From extreme highs to extreme lows — former professional wrestling star Marc Mero has experienced it all.
Southold and Greenport community members got a taste of the wrestling champion’s journey when he brought his Champion of Choices tour to Southold High School Thursday night. The retired professional wrestler and amateur boxer shared his story and reinforced the idea that students and parents can achieve their dreams.
Mr. Mero crafted the program for students 12 years ago to promote an anti-bullying message. Since then, he’s toured school districts around the globe.
Every year, the tour gets a new name — this year’s campaign, “Make It Stop,” focuses on ending bullying, mental health issues, substance abuse, violence and suicide.
“The only way we can make it stop is by working together,” he said. “We’ve got to tear down the walls of injustice. We’ve got to start building bridges of compassion.”
Building compassion is one of the goals of Kait’s Angels, a nonprofit which sponsored the event. The group, founded in honor of Kaitlyn Doorhy, a Mattituck High School graduate who died in August 2014, sponsors North Fork programs that benefit the community. The presentation was offered to students of Mattituck-Cut-ch-ogue Union Free School District earlier this month.
“If it changed one students life, it was worth every penny,” Kaitlyn’s mother and organization founder Darla Doorhy said.
Mr. Mero said he grew up in a poor neighborhood outside Buffalo, N.Y. The Florida native was bullied as a child for wearing battered secondhand clothes. As he entered his teenage years, he grew distant from his family and fell victim to substance abuse.
After his sister died of cancer, his brother died of brain damage and his mother died from complications related to smoking, he decided it was time to make some changes.
As he entered his 30s, he joined the World Wrestling Federation, now World Wrestling Entertainment, and became Rookie of the Year, eventually going on to wrestle Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. But he fell victim to drugs again, and presented the audience with a “death list” of over 30 of his friends that he lost to drug abuse.
“I should be on this list,” he said. “I made all the bad decisions they did.”
The auditorium fell silent as Mr. Mero disappeared behind a curtain and played a video from Amy Briggs of Watertown, whose 16-year-old son Daniel died from suicide. He was severely bullied through high school. A child, no older than 10, ran from the back of the auditorium to grab hold of his mother in the front row.
“It doesn’t have to be that way,” Mr. Mero said as he returned to the stage. He reminded the audience that they are loved and should always discuss what they’re going through.
Southold High School principal Terence Rusch said he thought the presentation, offered to students Thursday afternoon at an assembly, produced a good turnout.
“I think you see the response from the parents, the response from the kids, from every grade, 6-12, they all walked away with something,” he said.
Ms. Doorhy said she felt connected to the presentation because it emphasized choices.
“It actually touches my life because my daughter didn’t have a choice,” she said. “She didn’t choose to get hit by a car. Kids today have choices, they just have to reach out to adults, and Marc is a perfect example of that go-to person.”
Photo caption: Marc Mero speaks at Southold High School last week. (Credit: Kate Nalepinski)