Ex-wrestler Lex Luger talks of new life in Christ
For the last five and a half years, he's also been a Christian, learning and growing more each day. God, he says, has helped him "get rid of the last remnant of that vanity and pride" that was the emblem of his ring persona.
Born in 1958, Luger played professional football in the Canadian Football League and the now-defunct United States Football League before beginning his wrestling career. He did not have the privilege of growing up in a Christian home. He never went to church, but grew up chasing fame in the WCW and WWE on a track that included drugs, alcohol and women.
"My life was a train wreck," Luger admitted. "I was burning the candle at both ends. I had a beautiful wife, Peggy, and two wonderful children, Brian and Lauren. But I was living one life on the road and another life at home. I didn't feel like I was accountable to anyone.
"I was making millions of dollars and had a lot of fancy stuff -- cars, clothes, baubles -- and never realized why I wasn't satisfied. I chased a life of folly, a course of trivial pursuit. I had a feeling of invincibility. They called me 'The Cyborg.'
"I had a home with my wife and children on the ninth green of the Sugarloaf Country Club in Duluth and a townhouse with my girlfriend in Marietta. I thought I was managing and juggling the situation, but I wasn't. Sometimes when you think you've got a grip on life, you really don't. The people I thought were friends were users and abusers.
"In 2003 my girlfriend, Elizabeth, died in my arms of an overdose of drugs. I was arrested later that day after a search of the townhouse revealed a number of illicit controlled substances."
The next day Luger was released on $27,500 bail. Elizabeth's death was ruled accidental. Luger pleaded guilty to the drug charges and was given a $1,000 fine, sentenced to five years probation, and required to submit to periodic drug testing.
Luger confessed, "I violated probation on numerous occasions. I was caught for reckless driving, continued to drink alcohol and abuse drugs, but somehow God protected me even though I ignored Him.
"From May until August of 2005 things went from bad to worse. I could have overdosed at any time. It is a miracle of God that I survived during that period of time."
That August he had a nightmare in his hotel room. He recalled of the dream, "I ended up in the bottom of a pond, asking myself, 'Is this all there is?' I was on drugs at the time and actually think I died and slipped into eternity for a few moments. Suddenly, I sat up, looked up and saw a little spark -- a little white light. I was enveloped in darkness, in hell, but sensed that God loved me enough to give me that speck of light.
"When I awoke, I reached for the Bible in that room, but it opened to the genealogies in the book of Genesis. When I saw all those unfamiliar names, I concluded that the answer was not in the Bible and threw it against the wall. Although I didn't understand what was happening, that was the moment of a spiritual awakening for me."
In the latter part of that year Luger decided to make a comeback in Winnipeg, Manitoba. However, he and two fellow wrestlers were removed from a flight from Minneapolis to Winnipeg and he was held without bond due to his outstanding felony charges and failing to obtain permission to leave the country from his parole officer. After remaining in the Hennepin County (Minn.) jail for two weeks, he was extradited to Georgia to stand trial.
Luger was sentenced to three months in the Cobb County jail where he began to receive visits from Steve Baskin, a Baptist pastor in Kennesaw. When he was told that a pastor had come to visit him, Luger shouted, "I don't want to talk to any preacher!"
During this time of incarceration, Baskin was continuously visiting others in the jail. Luger would persistently wave him away, indicating that he had no interest in talking.
Then Baskin started smuggling small containers of peanut butter to Luger, who claimed he was always hungry. Lugar also knew that the only way to get out of the "pod" was to see the pastor/chaplain. He started accepting Baskin's visits, and a relationship ensued.
By March of 2006 Luger was released from the jail and went back to the same extended stay hotel room where he had overdosed and had had the nightmare the previous August.
One day he happened to meet Baskin at Gold's Gym and the preacher asked "The Total Package" to help him get into shape, to become his physical trainer.
Luger said he thought to himself, "I will give him a workout he will never forget. I am going to make him so sore, he'll never set foot in a gym again."
