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  December 11, 1999



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Special people

Mentally challenged true sports heroes

By BRET 'The Hitman' HART -- Calgary Sun

 I've just gotten back from a very moving trip to Toronto, my fifth year involved with the Special Olympics.

 I arrived there exhausted from a hard week of title defences on the road and left feeling invigorated. The Special Olympics always have that effect on me.

 I was grateful to be invited back to be a part of such a worthy cause and was honoured to be told that I'm always welcome.

 A high ranking official hinted to me that they may be considering disassociating themselves with the WWF because of the explicit content of the shows. Also the fact that the WWF recently lost major advertisers for the same reason would be sufficient cause for WCW to think carefully about how far they want to go down the same programming path.

 I would be greatly saddened to think that my contribution would be any less thought of by the charitable organizations I support based on a trend happening in wrestling that I have no control over.

 It ended up being quite an emotional night for me. It brought back memories of last year, when Owen was there. It was one of the last times I got to spend quite a bit of time with him. It was powerful for me to recall how we'd had a lot of fun, laughing and kidding around, how proud Owen was to be invited to do his part, and how touched he was by the sportsmanship and strength of character showed by the Special Olympians.

 Vince Carter, the Toronto Raptors superstar, has a unique position in the Owen tragedy because the last time I saw him was on the day Owen died.

 I was on a flight from Ottawa to L.A., through Toronto, and I ended up meeting up with Vince in the airport lounge in Toronto. When he reached his destination, he heard about Owen on the news and thought, "but I was just talking to Bret a few hours ago ... "

 Vince expressed his heartfelt sympathies to me and I realized that I have a friend in him.

 It was also nice to see my good friend, Blue Jays icon, Carlos Delgado. We ended up having a great talk about wrestling and baseball, which is amazing when you consider that he had career-altering decisions on his mind.

 I was very flattered to realize that these fine young athletes, tops in their sports, regard me with respect -- kind of like I'm the wily ol' veteran. It's a camaraderie that supercedes wrestling or baseball or basketball, more about mutual respect among athletes.

 Sitting there at the Special Olympics, I reflected on why it means so much to me to be involved.

 When I was a young boy, all my brothers and I used to hang around the matches every Friday night with all kinds of kids who'd be there. A few of them were mentally challenged and chummed around with us.

 They were the same as anybody, except that sometimes they had to work hard at doing simple things. I grew to respect their tenacity and strength of character.

 Especially this one guy, Johnny. By age 8 or 9, we'd have arm wrestling contests with him all the time and the thing is -- he'd always win. We could see how much it meant to him. I think of that when I see the faces of the Special Olympians -- it means so much to them whether they win or not. Even today, when mentally- or physically-challenged fans tell me that I'm their hero, I'm immensely flattered because really it's the other way around.

 Carlos told me that at the charity breakfast on Wednesday, Special Olympian Mary Brantnall, who's been through 55 operations, gave such a moving speech that there wasn't a dry eye in the house. I was truly sorry to have missed it, I was on a plane from a taped Thunder show in Madison Wisconsin.

 I should explain that the WCW's Thunder show will be taped on Tuesdays and aired on Thursdays for the time being. And last Tuesday, somehow I found myself winning the WCW Tag Team Championship! If you didn't see it on TV Thursday, you'll never believe who my new tag partner is. Bill Goldberg!

 Yes, he is my opponent in a big World title match at Starrcade on Dec 19. But why should I let that stop me from having the toughest guy in WCW as my tag partner?

 Back in the dressing room, I wondered do I really want it -- having to defend two titles at once?

 I was wondering if titles even mean anything in wrestling any more when one of the young Mexican wrestlers came up to me in awe and respect, commenting that I'm a double champion now.

 I decided, at that moment, that regardless of whatever is going on around me in wrestling, I will do everything I can to restore the dignity that the titles have lost.

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