and ODU student, Taylor Givens, talked to the Mace about what the wrestler had to offer during his speech. She said that Gowen could “basically just tell [ODU students] to keep moving and persevere.”

An excited look on his face, and a prosthetic leg slipped to an Under Armor sneaker, Gowen relayed to the crowd a theme: perseverance through adversity. A pretty powerful message from someone who was born with two legs and lost one, fell into drug and alcohol addiction, grew up without a father and experienced economic hardships. Gowen told his crowd, “Life isn’t what happens to us. Life is how we respond to what happens to us.”

ODU student and Man of Quality advocate, Ethen Perez, came to see Gowen because he found the concept of a one-legged wrestler interesting.

“I was intrigued because as a kid I would watch him wrestle,” Michael Osorio, another student who came to observe, said.

For the majority of his speech, Gowen told the crowd in an almost linear way the events of his life starting with his father leaving him and his mother, and moving to government-subsidized housing in Detroit. Aside from a few jokes, after heartbreaking setback after setback, the subject matter seemed pretty abysmal. But with each struggle in his life, Gowen kept moving. On his recovery process from drug addiction, Gowen said, “it’s kind of funny for a one-legged man to think of taking it one step at a time.”

In second grade, after breaking his knee during soccer and it not healing, doctors discovered a cancerous tumor had been growing there. In order to save his life, the leg had to be amputated. “I’m so glad they did amputate my leg, because I can live my life,” he said, “but it sucked.”

The perseverance aspect of the speech’s theme shone through when Gowen told the crowd about his experience with American Ninja Warrior. “People were pretty affected by my story,” Gowen said. After the broadcast of his event, Gowen received a video of a girl watching a TV and excitedly reacting to his run on American Ninja Warrior. The girl was Gowen’s age when he lost his leg, she had cancer too and was scheduled for treatment soon after the video was shot. Gowen’s powerful life story had affected the girl and given her hope.

“Knock it off, you’re not a victim!” said Gowen’s mom when he was breaking down at 10 after losing a little-league game. He took that to heart. The message carried through in situations of adversity, like when he was dropped by WWE and when he was mugged at gunpoint. Gowen kept going. It became a message that allowed him to persevere.

Through Gowen’s lecture series, he is able to share that message with anyone who will listen. With the strife in his life, and the level of success that “putting one foot in front of the other” has granted him, there is a lot that one can learn from his perseverance.

In the early 2000s, soon after becoming the U.S.’ first one-legged professional wrestler, Gowen was picked up by WWE. During his one-year employment with WWE, the amputee went against high-profile wrestlers such as John Cena, which he describes as “painful.”

Gowen achieved national acclaim which culminated in “the biggest moment” of his career, wrestling in the main event of “WWE SmackDown,” where he drop-kicked the billionaire CEO of WWE, Vince McMahon. “If you ever get a chance to dropkick a billionaire, do it,” said Gowen during his speech.