Throwback Thursday: The Career and Legacy of Zach Gowen, Part 2

And now, picking up where I left off last week, a review of Zach’s career post-WWE and a personal Throwback Thursday of when I met The Handicapped Heroes.

After his run in WWE Zach wrestled for TNA, Ring of Honor and other independent promotions over the next few years all while studying Secondary Education and Mathematics at Eastern Michigan University.


Zach, however, didn’t have an easy time dealing with what he saw as the loss of his “dream job” after the WWE had parted ways with him. He struggled with accepting that his time there was over and turned to drugs and alcohol. Like many wrestlers he fell into a downward spiral, slowly falling into the cycle that has affected so many people. However, this wouldn’t be the end of Zach Gowen either. He would battle his addiction fiercely, refusing to let this take his dream from him when even cancer hadn’t beaten him. Zach was soon on his way to clean living with the support of friends, his family and his fiancée. Zach beat his addictions and came out stronger and, in a lot of ways, better, having found that he could survive anything.

In 2012 Zach teamed up with Gregory Iron. Gregory Iron’s story is another that needs to be recognized because, like Zach, and despite having cerebral palsy, he too followed his dreams to become a professional wrestler.


Zach and Gregory joined forces to form The Handicapped Handguns. The duo would wrestle together (and briefly against each other) and have, for the most part, remained a team since then, winning the tag team titles in many independent promotions throughout the country. They would later re-brand themselves as the Handicapped Heroes a name that is so incredibly fitting for these men.


Now, before going any further, let me give you a breakdown of who is who in the Handicapped Heroes:


Zach Gowen: the world’s first one-legged professional wrestler. If you want to know more, check out last week’s article on how Zach got his start in wrestling. Last week on Throwback Thursday…

Gregory Iron: The world’s only professional wrestler with cerebral palsy, his right arm is the most affected area of his body while the majority of the right side of his body is subject to tight muscles and mobility issues. Due to the challenges with his arm Gregory had to create his own regimen in the weight room, added muscle to his frame and allowed him to be taken more seriously in the ring. In perhaps his most widely known moment as a wrestler, on July 23rd, 2011 Greg teamed with Colt Cabana for a tag-team match and, at the end of the match, Colt Cabana came back out to the ring with CM Punk in tow. (If you don’t know who CM Punk is or why this matters…well…I have no words for you.) Punk praised Iron for his hard work and overcoming the many obstacles he faces on a daily basis. Punk and Cabana would hoist Greg onto his shoulders in celebration of him and all he had accomplished.


Jamel (Hush) Holiday: Jamel was born in New York City and would soon be given two difficult diagnoses, Jamel was deaf and mute. With his family’s support he would train at Kevin Knight’s IWF school in Patterson, NJ, and, later on at ACE Wrestling Academy in the later part of 2010. With training and support and despite the challenges he faces every day, especially as it came to learning how to wrestle, he never quit and is now living his dream.


Now, back to the story:


I had followed Zach‘s career for some time but his independent circuits never came to an area where I could easily get to or on nights when I could not get off work. Then, in December 2014, a friend of mine informed me of the independent promotion PWS was coming to Rahway, NJ. We went and it was there that I saw Zach and Greg wrestle an amazing match. It was on that night that they announced Hush as their manager, thus adding him to the Handicapped Heroes team. That night I remembered why I had always loved Zach as a performer, his never give up attitude and incredible skill always captured my attention. The addition of Gregory Iron and Hush to Zach‘s career only intrigued me further and I began following the three of them much more closely. I, like many others, was inspired by these men who never stopped fighting for what they wanted.

Shortly thereafter I wrote a brief (although still embarrassing) fan letter to Zach which he responded to promptly and graciously, thanking me for the support and for the letter. In May, 2015 I had the good fortune (perhaps the only good thing to ever come from a delayed train) to meet Hush on a train coming from New York Penn Station to Rahway. My signing, although I need help, was sufficient enough to communicate I was a fan and we would soon become friends.


Months would pass and I would be confined to work the next time PWS came to town but then, on June 6th, 2015 I decided I could not miss the show. I had been in contact with Hush leading up to the event but he was nowhere to be found. I sent him a message, asking when he’d be out so we could talk and then walked over to The Handicapped Heroes table.


I walked in, arriving a little early and looking around at all the wrestler’s tables and their merchandise. Then, I saw Zach and Greg. They were smiling, talking with fans and discussing their run as the PWS Tag Team Champions. 
I wasn’t the only person trying to meet them or buy merchandise but being short has some advantages as I was able to slip around most of the crowd and check out the merchandise and (awkwardly) say hello to Greg and Zach.

