It is surreal for me to be writing just ahead of the four-year mark of my late husband's passing. The full-circle return to New Orleans has kicked me in the gut a time or two, in truth. Grieving is no straight line; that's something textbooks neglect to teach about loss. There's no "one size fits all" formula for how a person grieves or how a person moves forward. My advice for doing "better" is finding a way to better the lives of others. I believe service to something greater than one's own self-interest is the salve to soothe a broken heart.
The introduction of the Warrior Award was my first public forum to offer my hand in service to others. The Warrior Award was created because, although Warrior's heart stopped beating, his “Always Believe” spirit lives and grows. The Warrior Award is about honoring the indomitable spirit Warrior championed and celebrating the will others exhibit in the face of epic adversity. The Warrior Award recognizes individuals with the will to conquer, despite seemingly insurmountable odds.
I first learned of WWE's creation of the Warrior Award on a phone call from Stephanie McMahon. Indiana was at a ballet competition in Denver when my phone lit with Steph's name. Excusing myself, I curled around a hotel corner. As Stephanie described WWE's intention to introduce an annual award celebrating and immortalizing the indomitable spirit of WWE Hall of Famer the Ultimate Warrior, my knees went to water, and I found myself a puddle on the floor.
I was so quiet that Steph asked if she'd lost me. I laughed, "No, no," then explained, "This is the most wonderful recognition of the spirit of a man who used part of his speech to shine a light on others with his ‘Always Believe’ attitude and the work ethic of one who was truly Ultimate."
I was overwhelmed, honored and tickled pink for his legacy.
Stephanie began to describe the inaugural recipient, Connor Michalek. This, of course, made me weep. When she asked me to introduce Daniel Bryan as he inducted Connor, the only words I could summon were, "Yes! Yes! Yes!"
Walking onto that stage in San Jose, Calif., was the second scariest thing I've done in my life; it's also the second best. In the moment, I overcame my fear of public speaking and opened a door for great warriors to be recognized in the name of the man I vowed to love and honor "until death do us part." I look back at our first four recipients as a special class since we have circled back to the stage in New Orleans on which Warrior made his ultimate homecoming to honor this year's hometown hero.
Our 2018 recipient, Jarrius Robertson, was born in New Orleans on March 26, 2002. Several weeks later, he was diagnosed with biliary atresia, a life-threatening disease of the liver and bile ducts. After receiving a life-saving liver transplant, this small warrior was battling for his life. Many complications littered his path, and so, for over a year, Jarrius was placed in a medical coma. When a heartbroken family finally relented to medical advice that life-sustaining measures be removed, Jarrius showed his spirit and miraculously began to breathe ... on his own. You will need to join us at The WWE Hall of Fame either in New Orleans or on the WWE Network to meet JJ and hear how he shook the ropes in his own life, becoming this year's Warrior Award honoree.
In Orlando, Mr. Eric LeGrand, became our third recipient and grabbed my heart with a single word, "Believe." While catching up with him recently, he warmed my heart for his tenacity and all he has achieved.
"As I sit here now one year after winning the Warrior Award, I remember the memories that it took me back to in my life,” LeGrand said. “After hearing the news about winning the award, I was able to reflect on my life as a WWE fan and how far I have come through my journey of fighting paralysis. I realize, in life, sometimes we need to sit back and reflect on the things that have made us into the people that we are today and enjoy the great memories."
"I was able to look back on the memories and the feelings that the WWE Superstars brought me as I looked up to them as my heroes as a kid. All the great matches and how they poured their heart and soul into their craft day in and day out," he continued.
"Sustaining a spinal cord injury at the age of 20, my story could have been very different than it is today. I will always talk about the amazing support system that I have around me, and that continues to grow as I go through this journey that is honestly helping me fight this battle. The people that I meet along this journey truly inspire me to want to get back on my feet and walk again and help everybody else in a similar situation. The warrior mentality is inside me and has been built to stay within me because of the life lessons that I have learned. I truly believe that I was put on this earth to make a difference in so many peoples’ lives, and I know God chose the right warrior to do this," Eric said.
"I cannot thank Paul Levesque, Stephanie McMahon, and you, Dana Warrior, enough for being the people that you are and believing in me. Thank you, you guys are definitely a part of my family."
And Eric is forever sewn into our hearts, the Warrior legacy, and our WWE Family.
Our second recipient, Ms. Joan Lunden was an obvious “Warrior Woman” and an incredible honoree. Ms. Lunden's passion and advocacy for the fight against breast cancer allowed her to light a platform in a very different arena ... and ring. Unflappable, Joan took to that Dallas stage and ingratiated herself among the WWE Universe, addressing an important health issue that has taken far too many lives.
