By Chuck Carroll
(CBS New York/CBS Local) — When Dana Warrior, widow of the Ultimate Warrior, was first introduced to the world of WWE six years ago, she couldn’t have imagined the emotional roller coaster that was to come. No amount of planning could sufficiently prepare for a life that would be shattered in the blink of an eye.
Likewise, it would be equally impossible to predict the journey she would embark on as part of the healing process.
For years, even the most fleeting of ideas that her life would ever intersect with sports entertainment seemed far-fetched at best. Too much bad blood existed between her husband, wrestling legend The Ultimate Warrior, and WWE Chairman Vince McMahon for that to ever happen. The feud between the man who had become one of wrestling’s biggest and brightest (literally and figuratively) stars and the man who helped create him had stretched well past a decade. And relations between the two showed no signs of thawing.
But in wrestling there is an often uttered mantra: “Never say never.”
The year was 2013. News broke that Warrior and McMahon had shockingly mended fences, ending their longstanding bitter dispute. The iconic wrestler would return to WWE to become the unlikely face of the WWE 2K14 video game. The following year he would be inducted into the Hall of Fame and take his rightful place among wrestling’s pioneers. He would appear at WrestleMania XXX the night after his induction and go on to make an impassioned speech about his character the night after that in front of an audience of millions on RAW. The now infamous promo would turn out to be his final public appearance.
Less than 24 hours later, The Ultimate Warrior would be dead.
With Dana Warrior by his side, he suddenly collapsed while walking outside of a hotel in Scottsdale, Arizona and efforts to revive him would be unsuccessful. The 54-year-old had fallen victim to cardiovascular disease, according to officials.
Shutting out the world and sinking into a dark depression was not an option for Dana Warrior. She channeled her grief into making a difference in the world, driven to philanthropy by wanting to be a role model for the couple’s two young daughters who were now without a father.
“You’re going to be sad for a very long time but you’ll never be scared because I will take care of you,” she told them.
While acting as a pillar of strength for her children, her own spirits were being buoyed by her new family in WWE which had rallied around her with overwhelming support. Their bond had been forged in tragedy and has only strengthened over time.
In honor of her late husband, the company created the Warrior Award, which is bestowed annually at the Hall of Fame ceremony to those who exhibit the “unwavering strength and perseverance” that embody the spirit of the Ultimate Warrior character.
Since presenting the inaugural award in 2015, Dana Warrior has become a stalwart supporter of WWE’s massive philanthropic endeavors. She regularly serves as a brand ambassador at the company’s charitable events, including during the recent WrestleMania week, when she crisscrossed the New York tri-state area to lend her presence to many of the more than a dozen functions on the WWE calendar.
Her itinerary, which included a Special Olympics Unified Basketball Game, a Superstars for Hope event, the Warrior Award Presentation and the Be-A-Star Anti-Bullying Rally, was chaotic. But she’s all too happy to have her time stretched thin as she continues to serve as a role model for her daughters and express her gratitude to the fans who have lent their strength and support since her husband’s passing.
“I have such a grateful heart for being around people that are excited to meet us. It’s an honor truly. I never want to stop,” she said.
In addition to her duties as a brand ambassador, Dana Warrior is now taking on a new and somewhat surprising role as a member of WWE’s creative team. She is among the writers tasked with crafting the often larger-than-life storylines that play out on-screen each week. She is hesitant to disclose which characters and angles she’s had a hand in creating, but says fans have already seen some of her work.
I had an opportunity to catch up with Dana Warrior at one of the bevy of functions surrounding the company’s biggest event of the year. She was cooling down after participating in a Zumba class led by former WWE SmackDown Women’s Champion Carmella. The event was being held to raise funds for the Susan G. Komen Foundation, one of the company’s largest initiatives.
You really seem to get such joy from these events. It’s clear that you exude it just watching you interact with the kids and having fun out there. How much personal satisfaction do you get out from this?
I can’t even tell you what I get. I don’t think about what it is that I’m receiving, except that I’m so grateful. I have such a grateful heart for being around people that are excited to meet us. It’s an honor truly. I never want to stop. I never don’t want to interact with the WWE Universe, because truly they’re the ones that sustain us. They’re the ones that cheer for the characters or boo for the characters. But I love this business. I love the people that support it, and I feel passionate and fortunate. Really, really fortunate to take part.
Did you envision getting so ingrained [with WWE] and taking on as much as you have?
What’s the saying? If you want to make God laugh, tell him [about] your plans.
I couldn’t have planned for this. I really couldn’t have. But one of the things that when my husband passed away, and it’ll be five years ago on April 8th, one of the things that I did, I never laid down, I never sat down, I never laid down. I wore a dress for a year, because you can’t lay down in a dress. And I thought to myself [that] I will show my daughters strength and I will never let them be afraid.
I will never let them wonder if they’re going to be okay. The first thing I said to them was, “You’re gonna be sad for a very long time, but you’ll never be scared, because I will take care of you.” And in that strength, I just kept moving forward, because there is no direction other than forward in life. And so I guess, to me, I want to be an example to my daughters and other women, that when things happen to you, you have a choice. And when you have a choice, always choose good. Because if you choose good, it will reward you, even though you’re not seeking rewards.
And now you’re moving forward and you have a new role with the company. Talk to me a little bit about what it is that you’re doing now?
Well, I was invited to be a part of the creative team. I was absolutely thunderstruck and excited, and it’s an honor. I’ve been a writer since the time I was small. That was what I identified as. Since third grade, when I won my first award at a book fair. I’ve always called myself a writer, and then I put my own addition on the shelf when I got married to raise my children.
I still wrote children’s books. I still taught them both to read by the time that they were four. Because I think literacy is such an incredibly important civil right, quite frankly. And I love literature. I love words. And it was a complete surprise to be invited to take part.But now that I am, I champion women’s voices and authentic women’s voices. And that opportunity given to me by our chairman is just an example of how he champions women in this industry too.
And talk about evolution. We have really grown, and it was an honor to be able to break a glass ceiling.
I know that you’re probably feel like you’re still getting settled into that role. Have we seen any of your ideas, your writing on screen yet?
You have, but it’s also so collaborative that I would never point out and take credit for things that are collaborative teamwork… Which is the greatest part of writing in that setting. And when people identify that’s mine, no it’s not. It’s an idea, and it’s fluid, and everybody adds a little something to it. One person can have this idea and by the end of it, it’s something completely different, but better. And that is what our chairman really does.
He’s the figurehead of making better ideas, searching for great solutions, and enlisting people to help him get there.
Are you loving it?
I adore it. But there’s nothing in life that I don’t wake up … no matter what happens and whatever I’ve faced. And I faced some pretty rough things that I’ve never, I wouldn’t speak of publicly, because [with] every challenge… if you choose to go forward and do the very best you can and keep slugging and never lay down — never give up — in a way you prepare yourself for success. And that’s only outcome I’m willing to have.
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.