Archives For March 2014

Chad Gowing fell into such a deep darkness in late 2008 that he holed himself up in his mother’s basement. He’d cry uncontrollably, he lost his job and, eventually, he was diagnosed with depression and bi-polar disorder. No medication could right him. In fact, it just made him worse. There were suicide attempts, Gowing says as he takes a drag from his cigarette, his eyes darting everywhere but back at me. It was getting to the point where he didn’t know if he’d live.

“I told my doctor, ‘I either need help fast, or I’m going to murder someone,’ and he told me I’d go to jail,” Gowing recalls, the usual brightness gone from his voice. “I looked at him and replied, ‘At least then I’ll get the help I need.’”

Gowing figured he had no other choice, so he checked himself into a rehab clinic in Guelph. It took him less than a day to determine he wasn’t anything like the others receiving care. He packed his things, left the clinic, and turned his life around, he says. His doctor sent him away with simple directions: “Do something you love to do. And make it a party,”  recalls Gowing, now 29. “That’s where I got the idea: my friends and I like to wrestle, hardcore wrestle. So that’s what we did.”

Today he’s the owner, founder, and star of his own wrestling promotion. He is Deathproof.

Chad Gowing (left) — better known as Warhed — slams Jesse "F'n" Amato through a barbed wire table in the night's main event.

Chad Gowing (left) — better known as Warhed — slams Jesse “F’n” Amato through a barbed wire table in the night’s main event.

Deathproof Fight Club is a perfectly choreographed spectacle of arms locked and bodies tossed. Each performer is well trained, and it shows in the way they move. If fans get lost in the dance, a thundering chair shot will bring their attention back. It’s the violence – extreme violence, Gowing will tell you – that sets Deathproof apart from any other wrestling promotion. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I had my first match in (2001),” Gowing recalls.“I took a cheese grater to the face, it was a big ‘Shoot Yourself In The Foot’ for the business moment. And we weren’t selling it. It was real.”

A smile spreads across Gowing’s face as he remembers the event. He describes it in gruesome, gut-churning detail. It’s enough to bring a groan and matching headshake from the wrestler lacing his boots beside him. Gowing lives for his “extreme violence” brand of wrestling.

He rattles off a list of punishments he’s endured that range from head-scratching to bordering on insanity. There have been light tubes, thumbtacks, barbed wire, and a gas-powered weed whacker all at the hands of a Quebec-based indie wrestler who went by the name Viking.

“It took us three tries to get the weed whacker actually running,” Gowing recalls. “A fan yelled at us to put it up on the middle rope, and that actually got it going. (Viking) booted me in the stomach and took control of the weed whacker. I held on to the head of it, and I was scared shitless, starting to shake. I looked up at him and he shoved it straight in my stom- ach and pulled the trigger.”

It was what’s known as a “spot” – a pre-planned sequence or combination of events. Gowing knew what was coming and told Viking before the combatants strutted to the ring that he would be the one to take the punishment, all because Viking, “had an 8-hour ride home.”

Even with the extreme style being a non-traditional version of the bronzed and oiled wrestling titans from the days of yore – think Hulk Hogan and “Macho Man” Randy Savage – they’re still entertainers of the same ilk, and they bleed for their craft.

Extreme wrestling may not have the lineage of the WWE/ WWF, but it certainly has made some roots in North America.

Philadelphia in the early ‘90s was home to some of the most inspired wrestling in ages when the City of Brotherly Love and Eastern Championship Wrestling changed the wrestling landscape. ECW broke ties with powerhouse National Wrestling Alliance, changed its name to Extreme Championship Wrestling, and never looked back.

“I loved ECW!” Gowing says, lighting up at the mention of the promotion that made extreme wrestling mainstream. “I taped every single one of them on TNN when they were on that network, and I still have them all taped on VHS aside from a few episodes.”

It’s Gowing’s passion and childlike exuberance for the extreme style that has helped him build a respectable sta- ble of wrestlers, including 32-year-old Michelle Cooper, known to Deathproof fans as Jewells Malone. A familiar face at Deathproof events, Cooper says the reaction to a woman in extreme violence is often mixed and that some can be, “a bit standoffish,” but she has no designs of stopping anytime soon.

