Montgomery High students get visit from WWE wrestler

Gabe Tuft spent an hour Wednesday morning speaking to two special education classes at Montgomery High School about career options, the importance of having a life plan and following one's heart not only professionally but in all matters.

Only when a severely disabled student asked through a teacher for Tuft to put his game face on did the visitor's not-so-distant career become glaringly obvious.

Bending at the waist, his tattooed biceps bulging, Tuft nearly growled at Martin Caballero who proceeded to squeal in delight.

Until three weeks ago, Tuft was known as Tyler "T Reks" Reks, a bad guy in the hugely popular World Wrestling Entertainment empire who commentators described as "animalistic," "diabolical" and "ominous."

"It was really cool and no one else gets to meet a real wrestler in their class," said Micah Poindexter, a ninth-grader in Casey Thornhill's class who was the first to ask for a photo with Tuft.

Thornhill met Tuft, a 1996 graduate of Analy High School, at a local toddler gym class where both men were with their children.

Despite his imposing physical presence, outsized muscles and long dreadlocks, Tuft told Thornhill that he'd just recently hung up his leather wrestling briefs to focus on his family and taking care of Mia, his 9-month-old daughter.

But it wasn't necessarily the four-year, high-profile wrestling career that inspired Thornhill to ask Tuft to visit his classroom. It was Tuft's engineering degree from Cal Poly, his experience starting two businesses, his career commitment and his ability to walk away from stardom and focus on his family.

"Fame isn't everything," Thornhill said. "I think it's amazing what he is giving up to stay at home and be a family man."

Tuft, who lives in Cotati and is CEO of Local Marketing 2.0, an Internet marketing firm, told students Wednesday that he has followed his dreams but always maintained a backup plan. He described his decision to leave an engineering job in Southern California for a potential wrestling career in Florida about five years ago as "really scary."

"I'm glad I wrestled; I really am," he said. "I'm also glad I have something to fall back on."

The message got through to Shawn Byrd, a sophomore who dreams of playing football professionally.

"Just seeing that he wasn't mean," he said. "He said finish all of your school stuff and make sure you are on your feet before you go after your dreams."

Kerry Benefield

Columnist, The Press Democrat

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