posted on Jul, 17 2003 @ 06:36 AM
Zach Gowen, 20, has defied the odds by becoming a professional wrestler despite losing his left leg to cancer as a child.
Zach Gowen is unique among professional wrestlers because of something he lacks. But one thing he has never lacked is tenacity. Gowen was eight years
old when his left leg was amputated above the knee because of bone cancer. Yet even such a devastating setback hasn't stopped him from fulfilling his
dream of becoming a high-flying star in the squared circle of World Wrestling Entertainment.
Gowen, now a fresh-faced 20, recently had his first televised match for the WWE, a victory which he capped with a moonsault -- an arcing backflip --
from the top rope, landing chest-to-chest on his opponent. The crowd went crazy as he got the 1-2-3 for the win.
"I was extremely happy and overwhelmed by the response I got," he says, admitting that he was nervous before the match. "It was truly a memorable
thing for me."
The Detroit native uses a prosthetic leg and cane to get around in daily life, but in the ring, he wrestles without the artificial limb.
"I feel more mobile that way," he says. "I can do a lot more without the leg on. It gets in the way, pretty much."
At five-foot-11 and a slender 165 pounds, Gowen is dwarfed by the WWE's other wrestlers -- his first opponent was the seven-foot-two, 500-pound Big
Show -- but says he's been treated respectfully in the locker-room.
"Everybody's treated me fairly here, as one of the boys," he says. "And I can't appreciate that enough. I'm not getting any special treatment, I'm not
getting the cold shoulder."
The lifelong wrestling fan was 16 when he made up his mind to become a wrestler, encouraged by a friend who had watched him do acrobatic tricks on his
"The seeds were planted in my head," he says. "And from about 16 on that's all I thought about."
He tried amateur wrestling in high school but admits he wasn't very good at it. After graduating in 2001, he started training at a local wrestling
school, although he didn't get much encouraging advice at first.
"The owner of the school basically told me the first day I was there to not get my hopes up," Gowen says. "He said, 'Maybe you can become a manager or
a referee,' and I'm like, 'No, just give me an opportunity. That's all I ask for. If I can't do it I can't do it, but I have a pretty good feeling
that something good will come out of this.'"
Turns out he was right, even if his mother didn't think so at the time.
"She really discouraged me, actually," Gowen recalls. "She was worried that I would drop out of school, worried that I would get hurt. But even though
it was against my mom's wishes, I still had to do it. It's something that I knew inside of me that was right that just had to be done."
Before he made it to the WWE, Gowen paid his dues by wrestling in independent shows that often paid little or nothing. He got his first break when he
tried out for a fledgling organization called Total Nonstop Action (TNA), where he wrestled under the moniker of Tenacious Z.
"Everything was at my own expense," he says. "I had to take days off school and work to drive down 10 hours to Nashville and wrestle -- I didn't get
paid for it -- just for an opportunity."
But Gowen made an good impression at TNA and stuck around, finally winning his mother over when he wrestled on a pay-per-view show earlier this year.
She invited family and friends over for a party to watch the match, he recalls.
"I think at that point that she knew something good was going to happen," he says.
That was also the match that got him noticed by the WWE. But before signing a multiyear contract with the company, he promised his mom he would
continue his education, and has done just that by working towards a teaching degree in college.
"When I signed the contract she said, 'Don't drop out of school whatever you do.' So I'm still in school and should be getting my degree in a couple
Gowen knows his wrestling career won't last forever; the wear and tear has already started to take its toll on his young body, particularly in his
right hip, which bears all his weight when he's in the ring.
"I don't know how long I can wrestle on one leg," he says. "My body's already beat up. ... I'll do this as long as I can, as long as my body holds
He's already looking forward to being a teacher.
"I love working with kids, so it's going to be good."
Until that day comes, Gowen says he's humbled and honoured when fans call him a inspiration.
"To be a role model or an inspiration to anybody is the best feeling in the world," he says. "You just feel good about yourself knowing that you can
help somebody. It makes everything that I went through all worthwhile."
Having faced so much adversity, he takes nothing for granted.
"I'm making an awesome living for a 20-year-old," he says. "I see new towns every day and I meet new people every day. I get to do what I love the
most in the world and get paid for it and travel around. You can't beat that. It's the dream job. I'm just having a blast."