Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson: The Depressed Footballer Who Became a World Inspiration

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I live in the world of possibilities. If you’re passionate about something, you can succeed at it.

– Dwayne Johnson

With his million-dollar smile and near impossible physique, it’s hard to believe Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson was once a delinquent teen on the brink of homelessness.

From police custody to Hollywood’s A-list, Dwayne’s zero-to-hero journey didn’t just happen by chance. This is the life story of Dwayne Johnson, the former wrestler once known as “The People’s Champion”, who now aspires to be known as the next President of the United States.

A rough beginning

On May 2nd, 1972, Dwayne Douglas Johnson was born into a professional wrestling family in Hayward, California. An only child of Samoan, Canadian and African-American heritage, he lived and traveled across the country with his parents.

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Image credit: Success Stories

The reason for his constant travels was his father, Rocky, a professional wrestler trying to scrape enough dollars to get by.

With a pro wrestler father and grandfather, Dwayne grew up admiring his family tradition. But as the years went by, he saw his father less and less. Rocky was spending more time on the road (and having affairs) than at home with his wife and son.

The tight-knit family bounced between homes across the states and New Zealand, never staying put in one place for long. Soon enough, the instability began to affect the Johnsons.

Dwayne was getting into fights at school and the police were called on multiple occasions. Tensions began to arise between Dwayne’s parents, and arguments soon became commonplace in the household. Their financial struggles were always an issue, and Dwayne dreamed of a time where they would never have to be poor again.

Eviction and a grounding moment

With his father’s affairs out in the open and a rape charge against him (later dropped), Rocky Johnson was now out of the picture.

14-year-old Dwayne, with divorced parents and living in a tiny house in Honolulu, began to feel the weight of depression. One day, he and his mother returned home to find a padlock on their front door and a taped eviction notice. Dwayne felt helpless as he watched his mother break down crying. They didn’t even have a car to live in, as that had been repossessed the week before.


Fortunately, his family lent them a week’s rent and so they were temporarily allowed to re-enter their home. Dwayne lay in bed that night – grateful to even have a bed to sleep in – and thought about how he could avoid his mother ever getting evicted again.

He thought about the men he idolized – like Stallone and Schwarzenegger – and decided he could be like them. He did the only thing he could do with his own two hands, and began to build up his body. In young Dwayne Johnson’s mind, if he looked like his idols, he could be as successful as his idols. As he would later say so himself, this was Dwayne’s defining moment.

Motivated by his hardships and the feeling of helplessness still fresh in his mind, Dwayne began to train. Hard.

However, while his mother cleaned toilets to finance a new home, Dwayne spiraled into delinquency. From fighting to forging checks. He soon joined a theft ring in Waikiki which targeted rich tourists, jewelry stores, and expensive clothing stores. But after selling the loot with his gang, he still found time to hit the iron. Pushing his limits to become a “man of action”, just like his idols.

Football as his stepping stone

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Image credit: CBS Sports

By the time Dwayne Johnson was 16, he had already sailed through four high schools due to repeated expulsions. He finally enrolled at Freedom High School in Pennsylvania, where his unusually large physique didn’t win him any friends. Towering at 6’4″ and with 225 pounds of muscle, the other students were certain Dwayne was an undercover narc. He now admits that his “very bad mustache” at the time certainly didn’t help his case.


One day, Dwayne stubbornly decided to use the teacher’s bathroom instead of the smoke-filled student’s one. As he washed his hands, a teacher came in and instructed him to leave. Dwayne remembers looking over his shoulder and saying “Okay, I’ll leave when I’m done”, and continuing to wash his hands. The teacher said nothing, but he was fuming.

Dwayne may have been the typical teen with an attitude, but he went home that day feeling guilty. The next morning, he searched for the teacher he had been rude to and shook his hand in apology for his behavior. The teacher was stunned, and without letting go of Dwayne’s hand, he invited him to play football for the team. The teacher turned out to be Jody Cwik, the head football coach.

Soon enough and to Dwayne’s surprise, he fell in love with the game. Things began to look up for him for the first time. His grades improved and he was now solicited by colleges across the country. The coach who started it all became a father figure to Dwayne, leaving a deep impression that he recalls to this day.

He looked at this ‘punk kid’ who was disrespectful to him, and chose to say ‘I believe in you’. I’ll never forget the impact that man had on my life. 

– Dwayne Johnson

Between a rock and a hard place

At 18, Dwayne won a full scholarship from the University of Miami to play defensive tackle. He now had the motivation and belief that, one day, he could make the NFL.

But injuries kept Dwayne back –  sparking deeper bouts of depression. In his freshman year, his average grade was 0.7 and he dropped out, sinking into despair while he recovered from his injuries.

Eventually, his coach called and pushed him to restore his standing at school. Dwayne Johnson graduated (in Criminology, no less), then moved to Canada to pursue his dream of joining the NFL. In 1995, he was signed by the Canadian Football League’s Calgary Stampeders. Things were on track for Dwayne to reach his dream. But it wasn’t a pretty sight. 