“My goal is to get as much training and work experience as I can,” said Cooper. “I want to go to Japan, the UK, Germany, Mexico, different parts of Canada, you know. But at the same time, I would also like to [wrestle] internationally and make it on TV. It would be amazing if I could land a contract with TNA or WWE. That would be absolutely fantastic.”

Cooper, who both kick boxed and fought muay thai for three years before getting into wrestling, said her in-ring persona is just, “Michelle turned up 10 times,” adding she’s attracted to the aggression and the attention that extreme violence brings.

“It’s not wrestling like it used to be (in the early WWF days),” said Cooper. “I’ve been seeing wrestling every single day, and it’s usually just the same old thing. Deathproof is different. It’s got a little bit more… strange to it.”

Even with the element of “strange,” as Cooper puts it, there is room in Deathproof for a more traditional style wrestler. All a Deathproof wrestler needs is the willingness to try a few new things and the want for some extra ring time. Rob “Rage” Thomson fits that bill.

“I’m not opposed to extreme violence myself,” said Thompson “I bounced at nightclubs in downtown Toronto for years, and I’ve been a part of real extreme violence. If you want me to go through tables or take chair shots, get hit with light tubes, that’s something I used to do on a regular basis.”

And when Gowing approached him about doing some of the more violent spots for Deathproof, the answer was simple.

“Dude, I’ve been doing this for years, just not in a ring,” said Thompson through laughter.

While the wrestling business has seen an upswing in smaller-sized high flyers that can bring fans to their feet with spectacular moves – some of which make you question whether physics apply in the ring – Rage says his size and stature make him unique.

Like Cooper, Rage doesn’t dream of being involved in extreme violence forever, and makes no bones about saying exactly what he wants out of his future.

“It’s main event at WrestleMania or bust,” Rage says without hesitation when asked about where he wants his career to go. “I want to get as high up in this business as I can. That’s the path I want to take. I want to be a superstar; whatever it takes, whatever I need to do. People may laugh at it, but I don’t care what they think.”

What make Cooper, Gowing, Thomson, and many of the other Deathproof fighters so inter- esting are the dual lives they seemingly live. While none are shy about their inter- est in and love of wrestling, they each live a life outside of the ring. Gowing spends his days working for a small business, and Rage – whose biceps might have biceps – is a personal trainer.

It’s Cooper who stands out the most, however. A Certified General Accountant with a degree in finance, she works her days at a consulting firm in downtown Toronto before stepping out of the office-wear and into the ring. While it may not be something they expect from the 5’4” blonde businesswoman, Cooper says her family and friends try to support her endeavours – even if that includes extreme violence.

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Deathproof’s Jesse “F’n” Amato gets choked in the corner. (Jared Clinton)

“My family.” Cooper pauses and breaks the silence with a chuckle, knowing full well what they say and how they feel are two different things. “My family is going to support me no matter what I do. They don’t want to see me get hurt, so they don’t like to watch.”

The willingness of Deathproof’s roster to voluntarily have their skin mutilated and bodies battered at the hands of household weaponry may seem odd, but looking out for your opponent’s best interest is always in the back of every wrestler’s mind. Gowing tells me this as you hear bodies smack off the mat at Toronto’s local Squared Circle Wrestling facility. After all, wrestling is a special bond each grappler shares – a common love in all their lives that brings them together.

“You can just call these guys my family,”said Gowing, pointing out the dressing room door to where the potential future of professional wrestling trained. They’re not just people I wrestle with. They’re family to me.”

Though the only colour in their swatch is the red of their own blood, and the only dance moves they know are ones that end with a slam and the wincing expression of pain, this is their art. And for Gowing, it’s this art that has set him and everyone else apart. Deathproof reflects his life.

“I stood out. I was the guy that could not die.”

(Ed. Note: This appeared in Scribe Magazine’s Fall 2013 issue under the title Deathproof Fight Club.)

It was the verdict that brought a nation to a halt.

On Oct. 3, 1995, in a Los Angeles courtroom presided over by Judge Lance Ito, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty, and with that the infamous OJ Simpson murder trial came to a close. But for the families of Ronald Goldman and Nicole Brown, their closure was yet to come.

