Wrestling champion tells Ontario children to dream big.
Story by Cindy Dashnaw
A professional wrestler isn’t the most common motivational speaker to visit primary and secondary schools, especially when they look like Cody Deaner: long beard, hair curling over his shoulders, baseball cap turned backward, muscular arms covered with tattoos. His website says he “made a name for himself as a flamboyant, cocky and arrogant performer” early in his career. But when Jeff Westlake and his 4-year-old son met this gentle father of four, the president of the Kiwanis Club of Peterborough in Ontario discovered he was onto something.
“I found out that besides being an Impact Wrestling champion, Cody had started a second career as a teacher, then a third as a speaker, particularly to youth. So I thought it’d be great for Kiwanis to sponsor a tour to bring him here,” Westlake says. “We have smaller schools, about 200 to 300 students each, and they don’t have the budget to afford a world-class speaker.”
He thought Deaner’s message was one that Peterborough kids should hear: Dream big.
“He grew up in a small town like the kids around here, and he had small expectations put on him. Nobody believed he could become a wrestler,” Westlake says. “He talked to our kids about the obstacles he faced along the way and how he handled them. Now his catch phrase is, ‘Just giv’er.’ Give 100%. You can do anything if you put in the work. It’s a great message for any age.”
Deaner gives back to communities through his “Giv’er for Charity” campaign and is a recommended leadership speaker with the Canadian Student Leadership Association. Still, his earlier persona and physical appearance led some schools to “politely decline” having Deaner visit. However, every school that hosted him wants him back.
“Of the schools he visited, the teachers and principals couldn’t have been more positive. One principal is even passing out Cody’s business cards. He runs into that kind of reaction wherever he goes,” Westlake says. “Cody just does a great job relating to the kids. He’s very interactive with them.”
He gives a high-energy talk, often walking into the audience to address everyone in the room and bringing volunteers up front to demonstrate wrestling poses — always a big hit.
“Teachers can’t believe he keeps (kids) excited for an hour,” Westlake says. “He talks about who his heroes were as a kid, he brings the action figures of those heroes, and he lets kids try on his title belt. You see grins from ear to ear.”
“We really appreciate that Cody brought two presentations, each gauged to the age group he was speaking to,” says Kate Adams of Millbrook/South Cavan Public School. “Having a speaker that keeps young students engaged through an hourlong presentation is no easy task.”
Deaner also visited R.F. Downey and Queen Elizabeth public schools.
Westlake says Deaner’s tour is part of the club’s effort to draw young members.
“The median age of our club was 74. We’ve begun to build relationships with schools, principals and parents, and we’re now better known in the community among a broader group of younger people. So we are trending in the right direction,” he says. “I believe we have to reach people where they are, and wrestling is hotter now than it’s been in years. This tour is the first of what we hope will be a series of events to engage young families and bring them into Kiwanis.”
This story originally appeared in the June/July 2020 issue of Kiwanis magazine.