My Road to Wrestlemania began on February 14, 2017 – Valentine’s Day. This visit helped to kick off a love affair with our WrestleMania host city, Orlando and its everyday heroes.
During my brief visit I was introduced to some amazing individuals who will forever be branded on my heart. My first assignment as WWE Ambassador was Be a STAR event at The Boys and Girls Club of Central Florida – NBCU Unit. I was overcome with the warmth of the facility and obvious leadership of director, Jose Bastias. Before meeting the kids, Jose briefed us on the club’s mission, to enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens and the makeup of its members, as well as the makeup of members it serves. The WWE and NXT superstars and I had the privilege of working with the most well-mannered, sensitive and kind group of young teens imaginable who worked with us to develop solutions to prevent bullying in their club and local community.
It was at Forsyth Elementary School I was first introduced to Superintendent Anna Diaz. This vivacious warrior woman has a passion for education and creating a fun learning environment that instills a can do anything attitude in her students.Although she is a slip of a woman, her moxie and absolute belief in her community would put her in contention for a heavyweight title in any ring.
Forsyth Elementary is a Title 1 school which means the school serves a higher percentage of children from lower income households. In a country as rich as ours, it hurts my heart that the basic needs of our children are often unmet. The staff at Forsyth Elementary School are champions in the classroom, catering to the needs of so many underserved students. There's no spotlight, no camera crew or applause for these incredible heroes who make it their life's work to be a superhero to a child, every day of the year. Through WWE’s partnership with First Book, we were able to thank them and support their efforts by donating 20,000 books to classrooms throughout Orlando.
Ms. Denise Taylor, inaugural recipient of The WWE Hero Award was next on the road to Wrestlemania. Lovingly referred to as Captain Taylor, having served honorably in the NYPD, this Staten Island resident shook the ropes of my heart with her ultimate moxie. As Director of the JCC Cornerstone at Todt Hill, she’s responsible for serving the entire community and providing a safe haven for children and adults. As a result of Denise’s deep commitment to the community, every member feels invited, safe, welcome, and loved. Handing Denise the first WWE Hero Award was an honor for me and inviting her to Monday Night Raw in Brooklyn was a thrill!!
Wrestlemania Week in the Community was inspiring and full of opportunities to celebrate unsung heroes.
Visiting Arnold Palmer Children's Hospital and looking into the faces of children and their parents fighting cancer like warriors brought Connor to mind. Alongside the doctors, nurses and child life specialists, they are the true heroes. To sit with moms and dads and hold children battling such a fierce opponent redoubled my commitment to Connor's Cure. We must continue to raise awareness and funds to support research to help end pediatric cancer. Let's be the Calvary to help those Everyday Heroes find a cure.
Next stop was Miss Ruby’s Garden at Englewood Community Center. Through this garden, Miss Ruby found a cure for what she felt ailed her community. This spry 78 year old made me feel sluggish... and I'm no slacker.
Knowing nutrition is the essential building block for a holistically healthy community, Miss Ruby has expanded her kids’ minds, bodies, and palettes. She explains how she uses their garden as an outdoor classroom that metaphorically spans every area of life. What struck me about Miss. Ruby was her lack of condescension when she spoke to her kids. She spoke with a reverence and respect afforded a valued colleague. This model trickled down like the shower of a watering can so one instantly understands Miss Ruby's garden was a place to plant roots, grow, blossom, and bloom.
One of the most inspiring stops on the road to WrestleMania was a visit to Poinciana High School for a Special Olympics Unified basketball game. The Play Unified program brings together athletes with and without intellectual disabilities and celebrates the inclusive and unifying power of sports. I was so moved by Principal Michael Meechin's description of his school and its culture of inclusion. He had the Always Believe mentality any Warrior requires to make quantum leaps of change and evolution. He set a tone of acceptance, referring to the student body as a unified body, and referring to the Special Olympics athletes not as students with intellectual differences but as "students". Meeting, playing with, and cheering these outstanding teens made it clear that his vision is attainable. Play Unified and our partners at Special Olympics remind us of the unique gifts we all individually bring and how important it is to practice acceptance and inclusion in all facets of our lives.
At WrestleMania Axxess, I was honored to present the WWE Hero Award to everyday heroes from the greater Orlando community. I was humbled to meet first responders, members of the medical trauma team and city and county officials who took action when the horrific Pulse Nightclub incident rocked the city. It felt sacred to be in Orlando and honor the unsung heroes who raced in to help and uplift a community that harbored such tragedy. Additional WWE Heroes honored included: Erin Johnson, Director of Development, Hire Heroes USA; Anna Diaz, Area Superintendent, Orange County Public Schools and Angelica Frey, Breast Cancer Survivor and Community Advocate/Volunteer, Susan G. Komen.
I am so proud to call myself a WWE ambassador. I love the company, what it stands for, and the people who work in every facet of the organization. I adore the WWE Superstars who leave it all on the mat to provide unparalleled entertainment as well as, andmore importantly, give back to communities all over the world.
I love the heart of the WWE Universe. Being part of the WWE Universe is not only about a shared passion for sports entertainment but about loving what is heroic to all of us! It's about championing the stories of struggle, tenacity, guts, grit, belief, and ULTIMATE triumph!
I believe there resides across the globe more heroes to be found. I believe the most important hero to unearth is the one that dwells within. I believe in everyday heroes and the stories they have to tell...Always!