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Pro wrestler Kurt Angle keeps life moving in right direction

01.02.14 at 3:04 pm ET

There was supposed to be a happy ending. Kurt Angle‘€™s gold medal bout had just finished, ending in a 1-1 tie. The winner of the gold would no longer be decided by Angle or his opponent, the celebrated Iranian wrestler Abbas Jadidi, as it became an Olympic official’€™s decision. The referee returned to the center of the mat with the verdict and held the wrists of both wrestlers. Jadidi’€™s arm began to go up, and Angle’€™s heart sunk.

Angle was surrounded by family at every match, but the two men he needed most were missing. His father, David Angle, died 11 years prior in a gruesome construction accident, leaving his mother and a family of five children without a father. Angle’€™s USA wrestling coach, David Schultz, was murdered months prior to the 1996 Summer Olympics. The gunman was amateur wrestling sponsor John du Pont, who killed Schultz while his wife watched in horror as she instantly became a widow. With those two men lying in their graves, Angle needed that wrestling mat more than ever. The blue tarp was his solace. His comfort was found in excruciating 10-hour training sessions, working with his teammates, covered in sweat and tears, literally coaching himself.

Just as swiftly as the referee appeared to raise Jadidi’€™s hand, the pendulum swung. Jadidi had used his own force to raise his arm, and the referee brought it back down. Angle’€™s right arm was lifted and he dropped to his knees, capturing a gold medal to cement his place as one of the greatest wrestlers ever.

Little did he know, his pain was only beginning.

Angle, now performing with TNA Impact Wrestling, wrestled at the Lowell Auditorium this past Sunday for the “Hardcore Justice” pay per view. Still a major attraction in the world of professional wrestling, Angle lists his gold medal as his career’€™s defining moment.

“Without a doubt, it’€™s the top,”€ Angle said. “There was just all the hard work and there were all the guys I trained with for 10 hours a day every single day. Losing Dave [Schultz] and my dad, and everything my family sacrificed — they don’€™t have a lot of money, but they showed up at every match I had — there was just a lot of hard work, not just on my part, but from my whole family. It was the happiest day of my life, but it was also the most depressing day of my life.”

Angle’€™s problems continue to this day. His rap sheet with law enforcement is not pretty. He was arrested in 2007 for driving under the influence in his home state of Pennsylvania, then twice more for alcohol-related charges in 2011. He entered rehab this past summer after yet another DWI arrest. So many of his demons, he now admits, stem from the day the gold was placed around his neck at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

“I fell into depression after the Olympics,” Angle said. “How do I go above what I did? That’€™s a lot of the reason I’ve had so many personal problems. I was only trying to outdo my Olympic gold medal experience, and nothing would give me the satisfaction.”

Outside of a shaved head, the 45-year-old Angle looks nearly the same as he did a decade ago. His physique is still ripped and chiseled, and he is as daring in his wrestling as ever. A deeper look into his eyes is necessary to reveal his pain. Life hammered him with blows much more vicious than anything he felt inside the ring.

Angle has competed with himself for these last 17 years, trying to do outdo himself. He signed an eight-year contract with Vince McMahon‘€™s World Wrestling Entertainment in 1998 and quickly won over the professional wrestling community.

“I didn’t watch pro wrestling before I started,”€ Angle said, “but I became obsessed by it. I studied it, worked it, watched it. I was watching old tapes and anything I could to get better. I was just a really good listener. I had Triple H, Undertaker, [Steve] Austin, and The Rock telling me what to do. Instead of ignoring them, I kept an open mind. The more I did that, the quicker I learned.”

Angle was surprised at how quickly he caught on, yet noted the transition was not as easy as it appeared.

“What I did is I forgot everything I had learned for the past 25 years,” Angle admitted. “Nobody scored on me, nobody did anything to me in amateur wrestling, so I had to learn how to be humbled. Once I did that, it was easier for me to learn.”

Angle’€™s success in pro wrestling mirrored his achievements on the amateur mat. He didn’t begin amateur wrestling until the eighth grade, but he also quickly developed a successful routine.

“I wasn’t in wrestling very long before I was champion, and that was the same with amateur wrestling,” Angle said. “€œEven though they are worlds apart, I took a lot of pride in being an Angle. My brothers were all great wrestlers, and I wanted to walk in their footsteps.”

Angle had four older brothers who all wrestled, and a sister who was a wrestling cheerleader.

“We grew up with a wrestling family,” Angle said. “That’€™s what we did. I wasn’t crazy at first about the sport, I just knew that’€™s what my brothers wanted me to do.”

Though his father has been dead twice as long as Angle knew him, David Angle remains the driving force behind his youngest son’€™s competitive fire.

“I lost my father when I was 15,” he said. “It was hard on me. He died in a construction accident at work. He landed on his head and basically went brain dead.

“It was a difficult time for me,” Angle said, tears welling up in his eyes.

