August 14, 2013

Wrestling for the Wounded Warriors

Northwest graduate trains hard to raise money for injured military veterans

Jamie Jones

— Professional wrestling is fake.

Wrestlers never really get hurt.

Don’t tell that to Dalton resident Dwayne Smith.

More specifically, don’t tell that to his nose.

During the past several months while training for a charity wrestling match, Smith has been dealt a myriad of bumps and bruises. Smith counts his broken nose from a leg drop gone wrong as his most painful injury.

His nose has since healed.

The hours spent sweating in the gym, the time spent being slammed on a wrestling ring and the agony of a busted nose are minor speed bumps on Smith’s “Road to the Ring.” That’s because proceeds from the event benefit the Wounded Warrior Project, which provides programs and services to severely injured service members as they transition to civilian life.

Although Smith never served in the armed forces — neither did his father or grandfather — he has several friends who are military veterans.

“I’ve got a lot of friends who have the post-traumatic syndrome and it’s hard for them to find jobs,” said Smith, a 2001 graduate of Northwest Whitfield High School. “My way to help them out is through the Wounded Warrior Project. They help them find jobs, they help them when they get low. I’ve seen how hard the transition is from the in-service life to the civilian life. It took its toll on me and I couldn’t think of anything better to do than give back this way.”

“Road to the Ring” begins Friday at 7 p.m. at Renegade Championship Wrestling in Chatsworth. There will be a special ceremony for military veterans at 7:30, with wrestling action following. During the main event Friday night, Smith will climb through the ropes to face Luke Gallows (also known as D.O.C.), a former wrestler with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling and World Wrestling Entertainment, in the main event. The fundraiser continues Saturday at 7 p.m. with more wrestling matches. Smith will not wrestle Saturday, but he will be in another wrestler’s corner.

In addition to several area wrestlers on the card, former WWE wrestler Jake “The Snake” Roberts is expected to attend both nights. There will also be an auction for autographed wrestling memorabilia and a raffle. Tickets each night are $6 for ages 10 and older, $3 for ages 5-9, with children 4 and younger admitted free.

Before beginning his wrestling odyssey, Smith had never competed in a match. During his junior year of high school he applied for a wrestling school but was turned down, so he has had the desire to perform for years. He’s a “lifelong” wrestling fan and fondly recalls watching programs with his late grandfather. Smith counts “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Sting and The Rock (movie star Dwayne Johnson) as his favorite wrestlers.

“My favorite part is just the showmanship,” Smith said. “You’ve got these huge guys who go in there no matter whether they get booed or get cheered, they give it 110 percent. They’re taking so much time away from their families. The fact that they’re going in there and putting on these great matches, then walking to the back and they’re best friends, it just blows my mind. I absolutely love it.”

Smith admits his wrestling training, which began in January, has been “rough.” Although he has watched wrestling for years, the training aspect was not what he expected. He works out at a gym five days a week while spending two to three hours training in the ring one night a week. That’s on top of a full-time job and raising a family.

“Growing up all the time you hear ‘That’s fake, that’s fake,’” Smith said. “Until you get in the ring and know what the guys go through, you can sit there and call it fake all day long, but until you get in there and get hit with a clothesline, with an elbow or anything like that, you realize it’s not fake.”

In real life, Smith works for the state Department of Juvenile Justice at the Elbert Shaw Regional Youth Detention Center in Dalton. Over the weekend, Gallows — the 6-foot-8-inch, 300-pound wrestler — will speak to the children at the YDC.

“Growing up, I was probably one fight away from being in that place,” Smith said. “What I tell them is you never know what you can accomplish until you apply yourself to do it. I never would have imagined I would have the life I have, if I had not worked my rear end off to get it.”

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