When we think of a true American Hero, what comes to mind? Someone with incredible leadership qualities who inspires, motivates and comes back against all odds to accomplish the unimaginable and become a huge success… that’s what we think. Chris Melendez , Army veteran, Purple Heart recipient and TNA wrestling superstar is that and so much more.
His amazing story begins as a young man who always had two goals in this life. First was to serve in our armed forces for our great nation and the other was to be a professional wrestler. Many people accomplish the first goal and that is admirable, respected and shows the great patriotism our country loves. The second goal seems like more of a fantasy, especially when one has to overcome the extreme challenges that were given to him as a result of achieving his first dream. Melendez has achieved both and is truly a remarkable story, one of passion, determination and drive with a refusal to let life limit him in any regard.
Chris Melendez was raised in Spanish Harlem in New York City. He joined the Army at age 17 and was even more inspired to serve by the 9/11 tragedy that rocked the United States of America to its very core. His father, grandfather and uncle all served in our military and it was only natural for him to follow suit, stating that it was his duty and honor to do so. After training he was sent off to Baghdad, Iraq and in 2006 with only 23 days left on his tour there his life changed forever. Chris was to be off this day but instead volunteered to be in the lead Humvee operating as the gunner on a night patrol. Dangerous? Yes, but this is the type of man Chris is, one that leads by example and always up to protect our country. A few minutes after the patrol had begun Chris’ Humvee was hit by an IED. He immediately noticed a leg many feet away and thought, “Oh no, someone is in real trouble.” That’s when he looked and noticed his left leg was gone from the knee down.
He was then sent to Germany for immediate hospitalization and treatment and could only breathe at 8% on his own. He was in a coma and resuscitated three times from death’s door. This is when his remarkable comeback began. He had lost his leg, part of his jaw that had to be replaced by a bone graft on his hip, and almost lost his left arm. He endured horrific nightmares that he still has to this day and countless other emotional and physical challenges to overcome. Thru it all he kept an incredible PMA, or Positive Mental Attitude, that allowed him to conquer this insurmountable new challenge. Chris stated “I was so positive and had such a great attitude in my eight months of recovery in rehab to heal and walk again that people were truly concerned about my well-being. They thought something must be wrong and couldn’t believe that someone could have that kind of mental toughness.” Well, they were wrong. It’s that kind of attitude that brought him back training to fulfill his second dream, that of becoming a professional wrestler.
Fast track to year 2011 and Chris is hungry, pursuing his goals. He found a small wrestling gym in Brooklyn where he trained for months and finally caught a big break. The Wounded Warrior Foundation and Ken Anderson helped Chris get in touch with the famous Bully Ray and Devon Tag team wrestlers who had their own gym in Florida called Team 3D Academy of Professional Wrestling. After hearing his story and all that he had been through, the tag team said, “If you can get over to our Academy you can train for free.”
Another step closer to his impossible goal, Chris met and got his personal trainer, friend and life coach Dan Carr into his corner to help him and trained harder than ever. Two years later, he was found and signed by TNA Wrestling and the rest is history. Chris is now a big star and role model to so many. He can be seen on Spike TV every Wednesday night nationwide. His father and his friends have been amazed but not shocked by what Chris has done because he always has been a leader and never let life get him down. The 6’3” 232-pound warrior has made it back to the top of the mountain after a grueling eight-year comeback.
When I asked him what message he has for others facing a physical challenge in life he quickly responded, “We are the only ones that set and can exceed limitations. If someone is embarrassed by an ailment or challenge I will stand on one leg and be that inspiration. We are not handicapped, we are challenged! Every one of us is challenged either physically or mentally and this for me is the same kind of fight, just a different battlefield.” To this day Chris still feels the phantom pain in his left leg and nonexistent foot. “I still feel the pain and feel my boots on that foot years later,” Chris states. This is a man who took tragedy, stared it down and destroyed it.
It’s easy to see why Chris Melendez is a true American hero. When asked what message he has for our troops, he simply stated, “I feel guilty that I’m not over there in Iraq or anywhere else with them. They are my family.” This positive approach and mindset is the reason why he has recovered so fast and didn’t let the loss of a leg take away his dreams and goals. Asked if he was loving life after all that he’d been thru, he replied, “We as a people must adapt and overcome. I was happy, believe it or not, when I was injured because I knew that I could handle it where others may have a tougher time. We need to remember who and what we are and that we are living in the greatest country on earth. Stop whining and realize what we have, then do something with your life.” I asked if his prosthetic leg limited him in the ring and he answered quickly, “You should see me move without it. I am trouble to anyone who takes me lightly.”
We won’t make that mistake Chris and anyone in the ring who does will have a big surprise coming their way, that is for certain. Chris Melendez, Warrior, Motivator, Hero, and living proof that we as Americans can achieve our dreams no matter what stands in our way.
Carlos Kremer, Military Press Sportswriter and Captain USMC (Ret.)