Sweetwater can take even more pride in one of their home-grown celebrities, as John "Bradshaw" Layfield, a former professional wrestler, is now taking on a new challenge: climbing mountains for kids.
Layfield is involved with and leads a program that is an extension of the Beyond Sports initiative based in London called "Beyond Rugby Bermuda". Bermuda is a long way to go from Sweetwater, but Layfield first became acquainted with the area as a means to break away.
When he married a New York native and settled in the city, Layfield shared in a phone interview that he would head to Bermuda to escape the hustle and bustle of big city life. But what he saw on the island, however, changed his life.
He found out there was a need for someone to run the Beyond Rugby program, so he decided to stay and took the leadership role. Beyond Rugby Bermuda, in partnership with the Family Centre--an internationally-recognized charity of the island, uses the sport as a way to help young people who are considered "at risk" to make a positive change and difference in their lives.
Layfield shared that anywhere from 50-60% of male Bermuda boys drop out of school, but in the program's second year, 100% of the students plan on graduating, thus giving the kids options for the future.
"We tell kids that they can do anything they want if they work toward it and have a plan," said Layfield. Through his climbing journey, he hopes to demonstrate that to the kids.
Layfield said that as a youngster growing up in a small town (he moved to Sweetwater with his family as a first grader), the outside world fascinated him. He recalled reading about Mount Everest and always had a dream of climbing the mountain.
He played football during his high school years in Sweetwater, as he recalled being part of the team who, after a long playoff drought, made a post-season appearance. He graduated from Sweetwater High School in 1985--one year ahead of the state football championship team, but was able to succeed on the field while playing football as a student at Abilene Christian University.
Layfield is most recognized as WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) personality "Bradshaw" or JBL (John "Bradshaw" Layfield). But after years of championship wins, he retired from the sport due to a broken back injury.
As he started to feel better physically, Layfield recalled that his dreams of climbing came back to him. He says he got the idea of a Seven Summits Challenge--where a climber will climb the highest peaks of every continent--from Annabelle Bond, the fastest woman ever to achieve the feat.
Layfield has several reasons for taking on this challenge. Personally, he says the climb is about doing something great while serving as a great test of a man's endurance. And while it's also a great fundraiser for the kids of Bermuda, he says that he wants to be an example to those kids as they see their coach doing what he says.
Partnering with him on this journey is the WWE, who he calls one of the most charitable organizations in the world. They have assisted him with promotional opportunities and social media presence, allowing others to learn about his climbs.
In June, he climbed the highest mountain in Europe, Mt. Elbrus, which is located in Russia. Just this past month, he summitted Mount Kiliminjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. Layfield will conclude his first year by climbing the highest mountain in South America, Mount Aconcogua.
Year Two will take him to Mount Vinson in Antarctica, followed by the highest mountain in North America in Denali, Alaska. In September 2013, he will spend time training for his October climb in Indonesia at Mount Catensz, the highest mountain in Oceania.
Finally, in the spring of 2014, Layfield will take on the highest mountain in the world, Mount Everest in Nepal.
The journeys will be chronicled on Layfield's "Seven Summits" page on the Beyond Rugby Bermuda website, which links to the WWE webpage. Both sites offer photos from the climb, along with videos, tweets and Facebook posts.
On each trek, Layfield hopes to plant the WWE flag as well as the Bermuda flag at the mountain's apex. And after some persuasion from his father Lavelle, who was in a top leadership role at the former Texas State Bank in town, he now also has the Texas flag with him.
Layfield's parents have lived in East Texas since he headed to college, and his sister Sylvia Sims--a former tennis coach at SHS--was the last one in his family to move away from the area. However, he says that he is very proud of being from Sweetwater and hopes to one day come back and visit the area.
To learn more about and follow Layfield's Seven Summits journey, visit www.beyondrugbybermuda.com/7-summits.html.