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Inspirational: AWE newcomer, military vet, overcomes obstacles, pursues dreams

Michael Hayes has just won his professional wrestling debut match over his teacher, Nick Dinsmore, in dramatic fashion. The hometown crowd was cheering the young Iraq veteran on all the way, so it’s one of those nice moments in sports where the fans get to go home happy.

A fan comes up to shake Hayes’ hand and wish him well. And show off his prosthetic leg, the same make and model, it turns out, that Hayes has in place of his left leg, lost to an IED on a road near Ramadi in 2006.

“Those are the moments that I am looking forward to,” said Hayes, who signed with Awesome Wrestling Entertainment in February, of the encounter with the fan, a moment that is replayed nightly for Hayes, who decided after watching Wrestlemania XII with his grandfather and seeing underdog Shawn Michaels take the WWE title from champ Bret “The Hitman” Hart that wrestling was what he wanted to do with his life.

The detour into the Army was meant to help him fulfill another life goal, to serve his country, while at the same time giving him the chance to save money for wrestling school so that he could pursue his wrestling dream after getting out of the service.

His Army unit was switching places with another on a road back to Ramadi when the truck he was in was jolted by an IED that had been embedded in the road. Hayes, the gunner, was for a few moments pinned in the wreckage as the truck was ignited by propane in the IED into a fireball.

Hayes was able to crawl from the truck despite the fact that his left leg was “pretty much severed” by the force of the explosion and the crushing impact of the truck as it was flipped on its side. “I kind of had to grab it and bring it with me,” said Hayes, who attributes quick thinking by fellow soldiers to saving his right leg, which was also badly damaged.

Hayes passed out at the aid station and woke up two days later in San Antonio, his family surrounding him. He wasn’t aware at the time of the severity of his injuries, which is maybe a good thing, because the goal that he set for himself at his first meeting with his physical therapist was to get back to where he could do anything that he could do before the injury.

It was slow starting because Hayes had also suffered severe injuries in his right leg – his right heel had been crushed, for one thing, and he’d had fractures in his hip and femur. It was a year before he was able to first use a prosthesis, “but once that happened, the ball started to roll,” Hayes said.

What kept Hayes motivated at the outset: “I wanted to play basketball again,” and he progressed to the point where he was playing regularly in a rec league until something else interfered.

Yes, wrestling – professional wrestling, which had been an interest for Hayes since he saw his first USWA show on TV as a youngster. His childhood dreams seemed to have been extinguished given the injuries that he had suffered in Iraq, but then Hayes met pro wrestler Mike Mondo through mutual friends, and as he worked out in an effort to get himself back into shape, “the more the sparks started to come alive again.”

He signed up for a training class with Dinsmore last fall. “I decided that the only way I could find out that I couldn’t do it was to try it, and if it didn’t work out, it didn’t work out,” Hayes said.

He had an epiphany in his first class with Dinsmore. “I knew that something was going to come of this,” said Hayes, who has immersed himself in wrestling the past several months to build his ring skillset.

“Michael’s story is incredible,” said Awesome Wrestling Entertainment founder Marvin Ward, who worked Hayes into a storyline involving Carlito, Jimmy Yang, Alex Silva and another U.S. military veteran, former Marine Micah Fletcher, at the AWE show in Palmyra, Va., on Feb. 26, and has big plans for Hayes into the future.

“You can see that there’s something special about him,” Ward said. “One of the things we want to do with AWE is provide entertainment for service members across the world, because what those men and women do is just so inspiring, and we want to do our part to give back and say thanks to them for what they do to give us the freedoms that we enjoy. What Michael has been able to do, what he’s able to do in the ring, what’s been able to do with his life, is just so inspirational, and we’re honored to have him as part of the AWE family.”

Hayes gets that his story is inspirational to others.

“That’s exactly why I want to do this,” he said. “I want to make sure that people know that wrestling can be more than just entertainment and the shots and the big moves and the flash. It can be inspirational. That’s why I loved it originally. It was those moments when they made those guys seem like they were the ultimate underdogs who could overcome everything. That’s why I am to people. And when they see me do things, I want them to think that they can do it.”

Story by Chris Graham. More AWE news at