Imagine being a 19 year old kid and getting a job with one of the biggest companies in the world. You are barely out of high school and all of a sudden, you are hobnobbing with the company’s elite. This is the story of a kid and a dream that became a reality and then quickly became a nightmare. This is the story of Zach Gowen…
The story begins when Zach Gowen was just 8 years old. He was diagnosed with a form of bone cancer which had attacked his thigh and doctors had to amputate his left leg. Gowen grew up a wrestling fan and idolized such wrestlers like Rey Mysterio Jr. and Sabu. When Gowen was 18 years old, he began training with wrestler/trainer Truth Martini at his wrestling school ‘The House of Truth’ alongside other wrestlers like Jimmy Jacobs.
Gowen became quite the attraction based on the fact he was a one legged wrestler who had unbelievable athletic ability and balance. It wasn’t long after his training that the upstart promotion TNA came calling. He debuted in TNA in early 2003 as “Tenacious Z.” After just a handful of matches in TNA, it looked like the company was ready to give the youngster a fairly big push.
It was around this time that Paul Heyman noticed the gifted young man and talked to the then head of talent relations Jim Ross in signing him to a WWE contract. Ross agreed and sent word to his understudy John Laurinaitis to the one legged wrestler. Laurinaitis would indeed sign a one legged wrestler but it wasn’t Zach Gowen, it was a Florida independent wrestler training under Steve Keirn named Steve Chamberland. Chamberland had lost his leg in a motorcycle accident.
Chamberland was about 10 years older than Gowen and outweighed him by at least 100 pounds. Chamberland also wrestled with a prosthetic leg, something that Gowen hated to do. When it was realized that Laurinaitis goofed, the WWE rescinded their contract to Chamberland and signed Gowen.
Gowen was now under a WWE contract after only 8 months of active wrestling. The WWE knew they had a commodity on their hands with a one legged wrestler and made sure to put him with some big names to get him over quickly. Gowen would make his WWE debut on Smackdown during an episode of Piper’s Pit. While a masked Hulk Hogan as ‘Mr. America’ was being assaulted by both Roddy Piper and Sean O’Haire, Gowen came to the ring as a concerned fan to try and help Mr. America and was attacked by Piper.
During the melee, Gowen recalls Piper trying to pull off the wrong leg on Gowen. Eventually, Piper figured out that he was pulling on the wrong leg and switched to the left one and pulled off his prosthetic leg. That moment was the beginning of the Zach Gowen era in the WWE. In storyline, it was revealed that Gowen was a Make A Wish kid that Hulk Hogan visited as a youngster.
So here was a 20 year old with only a few months experience, wrestling in a program with legends like Roddy Piper and Hulk Hogan. Zach would also find himself in programs with Stephanie and Vince McMahon, wrestling Brock Lesnar and John Cena and had a make out segment with Sable. At such a young age, you couldn’t help but think that the fast rise of stardom would get to the young man’s head and indeed it did.
Zach developed an arrogance and an ego and combined with his immaturity became extremely difficult to work with in the ring or backstage in the locker room. Gowen readily admits that many WWE stars refused to work with Gowen because of his piss poor attitude and others even took liberties in the ring against him. Gowen began taking drugs and alcohol and the combination made things even worse.
On one occasion, while in rehearsing for a scheduled match with Brock Lesnar, he botched a dive from inside the ring through the ropes and hit Lesnar square on his chin knocking him unconscious. Eventually, Gowen became a pariah backstage and with so much heat on him that the WWE cut ties with Gowen.
Zach would re-emerge in TNA and try to recapture the old magic which electrified and shocked crowds when he initially debuted. The problem was his substance abuse problems were consuming him and it had become apparent to many of his friends and family that drugs became the most important part of his life.
He would become somewhat of a nomad traveling from a family members house to a friend’s house only to quickly wear out his welcome do to his addictions. With the WWE behind him and with TNA not far behind that, Zach realized he needed to get his life back in check. He reached out to his old employer the WWE and they provided him with a rehab stint.
Zach Gowen credits the WWE with saving his life and getting him back on track. Now clean and sober, the wrestler returned to college to finish his education and become a public speaker. While Gowen still wrestles, his words not his moves inside the ring inspires countless youngsters as he publicly speaks to schools across the country.
He still is an inspiration to many and even inspired a young man by the name of Gregory Iron, who suffers from Cerebral Palsy to become a pro wrestler. The two became a tag team known as the Handicapped Heroes. Ask Zach about his rise and fall from grace and Gowen tells an interesting side to things. He isn’t as driven to return to TNA or the WWE but become a voice, an inspiration to many who will listen.
To learn more about the life and career of Zach Gowen, he came out with a documentary called, “Finding Zach Gowen.”