The North Carolina Wrestler: What the Business Taught Me

Credit: Fisticuffs Photography

On a day much like today, a few years in the past, a young 18-year-old Nick tries to find himself in a business he grew up loving. Finally getting to try his hand at professional wrestling after years of dreaming of the fame and fortune that stars like Dwayne Johnson or John Cena had attained. This kid Nick, who was still trying to find his look and identity, had no idea what he was getting himself into.

Yes, that semi-lanky armed guy not paying attention to the camera is me. “What do I do,” I thought to myself while attempting to sell, throwing Stuart Snodgrass over the top rope before he escaped. The more I look at that photo and reflect, the more I realize I was not ready to be a professional wrestler.

It takes a lot more than dreams and desires to make it to the top of that business, and if I knew then what I know now, I would have been a whole lot more memorable than the tall rookie in a throwaway battle royal. That statement just hindsight though, it took reflecting on that experience and realizing why I did not succeed to grow into who I am today

Credits: Fisticuffs Photography

The Lock Up

This dream of mine started when I was just a kid watching WWE Raw on the couch at the beach with my family. I was immediately enamored by the spectacle, the athleticism, the physicality, everything. I knew that it was scripted, but I did not care, I thought it was the coolest thing I have ever seen, but I had been embarrassed to say it was something I enjoyed because I simply was not confident enough in myself at the time. However, nothing at all could keep me from dreaming that one day I would win the big one and hold a belt high above my head.

That dream led me to begin wrestling in high school, which is nothing like its professional counterpart. At that point, I was far away from becoming a good athlete and had to work hard to become the wrestler I wanted to be. I even joined a club called the School of Hard Knocks outside of school. This training turned me into a much better wrestler. I ended up qualifying for the NC state tournament and winning my school’s most outstanding wrestler award, but the loss at the state tournament left a bitter taste in my mouth and did little to help me grow until later reflection.

The high school wrestling chapter closed, and the professional chapter started abruptly. I started training at the AML Wrestling school run by a man who wrestled many of the all-time greats in the business, George South. Later I moved to the Highspots school also run by George; this coincided with the beginning of my time in college, more on that later. I finally had the chance to live my dream, but that dream was about to end much sooner than I expected.

Credit: Fisticuffs Photography

The Heat

The heat in professional wrestling refers to the part of the match where the heel, the bad guy, controls and builds to the comeback of the babyface, good guy. This was the best way to describe my time as a professional wrestler, well, after the excitement and newness wore off. Looking back, I realize exactly why this happened, my mindset.

I was bitter for too long over this period, even though I was responsible for my own or lack thereof success in this business. All of the trainers, George, Caleb Konley, JD Drake, and Jacob Manning, did their best to help prepare us for the business and teach us the in and out of ring work we needed to do to make it. I still appreciate the training they gave me, however, I was immature and still finding out who I am. I did not need to try creating a character when I did not even know who Nick was.

I was unhappy with the slow progress I made and also, admittedly, was jealous of the others who were getting a spot. They deserved the spot they were given as they put in much more to the business than I was willing to at the time. I also latched on to the name Dak over my real one because I thought it was cooler, and that by extension, I would be a better person by going by it.

I was lost, not to mention that I struggled balancing school and wrestling. I needed a change, and to change, so I gave up the dream I had since I was a little kid to focus on school. It broke my heart and spirit, but it was a decision I had to make and the only way for me to grow at the time.

Credit: Eric Wallace

The Comeback

Over four years after I left my childhood dream behind I was able to be someone I am proud of. I turned around my schoolwork and have become a much better person than I was back then. I can acknowledge why it did not work out, without finding someone else to blame and accepting the problems I had during that time. I went from an unconfident kid trying too hard to make myself fit in or be someone I am not and finally accepted the man I am.

I realized so much about myself from that time and used what I could have written off as a crushing failure to grow into a happier and better me. Every aspect of my life has improved. The reason for that is the lessons I learned from the business and what it taught me about myself. I know now that I can live that dream if I am willing to, but also have special confidence in myself I gained from the failure. This story is not over so I do not have a finish yet, but I look forward to taking on any challenge life throws my way.

Here was a look at a very important time in my life that taught me what I needed to fi in myself. It was difficult and even more so to look back at what happened, but it is a blessing to know what I know now. I am proud to say that I used to wrestle, and I hope this can inspire you to reflect on a hard part of your life.

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