"Receiving the Warrior Award at the WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Dallas was an exciting and humbling experience,” Lunden said. “It would be hard to find a more enthusiastic and dedicated audience than the WWE fans, and it was a thrill to walk out on the stage and experience that intense energy. I was also fortunate to have my family there with me as I was honored.
"In 2014, after being diagnosed with stage 2 triple negative breast cancer, I went into warrior mode, determined to beat the disease. Only a few months into my cancer treatment, I started making trips to Capitol Hill to advocate for legislation that would bring about needed changes in healthcare policy and that would help to protect women. I found that by changing my focus from MY cancer to the FIGHT against cancer, my life took on a whole new purpose. l made it my mission to share what I was learning along the way in my breast cancer battle with others fighting the disease," Lunden said.
"When I first told my children, who are big WWE fans, that I would be receiving the WWE Warrior Award, my son Jack exclaimed ‘MOM, The Ultimate Warrior was one of the greatest wrestlers ever! That is so totally cool!’ However, it was more than cool; it was truly an honor, since The Ultimate Warrior served as a symbol of strength and perseverance to so many," Lunden continued.
"Coming off a tough battle with breast cancer with high hopes to make a difference in the fight against cancer, it was a night that I will always remember!"
And the WWE Universe will always remember Lunden's grace, humor, candor, and the obvious love she has for her family and the adoration they expressed in their effusive support!
I have thought, perhaps, there might never be a more perfect recipient than our inaugural recipient, Connor Michalek. It's not that others will not be deserving and heroic, but the synchronistic ties that bind Warrior and Connor's storylines feel preordained and heaven-sent. Steve and I have often spoken of the parallel paths we were on right before our devastating losses, but both agree those days ahead of the fall were heaven-sent.
"I have given much thought to what the Warrior Award means to me and how I felt when I was told Connor would be the inaugural recipient of the award. Of course, at first, I was overwhelmed with the thought of my son being in the WWE Hall of Fame, but at the same time, I thought the word ‘warrior’ was appropriate. Just as so many other children with cancer, he faced it with a bravery and courage that belied his age. Yet, at the same time, he had the unique ability to make all those around us, even while at the hospital, laugh and smile so much when it seemed so out of place with the surroundings. Like a warrior, he refused to let the pain and unfairness of it all control his life. As much as his disease tried to take away his body and mind, he refused to let it dictate how much he loved life. He refused to back down," Steve said.
"Then it circles back to the Ultimate Warrior’s last speech on Raw, before he passed. With the passion only the Legend could give, he said, 'Every man’s heart beats its final beat. And if what that man did in his life makes his blood pulse deeper in others .. his essence, his spirit will be immortalized forever!' Though in Connor’s case, his heart gave that final beat much too early, he still was able to inspire, to bring joy and happiness to so many lives, as if he was on this earth a much longer time. He had what many refer to as an 'old soul,'" he said.
"I wish I would have had the strength Connor had while I was accepting the Warrior Award in his honor. There was no way for me to share all my love I have for him without sobbing. Someday, I hope I can at least write about how special he truly was. I still can’t. Thanks to Connor’s vivacious love of life, the WWE immortalized him with an award dedicated to the 'Warrior Spirit.' His memory will continue on, helping to change the world thanks to the generosity of Stephanie McMahon and Paul Levesque starting the charity Connor’s Cure. Through the charity, Connor has become a symbol for fighting the monster that is pediatric cancer," Steve explained.
I always say, “Worse things have happened to better people than I, so I have no room to whine and complain.” The loss of a child is unnatural. It feels wicked and unfair. There's not a word for a parent who loses their child except, perhaps, “shattered.” I detest the word "widow," but at least it categorizes me in a way that stops the questions. The loss of your little boy or girl seems a pain too big for a single word.
What each of the Warrior Award recipients has shown is the inner fortitude to be more than they'd imagined being. The Warrior Award is, in fact, bigger than any one man or woman. It is an honor that recognizes that – in the quest – we must all summon the courage to take without a guarantee, but instead the desire to ALWAYS BELIEVE.
I believe celebrating this heroic, unbreakable spirit is what breathes life and purpose into one's very lungs. I believe a heart expands in every encounter with a true warrior. I believe we, of the WWE Universe, are made better knowing the tales of those who, through every trial, deny, defeat and choose, as a Warrior, to believe ... ALWAYS!
The 2018 WWE Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will stream live on WWE Network at 8 p.m. ET on Friday, April 6, from the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans. USA Network will broadcast a special presentation of the ceremony on Saturday, April 7, at 10 ET/10 PT and on Monday, April 9, at 11 ET/11 PT, immediately following Raw.