Updated: Aug 1
How would you react to your world changing overnight? Could you cope with going from peak physical fitness to fighting for your life? What would you do if you received a second chance?
Michael Manna, better known to fans worldwide as Stevie Richards, is a former professional wrestler, current owner of Stevie Richards Fitness, and the latest #GoodJourneysPod guest. In early 2023, Stevie was struck down with a life-threatening spine infection, and has been on a remarkable road to recovery ever since, buoyed by his family, faith and personal resilience.
A 30-year veteran of professional wrestling, Stevie has competed for the world’s biggest companies including WWE, WCW, Ring of Honor and for iconic, beloved Philadelphia-based promotion ECW.
Achieving many highs in his wrestling career but also suffering multiple injuries - including a broken neck - Stevie has drawn heavily on his love and passion for fitness and found his purpose in helping others along their wellbeing journeys, launching his business and now also fronting his podcast series, The Big Fitness Show. A man of strong faith, Stevie is driven by a desire to simplify and open up the world of personal fitness for all.
Stevie joined Second Mountain Comms' founder Ben Veal for episode 18 of Good Journeys with Second Mountain, the podcast series that explores the lives of inspired people and their inspiring stories.
This special episode is dedicated in loving memory of Ben's father, Andrew Veal, who suddenly passed away a few days after the recording took place. Fondly remembered as as a softly spoken, gentle man, he lived a life of service, could always find the time to listen and help, and is greatly missed. This moving conversation with Stevie pays tribute to his life.
Episode 18 of the #GoodJourneysPod is out now. Listen/watch:
"This experience is never going to leave me"
Grateful. Thankful. Blessed. These are the three words that Stevie Richards uses repeatedly to describe his present stage of health and wellbeing, mere months after a debilitating spinal infection in early 2023 unexpectedly turned his life on its head.
"It was a Sunday morning .... I worked out, and I felt like I'd had one of the best workouts I'd had in a long time. Famous last words ... [a few hours later], I'm sitting in my chair editing a video and suddenly I just can't move ... it was like a switch flipped. My wife tried to pick me up and when she grabbed me under my arms, it was the most excruciating pain I have ever experienced."
As a professional athlete for over three decades, the threat of sudden injury is always present, but it was the normality and mundanity of when the infection struck that really caught Richards off-guard: "I went from one of the best workouts I've ever had to using a walker in the space of three hours. It was just insanity; frightening and terrifying."
A VERY SERIOUS SPINE INFECTION
"I didn't know if I was going to survive three weeks"
"Every wrestler, football player, athlete is faced with a countdown of 'when is my body going to reach a point when I'm going to need major surgery?' I thought I was there, but I still have never experienced muscle spasms, locking out and constant pain to that point that I was crying."
Over the days and weeks that followed, Richards' condition and morale would deteriorate further as he sought to find an answer to the pain that he was experiencing. "Two and a half weeks of just lying in bed, 24/7 pain, no sleep, not eating, unable to drink, not even able to hug my wife ... at the rate I was going, I didn't know if I was going to survive three weeks."
After visiting numerous pain clinics and consulting with multiple clinicians in his home state of Florida, it was identified that Richards had been struck down by a very serious infection that would require an emergency spine biopsy.
"The spine biopsy, on top of the infection, was the most painful procedure I have ever had. They couldn't give me enough medication to kill the pain; I felt every last centimetre of those
needles. That's not because I'm Superman - that's because the infection was Superman."
JOURNEYING WITH FAITH
"I was away from the walk with Jesus"
Stevie attributes his incredibly swift road to recovery, first and foremost, to his faith. The unexpected setback has served as a wake-up call to the former wrestler to place his focus back on what matters most in life: his relationship with God.
"My wife and I weren't doing our daily devotionals, we'd lagged off from that. We'd gotten lazy, we didn't pray before meals ... those little things add up to having Jesus in your life all the time. I was waking up and looking at the sales numbers of my affiliate business instead of looking at one verse from the Bible for my verse of the day, which takes about a minute to really percolate in your mind, body and soul. I truly was away from the walk; this forced me to come back."
"It all translated into authenticity on your television"
Speaking warmly on the #GoodJourneysPod, Stevie also reflects back on some of the highlights from his storied wrestling career - most notably fondly-remembered Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), the 'little promotion that could,' which became a pop culture phenomenon in the late 1990s and provided a platform for many of the industry's future megastars including Chris Jericho and Stone Cold Steve Austin.
The key ingredient to success, according to Stevie, was authenticity: "It was a variety show. Everybody was allowed to be their own personality, and it all translated into authenticity on your television ... what you saw were real people turned up to eleven, and that's why the characters and the promotion lives on today. It was 100% authentic."
Episode 18 of the Good Journeys with Second Mountain podcast is out now.
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