So, as if my sporting life in Special Olympics couldn’t get any cooler, me and my friends just had our crossover episode with the Raw and Smackdown Wrestlers from WWE. No, I’m not making this up.
Let me put you into my shoes for a second. This is how I got the invite. For the summer, I was given the opportunity to work as a Summer Student intern at SOO [second year!]. So, when this first got arranged, two of my full-timer friends dropped by my temporary section of the office to tell me about the event.
“Hey Callum”, they asked, “do you know the WWE?”
To which I responded [somewhat confused and also very intrigued], “Uh, yeah?”
My many burgeoning questions about why we were randomly talking about the WWE were met with, “Would you like to meet some of the WWE Superstars?”
To which I also responded [this time with great enthusiasm], “Uh, yeah!”
To give a quick background, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is visiting my city of Toronto for a 5 day period, to hold exciting events such as the Raw and Smackdown. While the Superstars are traveling, they like to do stuff out in the community, allowing them to give back and see the places they’re visiting.
And frankly, what better way could they have done that than by calling Special Olympics Ontario to ask them for ideas? Since kayaking/canoeing is a a new sport for us that is a little more exotic, hopping into a couple of massive things called Dragon Boats seemed like the perfect way to spice stuff up with the WWE crew.
This morning, while I was riding with my friend Jeff to the Dragon Boat practice, my phone rang from our other friend named Ben who got there early. I picked up and Ben asked to putt Jeff on the phone.
“They’re here!” he said.
I should mention that both these guys are huge Wrestling fans. I wish I had a camera to take the look on Jeff’s face when he was told that Becky Lynch [his favourite Star] was one of the Wrestlers attending our practice. The excitement alone made the day worth it, on top of how pumped up I was myself.
Four WWE Superstars came out to practice with us. They are:
*”No Way” Jose, and
*Current Women’s Champion, Becky Lynch.
Also at the practice were some of the regular coaches and paddlers from the Balmy Beach Canoe Club [since the SO program is partnered with them] and–of course–Athletes from Special Olympics Ontario. We formed groups that went into 2 different Dragon Boats, so we could all go out onto the water together. I actually got lucky enough to sit next to Tony Nese, with Ali right behind me!
Of course, I knew it was going to be fun, but I didn’t have an idea as to just how much fun it would be. The Wrestlers are really nice and genuine in person. You can tell they love meeting fans and hanging out in the community. They’re also just as goofy, boisterous and over the top in person as they are on TV, which is just plain amazing. Some of the Athletes in SO [especially Jeff] have pretty outwards personalities as well, so there was a lot of celebrating, chatting, and friendly trash talking on and between our boats.
We actually did a fair amount of stuff while out on the water including a technique called “feathering”. This was my 7th time going out on the water [I learn quickly], but my first time Dragon boating. One of the Balmy Beach coaches explained how the technique, and I even gave my own tips to Ali and Tony.
While on the water, both boats looped around the entire Ashbridges Bay we have to explore, and we also rowed out to where the bay connects with Lake Ontario to get a beautiful view of the Toronto skyline. This was the time for us to get our sea legs [it usually takes a few minutes sitting in a boat until you don’t feel like you’re about to tip], talk with each other and learn the finer points of canoeing like the Vikings used to.
By this point, we were all having a blast. You could tell the Wrestlers were loving it as well, even though they had never rowed in a boat before. Like Ali said, “It’s nature, trees, water, and exercise but relaxed.” [I’m paraphrasing a little bit].
Then, the challenges started. Our first challenge involved each pair of rowers to pass a paddle between each other. Sounds easy, right? Yeah, we were passing the paddles from under the boat. Even though the water was a little colder than something you’d want to stick your hand into, it was a lot of fun, and helped me get more comfortable with balancing in the Dragon Boat. At first, me and Tony Nese couldn’t even reach the other’s paddle, but then we started to get some rotations going. A very interesting learning experience about team work.
