Marc Mero visits with Legionnaires and Auxiliary members during The American Legion Children & Youth Conference. Photo by Darleen Rose

Inspiring youth to make the right choice

Youth face many challenges that require making a choice. Whether that may be bullying, peer pressure or substance abuse, making the wrong choice can have a negative impact – something former World Wrestling Entertainer and World Championship Wrestler Marc Mero understands firsthand.

As a high school teenager, Mero was a four-time state champion in boxing and a gold medalist with dreams of becoming a millionaire as a professional boxer. Though many years of substance abuse and bad choices distracted Mero from turning his dreams into reality, fame and fortune eventually came his way. But even then, he continued making choices that negatively impacted his career and personal life.

After years of achieving success and then making bad choices, only to lose it all, Mero stopped living the roller coaster life and is now making positive decisions and inspiring youth to do the same.

During The American Legion Children & Youth Conference in September, Mero shared his life journey and how he started Champion of Choices in effort to empower youth to make meaningful life choices, pursue their dreams and become champions.

Q: How do you empower youth to achieve their dreams?

A: I teach students to not only write their goals and dreams into existence, but how to take action toward them. And every kid I speak to will receive a goal-setting card which is a picture of me when I was a wrestler, and on the back it says, ‘The best way to visualize your goals is to write them down.’

Q: What are a few wrong choices you feel you made?

A: Coming from a divorced family and living in poverty, I wanted a better future, so I wrote everything down in a book that I wanted, like a black Cadillac, a speed boat and a mansion. I figured boxing would make me a millionaire. But two weeks before my first professional boxing match I had my nose shattered in an accident, and it would be a year of reconstructive surgery before I could go back and start training again. However, that one year turned into 10 years due to substance abuse and bad life choices. So not only did I give up my hopes and dreams for alcohol, but I also ignored and distanced myself from the people who loved me the most and wanted to be around me – my mother, father, brother and sister. The people you love the most are the ones you hurt the most.

Q: When did your professional wrestling career finally get under way?

A: I was in my early 30s, and one day my buddies and I were flipping through the channels and professional wrestling was on. I got that ‘aha’ moment of ‘I can do that!’ My buddies were saying the guys were bigger than me and would throw me right out of the ring. But I said, ‘I have a dream, I have a goal.’ So I trained every day and one year later I signed a huge contract with World Championship Wrestling. Not only that, I became rookie of the year.

Q: How did your choices during wrestling affect your life?

A: My dreams of becoming a millionaire came true, so what did I do? I bought the black Cadillac, speed boat and big houses, and turned back to substance abuse. Then I lost it all. I lost it all because of my bad choices. My wife of 10 years had enough and walked away, and I lost more than 30 friends because of drug overdose, suicide or murder. Those friends were the people I traveled on the road with and discussed what we were going to do when wrestling ended. And when I didn’t think my life could get any worse, my 21-year-old sister passed away from cancer and my younger brother, who always wanted to be like me but I never spent time with him, passed away unexpectedly. Later in my wrestling career, I lost my mother and father.

My whole life was about winning the race. I had to be the best; I had to be the richest. But life isn’t about winning the race – it’s about finishing the race.

Q: With the challenges youth face today, how do you encourage them to make the right choices?

A: I tell youth that we all have a choice. We can either bully, make fun of or hurt someone, or we can pull them through the pain. People will forget what you did, but they are not going to forget what you said, and they will never forget how you made them feel.

I want youth to feel good about who they are and the positive choices they’re making in life. We have two lives – the one we are born with and the one we choose to make. So if kids feel like they’ve had enough of this life, I tell them to hold on. If they think nobody cares, they are so wrong. I share this because when I hit rock bottom I didn’t want to be here anymore. But no matter what’s going on in your life, I promise that it’s going to get better.

For further information on Champion of Choices or to schedule a presentation, click here.