In a previous post, I mentioned how I had gotten the contact information for wrestling camp . Below is a different version of that ad.

I started training with Eddie Sharkey in March of 1997 at a place called the Peacemaker Center in northeast Minneapolis, MN. This was a building used to teach some Native American studies I believe, but it also doubled as a youth center. It had a boxing gym in it, and way over in the corner near the floor drain was Eddie’s semi-functioning wrestling ring.

In that first month, I was the only new student. In fact I was the only student. There was some guy from Wisconsin that was supposed to show up, but never did. There were also a couple of guys from northern Minnesota that came in 3 or 4 times, but with a 3 hr round trip each day, I knew I wasn’t going to see much from them. Some days I would spend 30-45 minutes just taking bumps. I remember the underside of my forearms turning a dark purple from hitting the mat.

Besides Eddie and occasionally Ray Whebbe, wrestlers Billy Blaze, Willy “The Splash”, and Marty Hamilton (a.k.a. The Joker) were on hand. Apart from Marty, these two guys were “old school”. I still remember sometime during the first week where Billy was stretching me on the mat. He had me in an armbar and said that he would break my arm if I ever told anybody about how the wrestling business worked. The thing is, myself and a few friends already knew a lot about the business from reading the “sheets” (back when they were printed on paper) like the Pro Wrestling Torch and from reading the usenet group I thought it was best that I didn’t bring it up at that point. 😉 I’m not sure that he would have really broken it, but I didn’t want to find out. He was just trying to protect the business.

I can completely understand where he was coming from. Sometimes we’re so open about the business, even at the WWE level, that we can kind of take the fun out of it. What if you went to see a magician and he came out and showed you how to saw a woman in half, then did the trick? Sometimes it’s better to keep them guessing.

Because it was a boxing gym, there was also a boxing ring there, and a boxing trainer, and a bunch of “underpriviledged youth” learning how to box. If you’ve ever seen HBO‘s series “The Wire”, it was kind of like the gym that Cutty set up for the same purpose.

The trainer had an assistant, who they referred to as General Chang. He had fought in the Vietnam war and had a bullet hole to prove it. I always wondered how a non-U.S. citizen had qualified for military service. The problem with my thinking was that I was assuming he fought on “our” side.

Over the next couple of months, the General would be my (inexperienced) training partner. You always hear about the major injuries that wrestlers get – torn ACLs, compressed vertebrae, torn pecs, quadraceps, and biceps. But what you don’t hear about are the nagging day-to-day minor injuries that they live with for the rest of their lives. My story isn’t typical, since I have relatively few. Some of them happened from working with Chang, and the rest of the early ones were caused by my own inexperience and the bone-jarring wrestling ring we were using.

The ring was notorious for being stiff. There is supposed to be a little movement in the center, but this one was seized up. We might as well have been just taking bumps on the concrete. It was almost a relief using the boxing ring except that you could feel the individual boards as you landed.

Around June of that year I got a phone call that the Peacemaker Center closed for some unknown reason. A few weeks later, Eddie teamed up with wrestler Terry Fox to restart the camp up in Coon Rapids, MN. With Sharkey, Fox, additional trainers “Thunderblood” Charlie Norris and Sam Houston, and a bunch of new talented recruits on board, it was shaping up to be a good summer.

But I’ll leave that for a future post… (read Part 2)