We continued training, with the objective of beating the other boat in a race. This is where that beautiful, signature WWE smacktalk started to rattle off between the Superstars. My friend Ben joined in by saying that Ali doesn’t even have a championship, which made Becky and Jose laugh. After getting ready, we did a straight race. Uh… we lost, by a lot. Dragon boating is hard, okay!
After that, we started to do the spin challenge. This is basically to see which boat can turn around the quickest. Dragon boats turn pretty slowly, so getting dizzy wasn’t the issue. We lost… again. Then we trained to turn faster. During our second race, the other boat started turning so fast that someone on our ship asked, “How is are they even going that fast?” That sent a jolt of energy into all of us–especially Ali–to paddle with all our might and synchronization to speed ourselves up and rotate into Victory!
After some more chilling and screwing around in the boat, we set up for our 4th and final race. A straight run again, uh oh. We went a lot faster, but unfortunately still lost. And y’know what? The race was still awesome and a lot of fun.
I never thought I’d meet WWE Wrestlers, let alone be racing with and against them in a huge Dragon boat, leaning shoulder to shoulder on Tony Nese for balance, but it happened. It was a once in a lifetime experience and I feel lucky I got to experience it with my friends from SOO.
The fun didn’t stop after we hopped out of the boats. Jeff and I got to interview the Superstars! If you want to watch our conversation, I’ll link to the videos at the end of the blog. Here are some of my favourite moments during the interview.
As we were talking to Ali, Tony Nese and No Way Jose, I asked them what their favourite part of being a Superstar was.
Tony spoke up and said it was the crowd: how they sound when he’s first walking out to a show. They all agreed with that, and said that fans–especially those they get to see at meet & greets like today’s Dragon boating event–made up their favourite part of being in the WWE. Jeff built on that, and got Jose talking about how he loves meeting kids who say that he’s their favourite Wrestler, and how much he enjoys being a role model for young fans.
I also asked Becky Lynch what her favourite part of being a Superstar was. Her answer was pretty similar to the guys: the fans and participating in the community. Appreciation of the fans definitely runs through the WWE culture. I then asked about the first thing I noticed about her, which was, of course, The Belt. Obviously I talked about how cool it was, and may have also asked what I’d have to do to earn The Belt for myself. Her answer? “Well, you’d have to fight me for it.”
The other other thing that happened was that every Athlete at the practice got a pair of tickets to the Raw that night!
So, in case you didn’t notice, the WWE being in town is a pretty big deal. A big enough deal that they performed in Toronto’s biggest indoor performance venue, the Scotiabank Arena. As you can imagine, all of us Athletes who attended the Dragon boat were pretty stoked about getting a free entrance to the spectacle of Raw. Even better: we had pristine seats, in the 100 section.
This was my first ever Wresting event, and let me tell you, going with some close friends of mine who are WWE fans [and also walking hype machines] in a classy set up, after having met some of the big stars, is definitely the dream way to get introduced to the sport. Honestly, Wrestling is sooooo cool to watch, especially in person. Here are a few of the many awesome moments from last night that WWE fans tend to label “HOLY S@%!”
Usually, anything that runs for 3 and a half hours [7:30 to 11:00] starts to drag at a certain point, but not Wrestling. The entire show is broken up and always finding new ways to keep you pumped, and each fight leaves you constantly guessing who will come out on top. It was actually a bonus that the Raw went on for so long, because it was more time to have fun with The Stars, The Fans and The Guys.
I’d like to give a huge shout out to all the people who made this possible: A thousand thank yous to the Superstars who took time aside to come out to meet us, and their WWE Handlers, along with all the great people at Special Olympics International and Special Olympics Ontario who came together to make all of this possible. As promised, here is the interview footage.
Special Olympics Ontario athletes Callum and Jeffrey interviewing @WWE Superstars [me and Jeff interviewing Tony Nese, Ali and Jose]