For Part Two of this interview, in which Bret discusses mending fences with Shawn Michaels and Vince McMahon, his triumphant return to the ring in 2010, his place in wrestling history, becoming a grandfather, and whether or not we’ll ever see another Bret Hart match, click here.
They call them “bumps” – the pro wrestling term for the falls, slams, and crashes combatants take during an all-out, tear-the-house-down brawl. Canuck wrestling legend Bret “Hitman” Hart knows the feeling -- during his two decade career he's had his face smashed against turnbuckles, his body driven through tables, and none other than Andre the Giant press him high above his Goliath frame, only to toss him like a rag doll from the ring to the concrete arena floor below.
But the worst bump Hart, 56, ever took, occurred far from the wrestling ring, in a riverside park in his hometown of Calgary – the same city where his father, Stu Hart, operated his fabled Stampede Wrestling promotion.
In June 2002, at the age of 45, the former multi-time wrestling champion inadvertently rode his bike into a hidden, basketball-sized hole in the grass, tumbling to the ground and triggering a stroke that left half of his body paralyzed.
“If you watched you’d think that was the most pathetic bump,” Hart told me. “Of all the bumps Bret Hart’s ever taken, you’d think he could fall on the grass a little better than that.”
Nearly eleven years to the month later Hart, in Toronto on behalf of the March of Dimes, a charity he works closely with, met me in a downtown hotel. The hero I watched as a child as he battled a roster of wrestling’s greatest villains crossed the lobby – his hair a little greyer, a limp in his step, sometimes battered but never beaten.
For the next hour we sat alone in a large, nondescript conference room, Hart candidly discussing, in detail, everything from his stroke and the gut-wrenching recovery to his status as a Canadian hero.
In part one of our two-part interview, Hart takes me through his fateful bike ride 11 years ago, reveals the challenges he faced on the long road to recovery, talks his safety record as a wrestler, and tells me why he believes he’ll live to be 100.
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