That’s all Matt Cappotelli needed to reach his dream—a debut on Monday Night Raw with World Wrestling Entertainment where he’d rub shoulders with John Cena, Triple H and CM Punk. A concussion in the ring sent him to the emergency room that December 2005 where doctors discovered a malignant brain tumor that threaded through his gray matter like spaghetti.
So close, yet so far away.
The three-inch tumor was hard to treat and difficult to remove.
Cappotelli lived with the tumor a year, then pressed on through surgery that left a horse-shaped scar across his skull. After 30 radiation treatments and a long recovery, he always dreamed that he’d return to the ring one day. In 2006, he married Lindsay, who is a personal trainer and his best cheerleader.
So far, Cappotelli’s dream remains on hold.
Still, his platform reaches thousands. It may not have the pizazz of a wrestling title or big television contract. After Teaching Pastor Kyle Idleman baptized Cappotelli in 2004, the two remained friends.
A video of Cappotelli’s story on the “not a fan” website reached around the world. He still gets emails and Facebook messages from those who click on the link. Wrestlers at Ohio Valley Wrestling surrounded the ring as Cappotelli gave his farewell speech on Feb. 8, 2006, and relinquished the heavyweight title, kneeling in the ring to end with prayer. That video also went viral around the world.
He talked with people who had turned away from their faith, those needing hope, those who wanted comfort and those who needed direction.
“God has multiplied my story through social media,” said Cappotelli, 35. “I get emails from countries I never heard of.”
For the last two years, Cappotelli has been the manager at Louisville Athletic Club and talks with clients coming into the club.
He doesn’t have to push his story.
A framed photo of his MRI on his desk starts conversations.
He points out his eyes, then the large malignant gray shadow of the tumor that specialists carved from his brain as well as a white area of malignant cells near his brain stem that were too dangerous to remove.
Other times the door to conversation opens as people read tattoos on his forearms. “It is finished” is written in big script on his right forearm and the Hebrew letters for “through His blood I am healed” cover Cappotelli’s left arm.
The scars, the tattoos and the MRI open conversations about faith with people who might never walk into a church to talk with a pastor. It’s the man coming back to the gym after a stroke, the woman who is fighting chronic illness, those who simply want to get in shape. They are Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, people who have been wounded by the church and those who are not sure church is for them.
If there’s one thing that has changed in the last five years, it’s Cappotelli.
For years, he tried to make sense of what happened. After all, he planned to use his platform as a wrestler to share his faith. He doesn’t struggle with the “whys” much anymore.
“In the last three or four years, I’ve come to the realization that we would get so much more accomplished if we would capture these undefinable moments in our lives and figure out a way to use them to glorify God and not try to figure it all out,” he said. “I needed to stop asking why. God’s way is perfect as long as we are faithful enough to continue walking in that direction. I don’t think God asks us to understand. He asks us to trust. We can capture our purpose in life when we trust more than we ask questions.”