The Simpson trial – wherein a man, once an American football superstar and celebrity idol, stood before the court, charged with the brutal murders of his ex-wife, Brown, and her friend, Goldman – became equivalent to trashy reality television. It had all the elements of a daytime drama: the horrified news anchors, the once-media darling turned murderer, and the big shot lawyers. It sounded like it was made for TV, and it will be when the FOX network’s The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson is reportedly released this year.

And, thanks to the birth of the 24-hours news cycle, the major players became stars. Judge Ito went on to pseudo-celebrity status, the talking heads built their names, and who can forget poet-cum-defense attorney Johnnie Cochran? All of it, from the moment the first television trucks rolled up to the Superior Court in Los Angeles County, turned a trial into a spectacle.

Which brings us to the recent decision by South African media to broadcast the trial of the ‘Blade Runner,’ 27-year-old Oscar Pistorius, the man who captured the imaginations of the entire nation, atop a pair of carbon fibre prosthetic legs. Pistorius, a Paralympic gold medalist track star who made his way to the Olympics to compete against the world’s greatest on the grandest stage, will soon stand trial for the Feb. 14, 2013 slaying of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

MultiChoice, a South African television provider, will own and operate a channel, called The Oscar Pistorius Trial: A Carte Blanche Channel. Though the decision has yet to be made on whether Judge Thokozile Masipa will allow cameras inside the courtroom, the channel will still dedicate every single, solitary minute to fulfilling the societal need for a sadistic form of voyeurism.

Make no mistake, the network is not operating in the interest of necessity; a channel of this ilk exists as a license for MultiChoice to print money.

In Alan Dershowitz’s book America On Trial: Inside the Legal Battles That Transformed Our Nation, it’s reported that an estimated 100 million people stopped to hear the Simpson verdict and that trading on the New York Stock Exchange slowed by over 40 per cent In comparison, this year’s Super Bowl drew an average of 111.3 million viewers, according to the International Business Times.

The media circus surrounding the trial does nothing to promote justice either. It supports MultiChoice, it will certainly serve to endorse those who advertise, and, in a sordid way, it will vault Oscar Pistorius to the next level of celebrity, where even those unfamiliar with his athletic achievement know his name. Much like Simpson, once a face of the Naked Gun movie franchise and an NFL Hall of Fame halfback, whose celebrity now exists in the infamy of his murders, Pistorius will become a figure in pop culture. The verdict will be secondary.

It’s a common misconception that Simpson was never found guilty for the deaths of Goldman and Brown. When the acquittal came and the satellite trucks drove away, the first and final season of the OJ Simpson Show came to a close. But the story didn’t end there. Simpson was found liable for the wrongful deaths of Brown and Goldman in a 1997 civil trial that took place in Santa Monica, Ca. It wasn’t televised, and it’s often forgotten.

This trial will be – and one could posit already is – South Africa’s Simpson trial. And the family of Steenkamp, just like the families of Goldman and Brown before them, will be thrust into the spotlight. For the 17 scheduled days the trial is set to take place, an entire nation will be speaking about, forming their own opinions on, and citing their personal verdicts regarding the trial surrounding the death of their beloved daughter.

For the Steenkamps, they’ve already been subject to a full year of reading, watching, and hearing about the death of their daughter. The closure, for them, won’t come with a verdict, and it won’t come in the weeks that follow. Like the Simpson trial, which took over headlines and airwaves nearly a year in advance of the opening statements, and stayed there for months following, Pistorius’ trial stands to play out the same way.

So the Steenkamp’s tragedy will be prolonged. Not by a need for them to have their lives thrown into the media spotlight, but the need for a sensationalist form of media to make another dollar. Another family will be forced to grieve while bathed in the bright lights of TV.

(Ed. Note: This feature, written for the Fall 2014 issue of Convergence, appeared in the magazine under the title Pocket Sized Comedy.)

By Jared PD Clinton

On a small stage in Baltimore, Md., 20-year-old Ryan Sickler took the microphone and began his stand-up comedy career. In that room, he spoke to a crowd of strangers, a relative unknown comic looking for ever-valued stage time. He still calls it his worst show.