If it seemed like Angle’€™s athletic prowess stepped up after the death of his father, well, to steal a quote from the Olympian himself, it’€™s true.

“I became more serious about what I did after he died,” Angle said. “I was more driven and more dedicated. My dad took pride in talking about all my brothers. He didn’t have time to do that with me. I didn’t really mature quick enough. When my dad died, I wanted him to do the same for me even though he wasn’t here.”

Without his dad and his coach, Angle began to look toward WWE CEO Vince McMahon for advice and an example.

“Vince is all business,” said Angle, “but when the curtain goes down, he’€™s also a great friend. He was like a father figure to me. I have a lot of respect for him. I have to give him credit for taking what I had and producing it the way he did. It was a blessing. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now.”

While Angle originally envisioned himself as a fan favorite in pro wrestling, McMahon knew immediately that would not be the case.

“It was Vince’€™s idea,” explained Angle. “He saw what happened with The Rock when he started. He tried to start him as a baby face and it blew up in their hands. With me, he knew what was going to happen. When I started to get booed, he had me respond to the fans. He was looking for any kind of chant from the fans that I could respond to negatively and get myself much more heat. Vince is brilliant. He knew that all along, even though I didn’t, but that’€™s why he’€™s the man.”

The WWE granted Angle his release in 2006 after he failed to curb his addiction to painkillers. People, including McMahon himself, were lining up to help, but Angle simply was not ready to help himself, a decision that nearly cost him his life. He moved onto TNA Impact Wrestling and enjoyed nothing but success inside the squared circle, but saw his life spiral out of control outside the ring.

Position was the key to Angle’€™s success as an amateur wrestler. He began as a lightweight and made the transition to heavyweight, bringing his lightweight style to the heavyweight division, and it is very seldom for that move to ever work. In Angle’€™s case, he was successful as he was always well-positioned. He kept his hips underneath him and never allowed himself to become overextended. As long as he stayed compact and in good position, no one could score a point on Kurt Angle. Yet, years later, his everyday life completely contradicted his wrestling strategy. He was away from his family, engaged in a very public divorce as his first wife left him for Jeff Jarrett, another popular wrestler on the TNA roster. There were the DUI/DWI arrests and the admission to an addiction with painkillers. Over and over again, Angle refused to put himself back in a good spot, a position where he could succeed.

“The divorce and my personal issues have been a blessing,” Angle said. “Now my life is in a much better place. I’€™m clean and sober, and I don’€™t want to go back.

“I have a beautiful, wonderful wife. She’€™s the love of my life. Everything actually worked out, more than I ever thought it would. I’€™m in a better place now than I’ve ever been in my whole entire life. I’€™m 45 years old now and you’€™d think I would be at the end of my career. Now I feel like it’s just beginning.”

For the first time in a long time, Kurt Angle is back in a good position.

“I need to stop competing with myself,” Angle explained, before noting that contradiction in his soul. “I tend to try to outdo myself quite a bit. But if I don’€™t do that, I don’€™t think I’€™ll ever be satisfied. I like to challenge myself all the time.”

Angle was honest when asked if he would ever return to McMahon and the WWE.

“I can’t say I’€™ll never go back,” Angle said. “My contract is up in eight months, so we’€™ll see.”

As for the immediate future, Angle has two goals in mind. The first remains entertaining the fans in the ring.

“I go out every night and try to bust my ass,” Angle said. “If I didn’t, I wouldn’t feel right about myself. If I can’€™t do it that way, I need to retire.”

His second goal is staying clean and living up to the responsibilities of a husband and father. He wants to be there as often as possible and watch his children grow and set a strong example for them. As accomplished as Angle is in both amateur and professional wrestling, the boy from Pittsburgh still is courteous and unpretentious about success. Angle does not have a trophy room, nor does he see any reason to hang his medals on a shelf. His gold medal is packed away.

“It’s all in here,” Angle said, gesturing to his heart. “I know who I am. I don’€™t have to remind myself. I don’t need to be reminded by a trophy room. I want my kids to be humble like me.”

Angle constantly battled drugs, alcohol and the law in constant search of a high. Even if it was chemically induced, he wanted the same exultation he felt when he won his gold medal.

“I realize now I can’€™t,” Angle said. “There’€™s nothing I can do that will top that. Nothing. Not pro wrestling, not acting, not getting into MMA. Nothing will give me that feeling.”

Angle paused before flashing a soft smile. Athletically, of course, there was no joy greater than winning gold. As a father, though, he has experienced an even greater high four different times with the birth of his children, aged 11, 7, 3 and 1.

“The love for my kids, I don’€™t have a better love than that,” Angle said.

With his new focus well-defined, a father first and an entertainer second, Kurt Angle is in control of his life. He finally is back in a position where he is able take on life. This battle, he promises, is one that will not need to be decided by an official scorer.

Read More: Abbas Jadidi, David Angle, David Schultz, Kurt Angle