When you think of cerebral palsy (CP), what comes to mind? A frail individual confined to his wheelchair or hospital bed? A sick boy who is constantly dependent on others for even his basic needs?
I would be willing to bet all of my income that you do not think of pro-wrestling when you think of cerebral palsy. Why would you? Male (and even some female) pro-wrestlers are muscle-bound giants who can throw around your average grown man like a pre-schooler throwing around a doll. They are the antithesis of everything we associate with physical disability.
But BJJ practitioner Greg Demeule wants to change all of that.
At the age of one, Demeule was diagnosed with CP, and his doctors believed he would never walk.
“My muscles are a lot tighter than they should be due to the loss of motor neurons and hyper contraction,” Greg told the Jiu-Jitsu Times. “Furthermore, I had a lot of sensory issues with noise and touch. That’s often the precursor to seizures, so to be frank, my parents feared for my life. I was in such pain due to the sensory issues and muscle spasms that I cried literally all day. To make matters even worse, I had bad respiratory issues (as people with CP usually do) so I still remember trips to the ER due to croup.”
The doctors were wrong about Demeule walking, though. Thanks to Neurodevelopmental Therapy (NDT) and his parents’ research, Greg began to walk when he was five years old.
Unfortunately, Greg not only had to deal with his own limitation, but others’ perceptions of him:
“Growing up as someone who was Asian and disabled wasn’t easy, especially as I went into grade school and became self-aware of my role model; how I was seen differently because of what I was dealing with,” Greg said. “What bothered me was not them thinking of me different; I had a problem with ignorance. People would far too often make false assumptions. They would dismiss my integrity and just throw me away. If some people in special education had their way, I wouldn’t have made it out of high school.”
He did make it out of high school, though, earning a college degree in psychology. He now works as an Academic Advisor at Southern New Hampshire University.
But that hasn’t distracted him from focusing on his dream of becoming a professional wrestler. Greg told the Jiu-Jitsu Times that he fell in love with pro wrestling when he first saw it 18 years ago.
It’s the spectacle of it all that draws me. Furthermore, as a kid there were a lot of people who didn’t understand my interest because of my disability. Remember, back then I constantly fell down and couldn’t walk well at all. I always held onto it because it was the one thing in my life I promised the world wouldn’t take away.
The spectacle draws him to wrestlers like Chris Jericho, who is his favorite.
He’s such a convincing villain that I always wonder what he’s really like in person. That’s the magic of a good show; you can’t tell what’s real and what isn’t.
Greg has been working with a pro wrestling trainer to help him achieve his dreams, but he has also been training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu since July under Chris Konelas at the Martial Arts Zone in Manchester, New Hampshire. Much like CP, most people don’t associate BJJ with pro-wrestling. Greg, however, says the fundamentals are all the same:
Back falls are key; they land the same to avoid the concussions, forward, back rolls, all the same. You learn all those before you work on your character or moves.
But even though jiu-jitsu shares some of wrestling’s fundamentals, Greg does not view it as a gateway into the pro wrestling business. Demeule explained that BJJ was the most “practical” martial art for someone in his condition, and he takes his training very seriously:
I promised him [Chris Konelas] that I would be the hardest worker that he had ever seen, if he promised me that there would be no shortcuts in my training. When I train with him I never take breaks or ask for water. There’s no wasted motion in anything I do, and I embrace failure. After half my life devoted to physical therapy, I know failure better than most.
Greg Demuele is now working on a documentary about his journey to the pro-wrestling ring. You can check out his Facebook profile here.
This interview was conducted over Facebook instant messenger. It has been edited slightly for clarity. All photos by Greg Demuele and used with his permission.