“I wasn’t prepared for anything like that and I just ate it. Just tanked,” Sickler says. “I got nervous. I was comfortable hiding behind the mic, in the sense that even if I whispered it was going to project [into the audience] so I didn’t mind being somewhat small on stage.

“But when you don’t have a mic and you’re screaming to a room full of people, you can’t be so small. That just did not go so well.”

Sickler doesn’t simply speak to a room full of people any longer. He speaks to Feasters – a bunch of diehard fans of The CrabFeast, the podcast Sickler hosts with Jay Larson. Every Toozdee – that’s Tuesday, for those not listening as religiously as fans hashtagging FTCF (F*** The CrabFeast), the podcast’s slogan – every week Sickler and Larson have a new episode online, a fresh hour-plus of storytelling.

And it’s the storytelling that makes the podcast so successful, says Dylan Gadino, the founder and editor-in-chief of, a comedy news website.

“It seems that people are really embracing the concept of conversation as opposed to a straight up interview,” Gadino says. “I think it makes people feel like they’re part of something, hanging out in the same room as comedians. I think that’s what’s really attractive about these sort of podcasts.” Continue Reading…

A Humber College student is helping create a safe haven for Muslims seeking to distance themselves from religion.

The student established a Toronto chapter of Ex-Muslims of North America which has since spread to Washington, D.C., Austin, Texas, and Richmond, Va.

The group made it clear that they “do not wish to promote hatred in Muslims,” and are not an anti-Islam organization. Nonetheless, the Humber student has requested not to be identified, and Humber News has agreed to this request.

“The organization started, quite humbly, in the ex-Muslim communities which began in Toronto in 2011, and Washington in 2012. Today, we have member groups operating and growing in regions throughout North America.

“Ex-Muslims of North America is largely composed of local groups with a large degree of autonomy united organizationally under the umbrella of the Ex-Muslims of North America,” the student told Humber News.

The group has grown to over 70 people in Toronto, with another 50 to 60 in D.C., while also beginning to spread to Texas, California, Georgia, Illinois, Virginia, and Quebec. The student explained that the group expanded through getting in touch with the D.C. group, which was independent before the cross-border connection was made. Only recently did a conference in D.C. lead to the official launch of the Ex-Muslims of North America.

“The primary focus is to create a safe space exclusively catered to ex-Muslims,” said the student. “There is a lot of stigma attached to who we are, and the unfortunate side effect of this stigma is that it’s not easy to come out and discuss issues that effect us. To find a community where you can come out and, essentially, be yourself and say things that you would not under any other circumstances be able to say around your family and friends who are of a religious nature.”

The student, who said any description of his background would have to remain vague, stated he was born into the Muslim community in the south Asia, and subsequently raised around the Middle East. It wasn’t until several years ago that the student began to question his belief in Islam.

“I spent a couple years in a state of cognitive dissonance, not truly believing, but not willing to pull the rip cord, as it were, and break away,” said the student. “I believe one of the galvanizing factors for me was a few years ago when there was a death in my family. I did notice the reaction from a lot of my closest family and friends was to become more into religion. I did go that way for a short amount of time, but I started to read more into the actual texts and supporting documentation of Islam because it was where everyone else was turning.

“Unfortunately, the more I researched, the more I felt it wasn’t true, in a sense, and that pushed me in my quest to find the truth, if you will.”

The student said that now, as he has renounced himself from the religion, he must deal with trying to understand what the reaction would be within the Muslim community if he were to “come out” about his beliefs.

“As far as what would happen, I can’t say with 100 per cent certainty,” said the student. “My family is really religious, however, they are liberal minded and not prone to overreaction. However, there would definitely be a certain shunning from the community at large and there would be repercussions for my family themselves as well.”

In addition, there is the possibility that the student revealing his choice to renounce the religion could result in consequences for his family in “other parts of the world,” he said. It is one of the main reasons he has yet to speak about his beliefs.

Sadaf said some who leave Islam fear for their lives. She also asked that we not use her full name, and Humber News has granted that request.