Dwayne was borderline broke, sharing a two-bedroom apartment with three other players. They all survived on ramen noodles and spaghetti. To make matters worse, Dwayne slept on an unthinkably stained mattress he found ditched outside a sex motel. But if it got him to the NFL, it would all be worth it.

But it wasn’t worth it. Two months into the season, Dwayne was cut from the team. He felt lost, alone, and as if nothing was worth doing anymore. He had never felt this drained before.

With his dreams destroyed and a mere $7 in his pocket, he could think of nothing else but to join his father in Tampa. Here they’d both share a tiny apartment, where Dwayne would hide out and succumb to his depression.

I wished I had someone, anyone, who could pull me aside and say ‘it’s gonna be okay’

– Dwayne Johnson

A bumpy road into new territory

One day, the phone rang and Dwayne was surprised to hear the voice of the very coach who had cut him from the team. He was being asked to return. Dwayne assured the coach he’d think about it, then hung up. Dwayne’s father was sure his son would go back, but Dwayne took a deep breath and confessed that he was done with football. That now, he wanted to get into the business of wrestling.

His father responded with the motivation Dwayne expected, “It’s the worst mistake you’ll ever make. You are ruining your career.”  

But Dwayne knew in his heart that he needed to do this, and gave his father the option of joining him or not. So his father rose to the occasion and trained him — opening one of the greatest chapters of his life.

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Image credit: 9gag

In 1996, Dwayne had his first WWE try-out. It was his first match ever, and he was so broke that he had to borrow his uncle’s shorts for it. But wrestling was in his blood. He promptly made his debut at the 1996 Survivor Series under the moniker “Rocky Maivia” – in honor of his father and grandfather.

Amazingly, the crowd hated him. His ‘nice guy’ charade wasn’t working and he was being consistently boo-ed. Chants of “Rocky sucks” resounded in his ears at every match, and he soon realized that his inauthentic persona wasn’t fooling anyone. 

When he next stepped into the ring, Dwayne reinvented himself as the bad guy. In this moment, ‘The Rock’ was born. Soon enough he was the hottest fighter in the WWE. Reigning in 17 championships and even crossing over into mainstream pop culture due to his charisma and surprising comedy. His decision to be true to himself and portray a more authentic persona had undeniably paid off.

Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson was now at the height of his wrestling career. He had finally succeeded in buying his parents a real home, and fulfilled his most frivolous childhood dream of owning a Rolex watch. But his dreams were much bigger now. He felt he had done everything he wanted to do in wrestling. So Dwayne turned around, and walked away.

A solid path to success

With a combination of Chuck Norris and Harrison Ford in his mind, Dwayne Johnson set out to make it big in the film industry. In 2000, ‘The Rock’ was invited to host SNL. He was excited at the prospect of wearing a dress and entertaining an audience, so he accepted. Hollywood took notice.

At 29 years old, and zero acting experience under his belt, Dwayne kickstarted his acting career in 2001 as the ‘Scorpion King’ in The Mummy Returns. He spent most of the filming being sick in the Sahara desert, but Hollywood saw potential in his minor role and decided to make a movie just off his character. “Great”, Dwayne said, then leaned over to puke some more.

Dwayne Johnson quickly set himself apart in the entertainment industry.

He became known as a relentlessly hard-working actor who poured his heart and soul into everything he did. His work didn’t stop after the cameras stopped rolling either. He dedicated himself to learning show business from top to bottom, even helping to market his movies on social media to his millions of followers.

He built up his body along with his reputation, and was finally reaping the rewards of his warrior-like determination.

Leaving no stone unturned

After the success of Fast & Furious 6 (2013), he and his business partner (his ex-wife) formed Seven Bucks Productions. A permanent reminder of his humble beginnings.

In 2015, Dwayne Johnson earned the distinction of being the top-grossing actor in Hollywood. Then he became the world’s highest paid actor in 2016. Now, in 2017, Dwayne recently received his own well-deserved star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

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Editorial credit: Shutterstock.com

From being named the sexiest man alive to one of the most influential people in the world, Dwayne Johnson’s success continues to climb. His fiercely competitive nature always driving him to one-up himself in all areas of life. His past battles a permanent motivation to never stop pursuing bigger and better things.

But Dwayne stays humble and is eager to help others succeed. Every single day he makes sure to share a snippet of his life on social media, looking to inspire and motivate his millions of followers. His humorous yet inspirational posts always reminding them to “strive for more” and “have faith in where life takes you”.

His hard-earned millions are now spent on everything from colorful suits and pancakes to real estate and his ROCK Foundation for at-risk children. Where he applies the same belief in “punk” children that his former coach had in him all those years ago. Now, with the intention of expanding his dedication and genuine care for people even further, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson plans to run for President in 2020.

His secret to success? There isn’t one. But between his countless business ventures and epic gym selfies featuring “The People’s Eyebrow”, Dwayne maintains these words of wisdom,

Be humble, stay hungry, and always be the hardest worker in the room.

– Dwayne Johnson


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