BROOKSVILLE — Nature Coast Technical High School students met a retired wrestler recently and heard tales of his success and defeat aimed at guiding them toward their goals.
Marc Mero has had a tough life. At age 53, he has already lost a mother, father, sister and brother. His parents smoked. His sister had cancer. He lost his brother in an unlikely accident.
He regrets not treating his family members better and not letting them know how much he appreciated them. He says he also lost years of his own life by making bad choices with alcohol and drugs.
But Mero has had great success as a boxer, winning three New York State Golden Gloves titles, and then as a professional wrestler. His career included time with World Championship Wrestling, the World Wrestling Federation and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling.
Mero said that as he lost friends to substance abuse, he decided to turn his own life around — so he founded Champion of Choices ( ThinkPoz.org) and took his "I Believe — Never Give Up Tour 2014" to schools to help others avoid his mistakes.
He shared his stories with a gymnasium full of Nature Coast students, delivering messages like "Happiness is the key to success" and "If you stop dreaming, you stop living."
The former pro wrestler kept the students' attention with a high-energy presentation that included music and dancing, humor and inspirational words.
"Life isn't about winning the race," he told the students. "Life is about finishing the race."
They listened intently.
"Never give up on your dreams," said senior Darius Jones, 17, when asked what he took away from the presentation. "Never let anybody bring you down."
Senior Miranda Moffitt, 18, was moved by Mero's story. After hearing him talk "about how all his family passed away and how he never really talked to them," she said she planned to tell her family she loves them.
Freshman Brittany Loura, 14, had a similar reaction. She said she planned to "build a better relationship with my family and push my way through high school."
Sophomore Jaylene Moreno, 15, picked up on another point.
"You shouldn't bully anyone, because words can hurt," she said.
Senior Obinna Ugwuh, 20, who has plans to attend Georgia State University and study architecture, was impressed with Mero's show.
"I loved it," Ugwuh said. He came away from the seminar with encouragement to "never stop. Always push forward."
Junior Tyra Rush, 17, was also inspired.
"I have a big dream, too," she said. "Seeing him showed me I can do it, too."
Tyra is working toward becoming Miss Teen U.S.A., followed by a Miss Universe crown.
Mero has been doing these programs for seven years.
"We've done over 700 schools now," he said. "I wanted to make a difference."
He said he frequently gets feedback from the schools he visits.
"I often get notes that say, 'You changed my life today.' "