John Cena, WWE icon and host of the 2016 ESPYs, is the last true hero in pro wrestling. Like any Superstar, he has his naysayers, but they’re usually louder, older WWE fans long past the idea of a truly old-school good guy putting on his tights (or in Cena’s case, jorts) and working his ass off. Now ask any younger fan who their heroes are, and Cena will likely rank high on their list thanks to the magnetic draw of his hard-work attitude and never-say-die ethos. But who does the ultimate wrestling champion look up to? He explained who his heroes are to our writer.
The heroism I specifically gravitate toward most is the armed forces. There is nothing more heroic than signing up to make the ultimate sacrifice for something you believe in.
And I don't have one specific hero. I’ve always been fortunate enough to surround myself with good folks. Those people are also my heroes — the ones who push me by doing what they do. It’s not because I want to compete with them, but because I expect the same standards out of myself that others prove to have. It’s everyone from my boss, WWE founder Vince MacMahon, to the Superstars I fight, to the kids I get to see for the Make-A-Wish foundation.
When I first started in the WWE, I saw anyone at the top rung as someone I could look up to and learn from. Now I look toward MacMahon. He is the driving force behind my inspiration. He has so much passion and is so hands-on. It speaks volumes that he clocks in every day, because his work ethic isn’t driven by monetary gain at this point, it’s to create something worthwhile. He proved to me that you can work your tail off, and if you enjoy what you’re doing, it doesn’t ever feel like you’re working.
I just celebrated my 14th year in the ring, and I’m not as spry as I used to be. I’m 39. But I see this talented new crop of people who are chomping at the bit with almost blind, foolish excitement to do right at any cause. That energy inspires me to work harder.
Even if I have a bad day at the office or lose in the ring, I know that nothing will make me do a 360 faster than hanging out with the kids involved with the Make-A-Wish foundation. They have used their one wish to kick it with John Cena!
Being with them, you get to see people who can capture true happiness no matter what. That has gotten me out of so many situations when my perspective has been off. It’s not like every day is rainbows and unicorns, but you can create true happiness every day.
We’re all human beings, and we all have our ups and downs. It gets hard sometimes for all of us. We all have different definitions of hard work. But when you can connect what you’re doing in your life with your abilities to do them, that’s what keeps you going. It’s true passion and heroism.
As told to Lauren Steele, edited and condensed for clarity.