By Mike Mooneyham

Sept. 9, 2007

I’d like to preface this column by stating up front that today’s subject doesn’t have a lot to do with professional wrestling.

Unless, of course, you consider the fact that I’m here, in large part, because of the subject.

The topic of this column just happens to be a product of the Greatest Generation, that hearty group of souls who lived through the Depression, fought for our country’s freedom and helped build modern America.

He’s a shining example of the indomitable human spirit where dreams can’t be stolen and anything is possible.

My dad, John Mooneyham, turns 83 today. His story is nothing short of incredible, yet his message is simple: Life is precious and worth fighting for. He epitomizes the very essence of what it means to never give up and to never quit.

A slew of doctors over the years have called him either a modern medical miracle or the proverbial cat with nine lives. He was diagnosed with cancer more than 35 years ago – the operative words being 35 years. That also was about a dozen different types of cancers ago. To go through the entire list would take up more space than this column allows, but I can tell you that such a list exists and comes in handy when a new office assistant invariably asks, “Mr. Mooneyham, do you have any health issues we should be aware of?”

And, on the rare occasion he doesn’t have the list on him, it’s an experience to watch him rattle off his past and present ailments as effortlessly as reciting his ABC’s. Some, like leukemia and septicemia, were from his childhood days in Mississippi. Others, such as malaria, he picked up in the more exotic locales of the Pacific Theater during World War II. There’s very little of his colon that hasn’t been extracted, and the loss of salivary glands has resulted in impaired taste and diminished appetite.

Yet, with some of the same imagination he used in his younger days to write volumes of poetry about tall ships, blue seas and elusive dreams, he can think back to that glorious morning on the square in Oxford when he had the “Perfect Breakfast” at an old Southern restaurant that was seemingly lost in time, with the wistful lyrics of “Beautiful Dreamer” wafting in the background like a slow-motion dream.. For a moment, he’s back on the fantail of a ship, in a rough sea, mist falling around and drinking coffee with the boys.

Ask him, and he’ll attribute his longevity to an unwavering faith, along with some good doctors and just a little bit of luck. And as a longtime deacon at Citadel Square Baptist Church, he figures he’s paid attention to most of the sermons, so spiritually armed with that knowledge he figures he “wins either way.” It’s worth the trip, he reckons, just to get another glimpse of the “Greek goddess” he tragically lost 35 years ago. He never remarried.

It’s that kind of faith, he’ll tell you, that has gotten him through the hard times.

I’ve watched in amazement over the past year as he’s faced more surgeries and spent as much time in doctors’ offices and hospitals as not. A particularly grueling round of radiation and chemo, followed by an automobile accident that shattered bones and ribs, have taken a toll. A touch-and-go bout with pneumonia several weeks ago rightfully had hospital staff concerned until I told them about the list. The man has plans, I assured them, and he proved he did by coming home a few days later.

There is the realization that he may never do the things he once did. Or even the things he planned, like that excursion to Alaska with its majestic views of purple mountains, or the cross-country trip to the West Coast, sleeping under the big desert sky to the lullaby of coyotes, watching sea birds flying and waves crashing and the sun setting over a rugged coastline, seeking out that road less traveled and guided only by the winds of destiny.

The resiliency of spirit remains. One small step leads to another, and hope again springs eternal.

In John Mooneyham’s scheme of things, dreams never die, only the dreamers. And on this, his 83rd birthday, he continues to fight the good fight.

I love you, Dad, this one’s for you.

MAT NEWS AND NOTES: Ric Flair gave notice to WWE several weeks ago after seeing his role gradually diminished with little hope of a push in sight. Flair remains on the WWE roster, though, and neither side has engaged in significant conversation regarding his future. A Vince McMahon-approved plan earlier this year for a final Flair push unfortunately never got beyond the creative team … Tests conducted on the brain of Chris Benoit showed that the wrestler’s brain was so severely damaged it resembled the brain of an 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient. The tests indicated signs of cell death that researchers blame on the lifetime of chronic concussions and brain trauma Benoit suffered during his career. The Sports Legacy Institute, which oversaw and coordinated the testing, is an independent medical research organization dedicated to studying the long-term effects of head injuries in sports. SLI president and former WWE performer Chris Nowinski contacted Michael Benoit on June 28, shortly after his son’s death, to obtain permission to study the wrestler’s brain. “We needed an understanding,” the elder Benoit said after the study. “The person who did this is not the man we know and loved.” Although Michael Benoit said his son suffered “quite a number” of concussions while wrestling, WWE spokeswoman Jennifer McIntosh told the Los Angeles Times that officials “dug around” and found no medical records of Benoit suffering a concussion. “We don’t have any answers as to why Chris did what he did. We’re still awaiting the law enforcement investigation to be concluded,” McIntosh said … Batista (Dave Bautista) issued a statement denying media reports that he had been identified as a customer of Signature Pharmacy. The Florida-based clearinghouse is under investigation for illegally distributing prescription medications …. Cryme Tyme (Shad Gaspard and Jayson Paul) and Eugene (Nick Dinsmore) were fired last weekend by WWE.