Luger's idea of an impossible workout schedule for Baskin didn't work. Baskin kept coming back for more. The wrestler admitted, "I couldn't run him off."
The people in the gym began to ask Luger who he was training and when he replied, "He's a preacher, a jail chaplain," they were in shock.
Luger remarked, "Steve started taking me to all kinds of places -- to places like Golden Corral and Wal-Mart. I would never have been caught dead in Wal-Mart, but I soon realized he was taking me to places where my fans were. I was shocked at people's reactions.
"He also started giving me books to read like Josh McDowell's 'Answers to Tough Questions.' He would leave Gospel tracts in his car, and when he would go into a store I would read those tracts.
"Then on April 16, 2006, he talked me into going to church on a Sunday night. I went to Clarkdale First Baptist Church and heard Pastor Marvin 'Doc' Frady preach on Matthew 7:24-29. He told about a man who built his house on the sand and another man who built his house on a rock.
"I felt like God was speaking through him to me. I could see all my stuff on sand with no foundation. All my life was built on shifting sand and was nothing more than a house of cards. My empire was not built on a rock, but sand.
"I went back to my room -- the same room where I had that nightmare -- and Doc's message was churning in my heart. Steve came and explained God's plan of salvation. It was hard for me to understand how God could forgive me for all the sins in my life, because I had made such a mess of things.
"Steve told me that God wanted to give me eternal life and a home in heaven where I could live with Him eternally. He told me that I would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. I got on my knees and prayed and asked God to forgive me and save me.
"When I got up I was crying, and that light, which I had seen as a speck of light six months earlier, became a surge of light purging the darkness out of my body. I did not understand it all then, but it was so powerful I didn't think my earthly vessel could contain it.
"I never felt stronger. I felt a power inside of me that I interpreted as the power of the Holy Spirit.
"Even after my spinal injury I was not defeated. I could say with Paul, 'Most gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.'"
"Doc" Frady has become Luger's mentor and spiritual father. They meet regularly to study the Bible and pray.
Frady said, "After his salvation I saw Lex pour six $6,000 bottles of wine down the drain. I have watched him grow in the Lord, memorize the Word of God and boldly share his faith.
"People told me that he would be back in jail in six months, but it has been more than five years and he is as solid as a rock. I wouldn't be afraid to have him speak anywhere as a representative of Christ."
Luger said God used a 2007 episode to rid him of his vanity. In October of that year he had just completed a strenuous workout and boarded a plane in Atlanta for San Francisco. During the flight he was talking with the person next to him and experienced a sudden nerve impingement in his neck. With the temporary paralysis he was unable to turn his head and remained facing his seatmate for the next three hours.
After landing, Luger went to his hotel and laid down to rest. When he awoke he was suffering from a searing, hot, stabbing pain that was almost unbearable.
"It was a perfect storm," Luger explained. "The workout had inflamed the muscles in my neck and shoulders. I was also dealing with arthritis and bone spurs. I had held my neck in a fixed position on the plane for three hours.
"All that combined to cut off the flow of blood to my central cord and resulted in what I thought was going to be a temporary paralysis."
A month after the "spinal stroke" Luger was still in a quadriplegic state, having no movement in his arms or legs. He had surrendered to Christ but "was still trying to be a super muscular poster boy."
"I was trying to be 27 at age 47, but God had to get rid of my vanity," Luger said. "I had trouble letting go of the old Lex physically. My human fleshly nature didn't want to let go of what had come to be billed as 'The Total Package.' I guess God had to help me get rid of the last remnant of that vanity and pride."
Although Luger's neurological episode paralyzed him for months and robbed him of 70 pounds of muscle, he is stronger than ever. "The Total Package" has been unwrapped and rewrapped by the transforming power of Christ.
"It's been an incredible five-and-a-half years," Luger said. "but I have learned that God is with us through whatever challenges we face."
J. Gerald Harris is editor of the Christian Index (ChristianIndex.org), the newspaper of the Georgia Baptist Convention.