Word of Honor is an occasional series of first-person feature articles written by ROH talent.
By PJ Black
Standing on the ledge of a 55-story building, I can hear my heartbeat. Everything is silent and in slow motion. I don’t think of anything. Being completely present in this moment is all I have. It’s a matter of life, death or serious injury.
It’s sunrise on a beautiful day in June 2017 and I’m about to perform a BASE jump. Two weeks prior, I was on a cliff about to do a jump, but a gut feeling told me not to so I walked down. This time, I had that same feeling but I chose to ignore it.
I stepped off the ledge and didn’t push off as hard as I was taught. I should've taken a three- or four-second delay before pulling the pilot chute, the small parachute-like material that pulls the main canopy (parachute) out of the container. I should've done everything different on that day.
I didn’t listen to my gut feeling and I got scared. I popped the pilot chute as I jumped. My parachute opened up immediately, but when the body position isn’t perfect, the canopy will extract in a funky way. It opened up, and I was looking at the building.
I was calm and knew exactly what to do because of all my training. I’ve done this over 93 times. People think adrenaline seekers are just yahoos who jump off and out of things to get their fix. BASE jumping is actually a very meticulously planned sport. Sometimes days goes into preparation for one jump.
We check the weather conditions on multiple apps. We check for turbulence at different altitudes. It can be very dangerous, as parachutes are very docile. We constantly check out the movements of nature and try to manifest the safest plan. We also constantly check and modify our gear to match the weather conditions and/or object we’re jumping from.
I had a choice to make: grab the toggles (steering loops fixed to the end of the steering lines of the canopy) or rear risers. Rear risers are where the breaks are stowed. I went for the toggles since I’ve had the quickest response with this method in the past. However, since I didn’t take a long enough delay, I was way too close to the building for this option. When you pop the toggles, the canopy dives forward.
I dove straight into the building.
Everything happened so quickly, but I was surprisingly calm. I bounced off the building a few times and then decided to kick really hard off of it and grab the rear risers with opposite hands in an attempt to face away from the building. I kicked so hard that I felt my ankle completely shatter. I was still calm.
What hurt the most was my right ring finger. Somewhere in this process it must’ve gotten caught in the breaks or toggles because the top of my finger was ripped off all the way down to the nail.
I was very, very lucky not to go through a window, as the building was 50 percent windows/glass. I ripped off a few satellite dishes on my way down, and in slow motion I saw a lady’s face as she was eating breakfast at her kitchen table staring out the window.
I landed exactly where I had planned. That was the only thing that went according to plan that day.
I had to jump a fence with one leg and had the piece of finger wrapped in my bandana for safekeeping. A friend who jumps that building quite regularly drove me to the hospital. As I was laying in the emergency room, that’s when I started feeling pain. The adrenaline must’ve worn off.
Every wrestling injury I’ve ever had, I chose not to get surgery. When I suffered two broken ankles during a jump in 2016, I chose not to get surgery. I had no choice this time. I would have to undergo surgery for the first time in my life.
The doctor was incredible. She said there was only a 10-percent chance that the piece of my finger could be reattached. I was lucky in this regard, as after two years I finally have full control of it and my nail finally grew back. It’ll never be perfect, but it’s a great reminder of that day for sure.
They had to totally reconstruct my right ankle. Doc said it was already broken pretty bad before this accident. All those years of not getting surgery when I broke myself finally caught up with me. She had to give me an epidural for pain before the procedure since this was not an ordinary surgery.
Plates, screws, ropes and whatever else they needed to stick me back together was used. There was even a piece of titanium for my finger. They said I would have trouble walking later in life and probably never be able to wrestle again.
That’s when depression started kicking in. When someone tells you you can’t go back to work or live out your dream anymore, that’s a hard pill to swallow.
It took years to pay off the surgeries and rehab even with the best insurance. I even paid for the satellite dishes that I destroyed. Two years of no income was the toughest part. I would have to rebuild my whole life.
But this is when I thought to myself, “I’ll show these people.” After all, the mind is more powerful than anyone would have us believe. I learned to meditate, which is something I should have done a long time ago. I started reading books (something I’d never done) about alternative and holistic healing.
They prescribed me hundreds of opioid painkillers, but I have lost way too many friends to those things and already had other substance problems. There had to be another way.
I found a book by Dr. Joe Dispenza, who broke his back and healed himself with the power of the mind. This is where my life really started, my path on this journey of recovering and healing, not only physically, but mentally and spiritually as well.
The road to recovery was extremely tough and painful. It was like I had lost a piece of me, like my spirit was somewhere else and this shell of a body was just going through the motions of life. It took 10 months before I could put weight on my ankle. I remember trying it for the first time and it was extremely painful, so I took my first steps in a swimming pool, where the weight was slightly less.
My muscles were completely atrophied when I started the rehab. The first few weeks, I had doubts about ever walking again, let alone wrestling. But I stuck with it. I tried a few conventional and unconventional things. I learned about biohacking -- which has been described as do-it-yourself biology -- and years later actually became a spokesperson for it. The thing that helped me more than any medicine or drug or fancy new technology was meditation.
It sounds weird, but going inside oneself you’ll discover so much about yourself and the universe. Healing starts within. I think most people go through life-changing or near-death experiences to learn something. They always come out the other side a better person. I definitely am a changed human for the better. I have such a wonderful new outlook on life.
I still jump. I’ll never quit this sport. Every sport has its injuries. You don’t quit wrestling after you’ve been injured. Nor do you stop driving your car when you get into an accident. Very different analogies, but that is how I view life. I’m not a quitter. My friends and family don’t understand this choice. It’s OK, they don’t have to. We all have different ways of living and outlooks on life.
After about six months of rehab, I thought I was ready for wrestling. I was filming a wrestling TV show at the time and didn’t want to pull out. I only wrestled about five matches on that show and it was very, very painful. I didn’t ever let anybody see that. I thought I would have to change my style or find another occupation.
Luckily, I have a master’s degree to fall back on, but I really didn’t want to get a “real” job. I took off another few months after this TV show to see what my options in life were. While I was in a wheelchair for months I taught myself how to do graphics and edit videos in Adobe Premiere Pro and do basic animations with After Effects. I learned a few new skills while I was thinking I might have to do something other than wrestling.
However, with my mediations and rehab, I grew stronger by the day. I was playing around in the ring one day and realized that my trauma was stopping me from doing what I love. I went into a week of deep healing and meditations. I felt better daily. I slowly started to do more indy matches. I changed my style to not doing anything too crazy. That was hard. I love jumping off the top rope and doing flips.
One day I decided to just go for it and do a backflip off the top rope and land on my feet. I thought it would hurt a lot, but it wasn’t excruciating, so I knew I was getting better. It was a case of mind over matter. I kept at it, and to be honest, it was all a blur as I was trying to figure out life while still doing a few matches here and there.
It took about two years to get back to where I was. Then it only took me three months to be in better shape than I’d ever been and enjoying life and wrestling more than ever.
I have been wrestling for 23 years, and I admit I was just going through the motions for a few years. Maybe this was all meant to be. Maybe this happened to put me on this path, to signing with Ring of Honor, to doing the best work I’ve ever done, to getting that passion back. Passion for wrestling, passion for life. To learn about the metaphysical realm and how to go inside myself to heal.
Looking back, it was the worst thing that ever happened to me, but somehow I have turned it into the best thing that ever happened to me.