On Friday, January 26th, 1996, a promising young amateur wrestling prospect by the name of Kurt Angle made a phone call to esteemed wrestling trainer Dave Shultz and left him a message that he was going to head down to Foxcatcher Farm in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania later in the week to work with Shultz and prepare for the 1996 Olympics.
Later that day, Shultz was murdered by the owner of Foxcatcher Farm, John du Pont. Thanks to du Pont, Angle now had to train for the biggest goal of his life without the support of one of his closest friends and mentors in Shultz.
While this was an incredible tragedy for the family and friends of Shultz to deal with, it was not the first time that Angle had experienced the sudden death of one of his mentors.
Back when he was only 16 years old, Angle’s father passed away at the age of 55 after an unfortunate construction accident that left him in a coma. Kurt has always mentioned that event in his life as being the one that drove him to become a world-renowned athlete.
“I grew up and overcame my fears the day he died. I vowed right then and there to become a champion, to do whatever it took.”
Before he competed in the 1996 Olympics, Angle had already accomplished more than most during his amateur wrestling career. His achievements up to this point ranged from a state championship in high school to an NCAA champion in college to a gold medal winner at the World Wrestling Championships.
Angle’s dream of competing in the Olympics almost came to an end after he suffered a broken neck during the 1996 U.S. Olympic trials. With thoughts of his father and Schultz on his mind, Angle miraculously pushed through his injury and qualified to represent USA wrestling at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.
He went on to defy the odds again and came away with a gold medal in Atlanta.
After making his dreams come true and winning Olympic gold, Angle struggled for a bit to find his next career path.
He met with Vince McMahon and the WWE (then the WWF) about possibly breaking into the business of professional wrestling. But the two sides were unable to strike a deal and Angle went on to become a local sportscaster and a spokesperson for a pizza place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Not much seems more humbling than going from winning a gold medal at the Olympics to trying to sell strangers pizza.
Unhappy with the direction his life was going at this point, Angle contacted the WWE once again about a job and was later signed by the company to an eight-year contract.
The WWE used his past history as an accomplished amateur wrestler to create a gimmick for Angle and he eventually made his in-ring television debut against Shawn Stasiak at Survivor Series 1999.
During his first year in the company, Angle would go on to win the European Championship, the Intercontinental Championship, and the WWE Championship. His decision to leave his sportscasting gig in Pittsburgh was looking pretty smart at this point in time.
A month before a monumental match against a young phenom in Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania XIX, Angle found out that he had suffered a broken neck for the second time in his life. What would be a career-ending injury for some, this was just a minor speed bump for Angle.
He was able to get cleared by doctors in time for the event and he and Lesnar went on to put on a masterpiece of a match that is still talked about to this day.
Following his epic match with Lesnar, Angle had to undergo surgery to repair his neck. As most are after a surgical procedure, he was given a prescription for some pain killers to aid in his recovery process.
However, it was this prescription that eventually led to Angle’s career in the WWE to spiral out of control. Not before long, he had gone from taking a few painkillers a day to more than 60.
“I enjoyed the feeling. It wasn’t just about numbing the pain. It was numbing everything else in my life and I enjoyed the feeling I got from it.”
From 2003 to 2008, Angle dealt with the death of his sister to a heroin overdose, his release from WWE, and his wife divorcing him for another wrestler. As his life continued to resemble something close to the top of a coffee cake, his addiction to painkillers increased and he soon began to dabble in other drugs including morphine, Xanax, and alcohol.
His addictions eventually led to Angle having a number of run-ins with the law. He was arrested on numerous occasions for getting behind the wheel while under the influence of drugs or alcohol (or both) and was even accused of stalking a former girlfriend.
Fast forward to today where Angle is happily married, the father of five beautiful children, and has been clean and sober for almost four years. His life is filled with more positivity than ever and he recently found out that he is going to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame later this year.
Life is always going to be full of obstacles for most people. But for Angle, the obstacles he has had to overcome throughout his lifetime would not even fit inside a pair of Shaquille O’Neal’s pants.
For now, Angle remains in a good place and a return to a WWE ring could be in his future. As for Angle’s brother David, let’s just say Kurt is not the member of the Angle family who committed the worst crime.