“Obviously, not all families want their family members to die for renouncing the religion,” said Sadaf. “It’s very intertwined with culture, so when you renounce the religion it’s very heartbreaking for families to hear, especially if your family cares about it a lot.”

“The fear is going to vary with everyone,” said the student. “Some people whose families we’ve dealt with have cut off all relations with them, and because Islam as a religion does tend to reach into cultural values as well, a lot of communities that are Islamic do not in any way, shape, or form appreciate (those who renounce religion).”

Sohail Raza, director of Toronto-based Muslims Facing Tomorrow and recipient of a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012, said that political factions of Islam view those who leave the religion as heretics and find the offense punishable by death.

“In liberal democracies, it may not be that much of an issue,” said Raza, a Shia Muslim originally from Pakistan. “However, in Muslim majority countries obviously it is a grave issue. Nobody can [renounce Islam] and live to tell the tale. Over here, we don’t even know they’ve renounced unless someone is vocal about it. But you can’t speak for the looney tunes who may take it upon themselves to carry out this Islamist agenda of punishing people who leave the religion.”

In order to maintain privacy for the ex-Muslims of North America, each new member must complete a vetting process. Sadaf said it’s important to keep the group secure because members are fearful of “coming out.”

“We’re worried about people trying to come in,” said Sadaf. “We only let ex-Muslims come in. We do have quite a few members come from abusive families. . . . The families would be devastated, and (the new members) would be in legitimate harm.”

The student stressed that the aim of the group is not to target Islam or practice “Islamaphobia.”

“We did not leave because we felt like eating pork, we did not leave because we felt like drinking,” said the student. “We left because of either academic or intellectual reasons, or because we had been effected negatively by the consequences of this religion.”

(Ed. Note: This story originally appeared on Humber News Online on Oct. 12, 2013.)

(Ed. Note: This piece was originally featured in the Winter 2014 issue of SWEAT Magazine, by the title Changing of the Guard.)



By Jared PD Clinton

There’s an old adage, generally used when an athlete moves on in their careers, that the contributions they had made to their team can’t be measured.

However, if one were to try and measure the impact Mike Duggan had on the Durham Lords golf program, they could start with the coach’s five OCAA gold medals. Then his overseeing of seven individual gold medalists and four national champions, or you could look to his ability to turn a student into the next to take over the program he loved so dearly.

The mark Mike Duggan made on the Durham Lords golf program won’t end with him – it will continue on through Tyler Martin. He’s the new head coach of the program, one of Duggan’s former pupils, and attributes much of his success to his experiences under Duggan at Durham.

“This program was huge for me,” says Martin, 28, a former Canadian Tour professional. “I certainly never would have turned pro if I hadn’t played on the golf team at Durham. It was the kick in the pants that I needed, and it made me realize that maybe I did have a shot to go pro.”

“I certainly never would have turned pro if I hadn’t played on the golf team at Durham. It was the kick in the pants that I needed, and it made me realize that maybe I did have a shot to go pro.”

Martin, who played on the pro tour for four years before moving on to a career in his family’s construction business, said he never saw the opportunity to be back with the Lords coming. It was a message from his former coach that brought him in, and Martin couldn’t believe it when he read it.

“When I first read it, I was very surprised. I thought Mike would never give it up. He just loved it so much. I remember my first reaction was, like, ‘Are you serious?’ I volunteered while I was around and on the tour, but I think Mike knew I had some interest in getting involved and giving back,” says Martin.

Duggan was right in his hunch. Duggan – who says it was time for him to step down in order to spend more time with Ethan, his 13-year-old son – said Martin always offered to lend a hand.

“He’s always been involved. To me, it was a no brainer. If Ty didn’t accept [the head coaching position], I’d probably still be coaching. He was the ideal candidate. We had the same philosophy, and he was a great fit,” says Duggan.

Duggan’s success as an OCAA coach didn’t really come around until the mid-aughts when Martin arrived at Durham. To hear Duggan
speak about Martin is to hear a coach talk about his former student with utmost respect. The choice of Martin for the next head coach meant just as much to Duggan. “It’s special because he was my captain for three years. He’s a great young man. He had a lot of potential and it showed on the course by winning all those awards. It wasn’t only that, it was his success on and off the course,” says Duggan.

