When WWE takes over New York, there's an undeniably frenetic energy that pushes "the city that never sleeps" into hyper-drive! So perfectly matched are the host city and our Superstars that there is a Title Match excitement in the very air around you.
My deployment into “Operation SummerSlam Week” began Monday with me readying myself for community outreach events right before (Wrestling) Boots hit the ground. For me, as ambassador, I adore the week that leads to SummerSlam. I get fired up to be in the trenches of the city, fighting bullying, championing unified play, watching wishes granted, hitting Warrior Pose in pink and visiting children's hospitals armed only with the desire to achieve WWE's stated mission ...
To put smiles on the faces of all we are privileged to meet.
The battle lines were drawn late Monday night when I wished Sheamus and Cesaro "luck" since Sasha Banks and I were facing them as honorary coaches for Play Unified the very next day. Perhaps I actually told them to "Slay Raw, then prepare to be SLAYED on the court" ... but who is keeping track? I might've had added swagger knowing The Legit Boss was in my corner.
Arriving at the Educational Alliance, PS 64 Clubhouse, the energy was high as the athletes and audience comprised of Boys & Girls Club members welcomed my dear pal and giant in all ways, Big Show, alongside legend and Hall of Famer, Howard Finkel, who hosted and provided commentary. Sasha, Cesaro, Sheamus and I were then introduced to our teams made up of amazing athletes integrated to Play Unified, a cornerstone philosophy of Special Olympics.
What a game that unfurled, as both sides were enthusiastically cheered by their coaches and the fans. The pace of the game was full throttle as the athletes, so well-matched, turned the basketball court into what felt like a tennis match. There were 3-point shots, slam dunks, offense, defense and, best of all, sportsmanship. My favorite moment was when one of our athletes dove for a ball and ended up down on the court, and an opposing team member reached his hand down and hauled him up with a pat to the back. Competition is great; champion behavior of humanity is even better.
The remarkably evenly matched game came down to the final moments when Cesaro and Sheamus took the victory in their true fashion ... with a cheat. Sasha had called a timeout when Finkel prematurely called the game. That's OK. The kids had a blast, and we shall find another competition to settle the score, perhaps in New Orleans on the road to WrestleMania 34. Watching those boys cheer their team was what makes me proud to be part of WWE, and the words Cesaro spoke lets me know how much he truly cares.
"Being part of the Special Olympic Play Unified campaign is one of the best things about being a WWE Superstar,” Cesaro said. “Seeing the kids play together no matter their abilities and backgrounds is amazing and inspiring.”
Sheamus called me “Cinderella” as I made my quick change from coach’s uniform into a dress and “Be A STAR” blue shoes, as I raced to a personal favorite of mine ...
The Boys & Girls Club!!
Our partnership with Boys & Girls Club is synergy at its best, as they hosted our bullying-preventing Be a STAR Rally!
Apollo Cruise, Nia Jax, Bayley, Kalisto and I took turns addressing the many aspects of bullying. Bayley took on the number one form of bullying, cyber bullying, in her upbeat, huggable way that taught defense tactics to the kids.
As Bayley put so well, “Speaking to the Boys and Girls Clubs – and all kids around the world – is a very huge learning experience for everyone involved. I spoke on a form of bullying that we can all relate to. It happens to be the number one form of bullying – cyber bullying. As much as we all love social media, we all run into those who try to take advantage of it and try to hurt our feelings. When someone makes a mean comment or tweets harsh words, I have one simple solution: block them! Ignore it completely. Do not give them the satisfaction of a response.”
What always stands out to me at these rallies is when I pose two questions. First I ask, "How many of you in our audience have ever been bullied?” A sea of hands goes up. I quiet them and say, “Watch this, guys. I'm going to ask the Superstars behind me the same question. 'Hey Superstars, how many of you have ever been bullied?’ When every single hand on the platform goes up, I watch the faces of the kids. I always follow up with, ‘See, our Superstars were once kids just like you. The fact they are on TV now doesn't change the fact they were boys and girls who faced bullies as well.’”