Both gave me huge smiles and welcomed me and, again awkwardly, (are all of you seeing the theme here?) I explained that I’d met Hush on the train previously. I talked with Greg and Zach who thought it was amazing that I knew sign language. It was then I offhandedly mentioned to Zach I’d sent him a fan letter months previously. Showing his kind nature he immediately, nervously asked, “Oh man I responded right?!” I laughed and assured him I had received a response and he let out a sigh of relief. Most wrestlers (or any form of celebrity) would not care if they responded to you and I found this endearing and another sign of how Zach Gowen had grown from the young wrestler he started out as, through his struggles, to the current version of himself- hardworking, focused and kind. I departed from the table (before I embarrassed myself further) and then moved into the gym to find seats.

The space was crowded, hot and humid. There were no fans or air conditioning running. The ring was center stage, bright lights hanging above it. I (stupidly but again I’m short and wanted to lean back on a wall) climbed to the top of the bleachers and (surprise!) awkwardly asked a few guys on the top row who appeared to not be sitting near each other if myself and my two friends could squeeze in. They obliged (was it the fact that I was a woman or so awkward, the world may never know?) and scooted over so I could sit and save seats. Then, my phone vibrated. It was Hush, he was at the table with Zach and Greg.

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My view from the top of the bleachers.


When my friends arrived I quickly left them to guard the seats and to go see Hush. Hush and I talked briefly, my signing still in need of work and his patience something to be commended. I bought a Greg Iron t-shirt, debated on buyingZach‘s DVD that night and thought over a Handicapped Heroes bracelet before they had to go get ready and I needed to join my friends. With high fives from the three of them I went back to my seat.
The match that night was amazing. The Handicapped Heroes v. Aesthetic Enterprise. Zach and Greg were the current PWS tag champs and their titles were on the line. The match went for about fifteen, twenty minutes, with all members getting involved including both managers. Hush would help stop the interference and The Handicapped Heroes picked up the win, retaining their titles.

If you’ve never seen these men wrestle I suggest you do that soon, they are a perfect team. Zach and Greg complement each other, know how to read each other in the ring and show off their abilities. Hush, ever watchful, isn’t above getting involved to keep things fair. The finisher that night, a moonsault, is an amazing feat for anyone to accomplish, Zach pulls it off as if he’s being it since birth. When the Handicapped Heroes picked up the win to retain their titles that night, the entire gymnasium exploded. The shouts, screams and cheers for The Handicapped Heroes that night was enough to tell me that I wasn’t the only one loving the fact that these guys were on top.

I had to leave the event a little early that night and after parting ways with my friends and fellow fans in the top of the bleachers, went down to the lobby to say goodbye to The Handicapped Heroes if I could find them. They were surrounded by more fans than earlier and, seeing my chance to sneak through the crowd I went and signed with Hush (who, by the way, is an amazing person that has agreed to help improve my signing whenever we meet up) before hearing someone call my name. It wasn’t my friends or some random acquaintance. It was Zach.

He smiled hugely at me and we high-fived as I congratulated him and Greg on their win and told Hush he was amazing out there. Greg said to another fan, inquiring about merchandise, that they would take photos for free with any purchase of a shirt or DVD. I said they owed me a photo then, given my earlier purchase, and they kept their word. Placing their PWS tag title belts over my shoulders and posing with me in the middle of them. I hugged each of them and thanked them for the photo and for putting on a great show.  I snagged a picture with Hush and was on my way.

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Myself and Hush

Gregory Iron (L), myself (c) and Zach Gowen (R).

Gregory Iron (L), myself (c) and Zach Gowen (R).

The next day I ordered Zach‘s DVD from his website as well as a Handicapped Heroes bracelet. A day or so later I received an email from the man himself, Zach Gowen, thanking me for buying his merchandise and for supporting him and the Handicapped Heroes.

Now, as I’m writing this article, it’s after receiving approval and encouragement from Zach to focus an article on his life and career. He has overcome the many ups and downs and is continuing his ongoing journey to improve himself. He wrestles in a few independent promotions, is a motivational speaker, a follower of DDP yoga, a student of sign language so he can better communicate with Hush, a father and an all-around great person. How many people can say they have beaten all the odds, cancer and addiction included, to have their dream job and inspire people all over the country?

So yeah, they say never meet your heroes but then again “they” have never met Zach Gowen, Gregory Iron or Hush. “They” have never met the Handicapped Heroes.

Want to know more about Zach? Check out his website:
http://www.zachgowen.com/
Want to know more about The Handicapped Heroes? Watch their 12 minute mini-documentary:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZ-Z5VApK68

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