Former professional wrestling champion Marc Mero speaks to a filled Jim Pignato Theater Tuesday. Presenting his "Champion of Choices" speech, Mero captivated the crowd in the event coordinated by Jan Dunn Keller Heels for Healing and Putnam County Superintendent of Schools Phyllis Criswell.
Sitting down for an inspirational speech, you don't know whether in 10 minutes you'll be interested, or wishing you were texting.
But Marc Mero doesn't really give you time to be just interested in his story; and while he speaks for a living -- for leaving his life bare on stage in an overt plea to children -- Mero seems as much martyr as speaker.
Mero, the former WWE wrestler, told students filling the Jim Pignato Theater Tuesday morning that he fulfilled his dreams. He became rich and famous, which he largely attributes to writing his dreams down in a book as a child.
So you wonder - is Mero's going to be a solid talk on organization and setting high hopes -- certainly a message to change the life of at least one child in a theater so large?
Then the energetic and engaging 50-year-old Buffalo native hits his audience hard over its collective head.
A wide-screen, expertly choreographed presentation includes a picture of a boy, looking no older than 10, taking his left-handed batting stance in front of a house. It's Mero's brother. Mero says all his little brother ever wanted to do was play catch, field grounders or just hang out with him. Mero was too busy. He was too busy for his sister who he pushed away from sitting next to him wherever they went, and watched her wide, dark eyes well with tears.
Later for Mero came anger issues over a promising boxing career derailed for a year because of a face injury, then 10 years because of a downward fall into drugs, booze and rotten company that had him digging at the bottom of a swimming pool for money to party. He didn't have time for his mother, who sat awake until 4 a.m. and just asked to talk to him before he slammed his bedroom door.
We see them all -- and we see the man literally plead to their images for forgiveness as we share his hope they now see him redeemed.
He can't tell them any other way. They are all gone, along with his father who was his best friend. All gone far too early, one in an almost unfathomable moment of unlikely fortune.
In his "Champion of Choices" speech, Mero brings kids into his heart, into the pain still clearly there despite new joy in his life, imploring the children of Putnam County to do the simple things he didn't so they might make it easier to their dreams.
It is about regret and bullying, and triumph and mistakes he can never take back. It's about renewal and choices -- those he begged the students to make, and not to make.
It's part glitz and pep -- with his Mero's heroes -- young men and women who dance, along with Mero once to a well-choreographed number with an iconic pop culture video on the big screen -- his rallying cry "I Believe" bellowed by the huge crowd. It's part the story of his redemption, living life with passion now while still feeling the pain of the past.
It's part plea.
The dream homes, the big black cadillac and almost everything on that childhood list that he aquired never made him happy. The road beneath him was air alone, and soon, it was all gone.
Only now that he has faced the regret and pain and continues the fight through it has he happiness.
After the speech, it was clear on faces of children that Mero reached their heart.
"It was sad," a visibly affected Kelley Smith Elementary fifth-grader said. "It is making me think."
A Mellon fifth grader said he loved the speech.
"He wrote down his dreams," he said. "I'm writing them down now."
Kelley Smith teacher Kerry Paul said she loved the speech.
"It was great," she said. "I'm going to bring my child back tonight."
Another girl, a bit older, came after the talk to Mero in tears. The two spoke for about five minutes and he wrote down her information. Mero says it happens at every speech.
There are always children in the crowd suffering inside.