“It’s special because he was my captain for three years. He’s a great young man. He had a lot of potential and it showed on the course by winning all those awards. It wasn’t only that, it was his success on and off the course,” says Duggan.

Don Shaw is a former player who played for Duggan and assistant coach Martin. While sometimes a coach can only be as good as the players on their roster, what both Martin and Shaw praise was Duggan’s ability to let them prepare mentally.

“As a coach, he was a bit behind the scenes. He wasn’t in the golf industry. He wasn’t trying to change our swing or give us lessons. He was getting us ready for the round, for that given day, for that tournament. He coached that style,” says Martin.

Shaw, who has been friends with Martin since childhood and caddied for him while he was on the professional tour, said Tyler and he used similar strategies in coaching up the fresh faces.

“We’re very player first, so we allow the kids to make all their own decisions,” says Shaw. “We just try to help them when they want help, the same way Mike would. Other than that, whether they want to ask us for help or not, that’s up to them. We’re around the course and there for them, and Mike was that way.”

Martin not only agreed with Shaw, but added the mental aspects of the game are what can plague golfers the most. If anything, Martin wants to guide his students in the ways they prepare for a round.

Craig Conroy, a second-year player who was coached by both Martin and Duggan, says the similarities are apparent.

“They  have very similar coaching styles – but Tyler brought a different element to the team. Tyler could relate to our age, and relate to playing in the tournaments as well,” says Conroy.

Despite Martin’s ability to relate to the current players on the team, he admits he struggled during the early stages of his pro career. “I did it the hard way when I turned pro. So as far as learning how to prepare for a round, doing what works for you specifically, I thought I had to be like Tiger Woods and I changed everything that got me to that point. I regressed and I wasn’t playing well. I want to tell them to do what they want to do to prepare, and to have confidence in themselves.”

It’s clear that Duggan’s teachings had an impact on Martin’s attitude towards the game, as Duggan says his own approach was hands off and to teach the golfers about more than just golf.

“[The golfers] had to respect the game of golf, respect themselves, respect their opponents, and respect the college name. We instilled that in them all around the game of golf, they have such a golf etiquette. No matter how you performed, how you looked, how you dressed, how you did on the golf course – what you did on the course was what you did off the course. It came from what you did in the classroom; you did all around the college. I took on the idea of what golf is all about. It’s a gentleman’s game. I tried to teach that to all my golfers. We developed a reputation over the years, being down to earth and friendly,” says Duggan.

“A lot of us grew up playing golf, so we know the basic rules,” says Brent Clements, who just completed his second season in the program. “But Mike expected us to thank everyone who ran each tournament, which to some people might be obvious, but to others it’s not.”

“A lot of us grew up playing golf, so we know the basic rules,” says Brent Clements, who just completed his second season in the program. “But Mike expected us to thank everyone who ran each tournament, which to some people might be obvious, but to others it’s not.”

Duggan was a proprietor of the gentlemanly side of the gentleman’s game, and Martin is taking that and adding in a little bit of self-confidence. Martin says the one line he hopes to beat into the brains of his students is to: “Do what you do, because that’s why you’re good at what you do. That’s why you’re good at golf.”

Though Martin doesn’t talk about being a professional without being prompted (fitting for a man Shaw described, in one word without hesitation, as modest), he knows it can help him get through to the players.

“I think that’s what is unique about me. I’m not necessarily a golf coach, knowing the swing inside and out, but I have the experience a lot of people haven’t had. I found even helping amateurs – things like strategy, preparing for a round – they tend to play better just making those little changes as opposed to changing their entire swing,” Martin says.

During his time at Durham Martin may have had one of the best swings on the team, and some of the best scores on the course alongside a couple national championships, but his legacy will stand as the humble man that Shaw stands alongside.  Duggan praises him as the only man he could have seen succeeding him.

“Ty wasn’t out for the individual accolades OCAA athletics are team sports, even though golf may be an individual sport. And it was all about team for Tyler. It was all about succeeding as a group,” says Duggan.

“He’s probably going to go into our Hall Of Fame one day. He’ll be humbled by that.”