YORKTOWN, N.Y. – Marc Mero battled The Rock, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Triple H in his championship wrestling career, but nothing challenged him more than his inner demons brought on by alcohol and drug addiction.

Mero, a member of the World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment) for four years in the 1990s, is now a motivational speaker, telling his heartbreaking story of redemption to students around the country. On Friday, Oct. 13, the Buffalo native tailored his talk to two groups of middle school students at the Yorktown High School auditorium.

A world-class athlete in his youth, Mero told the students that his promising boxing career was derailed by a series of poor choices. Mero, who described himself as “foul-mouthed and bad-tempered,” said his biggest mistake was choosing the wrong friends.

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Mero, a New York State amateur boxing champion, said, as a youth, he always dreamed of being rich and famous. A few weeks before his first professional fight, however, Mero shattered his nose and had facial reconstruction surgery. Doctors told Mero that he would be unable to fight for at least a year.

Now with a lot of free time, Mero said he began to make a series of bad choices that led him down a 10-year rabbit hole of alcohol and drug abuse. Instead of rehabbing, returning to the ring and fulfilling his dream, Mero found himself working a construction job, wondering, “How did I get here?”

“I threw it all away because of who I chose to surround myself with,” Mero said. “I hung out with losers and I became the biggest loser of them all.”

He compared friends to elevators: “They’re going to bring you up and they’re going to take you down.”

“Failure is not aiming too high and missing; failure is aiming too low and hitting,” Mero said.

Mero also talked to the students about bullying, of which he was a victim when he was in school. Growing up in Buffalo, Mero said, his family was poor and he mainly wore clothes bought at garage sales. This earned him a nickname among his school peers—“bum.”

Though he played it cool, Mero said, he was “dying” inside, often leaving school before the final bell so his classmates wouldn’t see him crying.

“I heard every word,” Mero said.

In 2017, social media only intensifies bullying, Mero said. He reminded students that “words can kill.”

“When you hear scrutiny enough times—you’re ugly, you’re stupid, you’re worthless, you should die—your perception becomes your reality,” he said.

Mero also told the students that only they can make positive change in their life. When he looked out at the audience of Yorktown students, he saw athletes and app developers, but only if that’s what they chose to be.

“So many times we base our limitations on what other people think or say,” he said.

Mero, who published his debut book in 2010, said he only did so because two years earlier he stuck a Post-It Note on his computer, which said, “Book by 2010.” He told the students that they can’t “hope” their dreams into existence; they have to put in the work.

“Take action toward your goals and dreams,” Mero said.

Mero then brought the audience of students and teachers to tears when he talked about the importance of family. Growing up, Mero’s biggest fan was his mom, who worked two jobs and attended all his sporting events. As he began to spiral, Mero said, he began treating his mom with contempt. After a night of drinking and drug use, Mero would often come home at 3 or 4 a.m. to see the lights on inside.

“My mom wouldn’t go to bed until she knew her son was still alive,” Mero said. “She’d say, ‘Marc, I haven’t seen you all day and all night, can I please talk to you?’ I said, ‘Man, just leave me alone. You bug me!’ And I’d slam my bedroom door on the one person who believed in me.”

Years later, while working as a professional wrestler in Japan, Mero received a phone call that his mom had died.

“I just stood over her [casket] and I said, ‘Mom, you are my hero. Everything I am, everything I hope to be is because of you. You loved me so much, you gave me a life. You’re the only one that ever believed in me.’ How’d I repay her? By getting drunk, by getting high, by getting stupid, by hanging out with losers? For what? All she ever wanted to do was talk to me.”

Mero shared similar stories about two of his siblings who also died. Mero said he regrets the way he treated his brother and sister who idolized him and only wanted to play ball or talk.

Mildred E. Strang Middle School Principal Marie Horowitz, who helped bring Mero to Yorktown, said his powerful presentation was important.

“It was inspiring and he made all the tough statements that kids needed to hear,” Horowitz said.