This simple connection allows the kids to see the possibilities ahead and trust the solutions their heroes have offered. Apollo, with his warm strength, said, "I had a great time at the Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club. It is always nice to be able to speak with the youth about bullying prevention. Bullying is something that should not be tolerated, and it is our duty to come together to put a stop to it.”
That's right Apollo! We believe in the cheer you lead at Kips Bay: "Don't be a bully! Be a STAR!”
Wednesday dawned a "New Day" in the community, and the mission was putting smiles on the faces of kids battling like warriors in area hospitals.
Alongside Seth Rollins, Finn Bálor, Natalya and Titus O'Neil, we spent the morning at The Brooklyn Hospital Center. It was such fun to sit alongside the patients, coloring paper Titles and listening to their stories. I might have persuaded Finn to color outside the lines when I grabbed paint to infuse Dean Ambrose with a little warrior spirit and a pretty iconic mask. Something overcame Finn, too, and before I knew it, The Demon had shown up where Roman Reigns once stood. The best part of our silliness was watching the children's delight at seeing a Superstar and an Ambassador act like a kid right alongside them.
Next stop on my marching orders was Montefiore Medical Pavilion with Becky Lynch, Bayley and The New Day. Kofi Kingston, a smile in a body, summed it up so well.
"We had the pleasure of visiting children at the Montefiore Medical Pavilion,” Kofi said. “The smiles we saw and the genuine laughter we heard were unequivocally amazing. The children we had the opportunity to meet are among the strongest people ever, and I've come to the determination that making a child happy is my absolute favorite thing to do. We never know what one of these kids has gone through or what they're going to go through, but for the time in which we are there, we're blessed enough to be that force that fills a child's heart with genuine joy. It's a powerful feeling and so humbling. It's the best thing in the world!"
I watched the faces of children light up when our Superstars gave them undivided attention and love. It's like seeing a garden bloom at hyper-speed under a blue sky, puffy clouds and the gentlest sunshine.
Thursday evening was Ommmmmm-azing, as I donned pink Warrior Girl gear to participate in a Susan G. Komen event in partnership with Project: OM to fight breast cancer. A sea full of pink mats littered the floor at Barclays, as Natalya, Titus and a room full of Yoga Warriors were treated to a power yoga class by the inspiring Dan Nevins.
"I had the most rewarding experience doing yoga to benefit Susan G. Komen,” Natalya said. “Dana, Titus and our yoga instructor Dan Nevins were so fun and easy to practice yoga alongside. Dan Nevins, a double amputee, was beyond inspiring and reminded me that in life, it's so important to have a good attitude and to count every blessing. What a great cause and a fun way to raise awareness and give back."
On the Eve of SummerSlam, my final community outreach activity was at hand, as I joined Seth Rollins, Nikki Bella, Dolph Ziggler and AJ Styles atop One World Observatory to surprise eight Wish kids with WWE merchandise, replica Titles, photographs, autographs, but most importantly, hugs and enormous smiles. You see the heart of other people when privileged to sit beside them in such a setting. To the last one of them, they poured their shine into our Wish kids; and boy did they light up!!!
With her special connection to Make-A-Wish independently as well as as through her fiancé, John Cena, who is credited with granting more wishes than any other athlete or celebrity, Nikki wonderfully explained our beauty (inside and out).
"Make-A-Wish holds such a special place in my heart,” Nikki said. “Those kids mean the world to me. I would take out time for them anytime. Their strength gives me strength, and for just for a few minutes if I can put a smile on their face and take away their pain, that means everything to me. That's what makes me love what I do."
SummerSlam Sunday was upon me, and I was still in full warrior girl mode! After the high-octane amping of another rocket-fueled NXT TakeOver, I was excited to see my Superstar pals in action. I sat on my bed reflecting on our marching orders, our pledged assignment within the ranks of WWE. I looked out the window at the Statue of Liberty in the distance and marveled at the city and all the people we were blessed to meet. I did a mental inventory of all the faces I had seen and all those GLORIOUS smiles I witnessed. There is something so satisfying in making another person smile. Looking out the window, I had to smile myself ...
I believe it is important to report back from the battlefield ...
MISSION ACCOMPLISHED ...