The 38-year-old star – who is now taking bookings again after 14 months off due to the pandemic – was just eight years old when he lost his leg to cancer and found an escape in WWE before living out his dream on worldwide television at 19 back in 2003.
Although his release from the company less than a year later proved tough to handle, he also credits McMahon with ‘saving [his] life’ after his subsequent battle with drugs and alcohol addiction.
He exclusively told Metro.co.uk: ‘It’s just crazy to me, full circle, how woven WWE is into the fabric of my life. As a child, losing my leg and then being able to escape into that world saved my life.
‘And then, as a young adult being able to participate and make memories with The Big Show and Brock Lesnar and Hulk Hogan and Vince.
‘And then in my late 20s, Vince McMahon literally saving my life. [laughs] It’s kinda strange, how woven that company and how important that company is to my daily life even at 38 years old. It’s unbelievable.’
‘It all started for me when I was eight years old when I lost my left leg to cancer, and the fallout from that, which was extremely traumatic,’ he said.
‘Not just the battle of cancer, or the amputation or the physical pain and the rehabilitation that comes from that, but not really fitting in with anybody, feeling inadequate, feeling like there was something wrong with me – the emotional toll that comes from that as a child.
‘But when I tapped into the magic of professional wrestling, all of those feeling of inadequacies went away. It was like my escape, and that’s really when the grips of professional wrestling wrapped around my soul as a child.’
He took inspiration from the likes of Rey Mysterio and Ultimo Dragon and would go onto chase his dream after seeing ‘the smaller athletic high flying guys’ doing what he knew he could do.
Although finding promoters willing to book a one-legged wrestler was difficult for a while, he started to make a name for himself and an incredible untelevised match with Truth Martini for TNA Wrestling led to WWE getting in touch.
From here, he debuted and was instantly working with his childhood heroes as he was thrust in a major storyline with Hogan and ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper.
‘Oh man, it was terrifying,’ he laughed. ‘To be in that spotlight, the only way I can describe it is completely overwhelming and terrifying – but what an amazing experience!’
Eventually, his run with the company came to an end and he found it difficult having his ‘identity’ taken away from him.
‘I definitely saw it coming because I had so much heat in the locker room with the other wrestlers and the office,’ he commented on his release. ‘I didn’t wanna get fired – I didn’t wanna quit!
‘But I was so immature emotionally, not only as a wrestler but as a human being, that I couldn’t handle the gift that was being given to me. I wasn’t equipped, I didn’t have the tools to navigate through that level of success successfully.’
After a long conversation with Jim Ross, he departed and found himself in a tough spot personally as he battled addiction.
‘My identity at the time was wrapped up in being “Zach Gowen, WWE superstar”. So, if you take away the “WWE superstar” for me, what does that make me? That makes me a failure, that makes me not good enough, that makes me a disappointment,’ he recalled.
‘I’m an addict and I’m an alcoholic. It’ll be something I deal with on a daily basis for the rest of my life, and I didn’t know it at the time.’
Thankfully, a conversation with his mother when he realised he needed help led to him emailing Jim Ross to take up the company’s offer of paid rehab treatment.
‘That was February 14th, 2010 – which is the date of my last drink and drug.
‘The foundation of my life started with WWE and their wellness program, and their willingness to pay for my treatment and to reach back to me when I reached out for help – literally within minutes.’
From there, things have gone well for father-of-three Zach, who made headlines a few years ago on Ninja Warrior and still continues to entertain fans across the US.
‘I severely underestimated the impact not performing would have on me, and I severely underestimated the impact that getting in front of an audience would have on me as well,’ he reflected on his recent return last month.
‘I want more of it, you know? If my body’s good and my schedule allows me to do it, let’s have some fun in 2021!’
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