The activities for WrestleMania 34 weekend kick off next Thursday in New Orleans, La.

The wrestling fan base can at times be a punching bag for those who want to use that four-letter “F” word – fake. Wrestling fans like the product for their own personal reasons. As a child, I wished for nothing more than attend a WrestleMania live.

In 2011, I had my opportunity. As a Columbus, Ga. resident at the time I was going to my first WrestleMania in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.

What made it more exciting was my favorite wrestler of all time, Shawn Michaels, was getting inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame one night prior. It was the weekend I had waited for since I was an eight-year old kid. We got to Atlanta the Friday before the big show and attended WWE Axxess that night. The next day was the Hall of Fame. I was going to see my childhood hero inducted. The next morning, reality interrupted my “dream weekend.” I received a phone call about 10:00 a.m. that one of my best friends had been shot and passed away.

I was stunned. I was upset. I was angry. As the day went on, I felt a huge burden on my shoulders. The right thing to do is leave Atlanta and head home, right? How could I enjoy myself with her on my mind? I was told to stay in Atlanta and “try” to enjoy myself. The visitation and funeral would not take place until after Sunday. No matter where we went that day, she was still on my mind. Sadly, I was invited to go out with them the night the incident happened. If it wasn’t for WrestleMania, I would have been there. Could I being there have changed anything? I guess its human nature to ask yourself these things.

Well it was time to leave for the Hall of Fame that evening. Leaving the hotel, my friend and I were offered $500 each for our tickets. I could tell my friend wanted to make the deal and head to downtown Atlanta. But this was Shawn Michaels. This is the guy I thought was “so cool” as a 12-year old. The guy I would argue with anyone was a “better wrestler” than anyone in the modern era. He is getting inducted into the Hall of Fame 90 miles from my house. So we told the guys, we appreciate the offer but we are going to the show.

WrestleMania 27 came and went. I had left the camera film from the trip including myself meeting several wrestlers at WrestleCon in the trunk of my newly purchased Toyota Camry. In a moment where I felt the most vulnerable I ever had my car was stolen in the parking lot of a church softball game. My wallet was in there. My film from ‘Mania was in there. I felt helpless. Even weeks after the incident, the car was found, the debit cards and license were replaced, but the pictures from my first WrestleMania were gone. It left an empty feeling in the pit of my stomach.

My first WrestleMania was a good experience. I got to the see the Rock live after a seven-year absence. I saw the build start for the first Rock vs John Cena match. I saw my childhood hero inducted into the Hall of Fame. But with all of the external stuff around it, it wasn’t that pleasurable of an experience.

WrestleMania 30 was announced for the New Orleans Mercedez-Benz Super Dome for April 6, 2014. It was a chance for my own personal redemption. It was time to get that sour ‘Mania experience out of my mouth. I had the chance to share it this time with my favorite person in the world. In 2014, I was 31, single and kid-less. The only thing I wanted to do in life is be a good uncle. My niece lives in a small town in Louisiana of less than 6,000 people and the median income is less than $20,000. This was my chance to do something special for her.

We enjoyed WM 30 immensely. We were in New Orleans during the very height of the “Yes Movement”. We saw an impromptu segment to kick off the show with Hulk Hogan, the Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin. I had taken my niece to house shows in the past, but she has never seen this much star power in one event. We saw 75,167 go silent as Brock Lesnar ended the Undertaker’s ‘Mania undefeated streak. It was a surreal scene. Of all the ‘Manias I have attended, Taker losing and Bryan winning were two of the most astonishing moments to be in attendance for.

We headed back to WrestleMania 32 in Dallas, TX. in 2016. I am not sure about the estimated 101,763 attendance figure that the WWE reported for that evening. I can say being in that stadium around that many people was captivating. Not a ton stood out from that night outside of Shane McMahon leaping from the top of the Hell in a Cell. But that weekend gave me the opportunity to reconnect with members of my family in Texas and spend another quality weekend with my best friend and niece.

I had been seeing doctors at Emory Hospital in Atlanta since 2013. In April of that year, I had a tumor removed from the neck. We continued to monitor it through MRI’s and CT scans. In August of 2016, my oncologist reviewed the most recent scan and saw something that required more attention. After seeking an opinion from another specialist, I was set to have another tumor removal surgery on Halloween (conveniently between games five and six of the Cubs/Indians World Series).

Between the surgery and the end of the year, I lost my father to liver cancer. The man who took me to my first wrestling show (WCW house show in 1991) was gone. I was trying to deal with everything and not break down. I just had a cancer surgery, my dad was gone and the holidays were approaching. Luckily, prior to all this, I began talking to a wonderful young lady that I am lucky enough to be engaged to at the time of writing this. She supported me mentally and helped me get through a time that nobody should have to endure.

After the surgery, I was referred to a radiation specialist. He advised I needed 30 plus treatments of radiation to eliminate whatever remanence of the tumor was left. I knew WrestleMania 33 was coming up a few months later in Orlando, FL. Since it was again within driving distance, myself and my friend Brian were going again.

My January consisted of getting up at 7am, driving to Emory (90 miles) for a 15 minute treatment, driving back to Columbus, working from 1pm-7pm, trying to work in some gym time and rehab my neck. It was rough. I had my girlfriend by my side, but the thought of WrestleMania in Orlando is a thought that kept me pressing on through a very physically draining month.

I got through the treatments; we arrived in Orlando and enjoyed ‘Mania 34. In one hour at WrestleCon, I met Ric Flair, Sting and Michaels. I am not sure an individual can have a better hour. We did all of the regular ‘Mania weekend festivities (NXT, HOF, Raw). I will be heading to New Orleans for my fifth WrestleMania this coming Thursday.

As stated previous, a lot of people have some disparaging things to say about wrestling fans and to those who attend WrestleMania. For me, some of the most emotional times in my life are tied to this event. There is a story to every journey and I can’t wait to see what next weekend has in store for me.

Chad Dixon (@Dixon23rtr)