The power of being positive
● By J. Chambless
Marc Hayford at the Applecross Country Club in Downingtown.
Marc Hayford is making a point. He leans in,
focuses on you, and speaks without hesitation. “There have been
studies that say we have about 60,000 thoughts in a typical day,”
he says. “Up to 80 percent of those are negative thoughts. We are
wired negatively. How many people don't fulfill their dreams because
they believe what people told them? Winners are not made by
accident,” he concludes. “Winners are people who set themselves
up for success.”
And Hayford is a prime example.
In his 45 years, he has done more through sheer force of will that most of us will ever accomplish. During a rapid-fire interview at the Applecross Country Club in Downingtown, where he regularly polishes up his golf game, Hayford laid out a life path that has had some remarkable detours.
He grew up in northern New Jersey, within sight of the New York City skyline. His first big break was a year-long stint doing security for the New York Giants. “It wasn't just the Giants, though,” he said. “It was also the concerts and the games at the arena. As far as the players coming on and off the field and the locker room, that was what I handled. I had interactions with Lawrence Taylor. Now, at the time, I didn't realize that we weren't allowed to give the players rides on the golf carts,” he said, chuckling. “But when Lawrence Taylor jumps in the cart and says, 'Go,' I did. I went back and told my boss and he said, 'What? You can't do that!' He said, 'Did anybody see you?' and I said, 'No, we're fine.' Well the next day, in the New York Daily News, there's a photo of me and LT in the cart.”
Unceremoniously let go by the Giants, Hayford next figured he could find his way in the Air Force. “My dad was an Air Force Vietnam vet,” he said. “I didn't have the mindset that I have today. I didn't have a direction.”
was stationed in South Korea in 1992 and 1993, but returned home to
New Jersey on a “humanitarian assignment” request when his
father, suffering from multiple sclerosis, was facing severe
complications. His mother handled all of his father's care at home,
showing the kind of fortitude that has shaped Hayford's own life.
He met his future wife, Christina, in Pennsylvania 20 years ago. They married in 1999 and now have three children – Kane, 16, a musician; Jayda, 14, a model and actress; and Harrison, 12, a three-sport athlete. They live in Glenmoore.
When their children were young, Hayford was working in internet technology support for Siemans, a job he basically trained himself for. With the family depending on his income, “we found ourselves one holiday season not knowing if we were going to have Christmas or pay our bills,” Hayford recalled.
Working was “a doldrums lifestyle, living paycheck to paycheck,” he said of that time. “I was on this hamster wheel, in my late 20s. I'm not fulfilled. I'm thankful – I love my wife and kids – but there was something missing.” Taking the same road to work and back every day, he passed the Phoenixville Lanes bowling alley. One day, there was a sign outside: “DJ Wanted.”
“I was always a music junkie,” Hayford said, grinning. “I had a billion CDs. But that voice that we all have in our heads started telling me, 'You're too old. You're not good enough. You don't even have DJ equipment.'
“I think there's a big battle that goes on in people's lives between their head and their heart,” Hayford said. “And at that time, my heart said, 'No. We're going to do this.'”
Hayford walked in, met the manager, and convinced him that he'd be the ideal DJ. Hayford debuted that Saturday night, and became a regular fixture at the bowling alley, eventually getting a loan and buying decent equipment for his regular gig.
“I went in with the mindset that I was absolutely going to dominate,” he said. That showcase led to private DJ jobs, and today, “Almost 20 years later, I'm still booked a year in advance,” he said. “It's all word of mouth. I'm actually booked in 2020 for a Sweet 16 party. When I DJ, I've had the honor of getting to see the greatest moments of people's lives.”
But at the time, overextended and beginning to struggle, the family took a turn when Hayford's wife discovered Arbonne, a home-based company that eventually eclipsed Hayford's income from his day job. After two years, Christina is a national vice-president with the company.
“When Harrison was born, I got to stay home and be a full-time dad,” Hayford said. Regularly involved in his children's lives and schools, he was still working as a DJ in 2006 when he found out about a pro wrestling school based in Phoenixville. “I thought it would be fun if I came out and played music for the wrestlers as they made their entrances,” he said. “So I called them.”
Hayford found out that the school already had music. What they needed, though, was referees. “I figured I had watched wrestling with my dad as a kid,” Hayford recalled. “I watched Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan, but I never paid attention to the refs. So I started training there in Phoenixville a couple of nights a week for about six months.” That included lessons in how to get hit with a chair and how to land correctly, and how to get “body slammed by a 400-pound guy without getting hurt.”
While referees in professional wrestling are nominally there to maintain order, their jobs mostly involve starting the match and then getting out of the way while the wrestlers perform maneuvers toward a predetermined ending. While Hayford said the “sports entertainment” hybrid is largely scripted, wrestlers can get hurt if they get angry and hit each other the wrong way. “My job as a referee was to bridge the gap between the guys, and know when to stay out of the way and when to be present,” Hayford said.
Overseeing the matches locally was one thing, but Hayford soon set his sights on the WWE. Like countless others, he submitted a video of himself refereeing to the wrestling organization and, not surprisingly, got zero response.
During his brief stint in college, Hayford had met a young man “who went on to be a WWE champion in the '90s,” he said, declining to name him. Hayford sent his audition videotape to the wrestler and was told, “'This sucks,'” Hayford recalled, laughing. “He told me, 'You're too stiff, you're either too slow, or you're jumping the gun on things.'”
At 35, Hayford felt that he had to act right away or lose his shot. “In July 2006, I heard that the WWE was having tryouts in Houston,” he said. So he went, with vague plans of crashing on his friend's couch for the night.
“On Sunday morning, I pulled up at this warehouse where they were having tryouts, got out of the car and saw all these giants,” Hayford said, shaking his head. “I thought, 'What am I doing here?'”
But he walked in, introducing himself as if he had been invited, which he hadn't.
There were three wrestling rings set up in the warehouse, which was not air-conditioned in the Texas swelter. “It had to be 95 or 100 degrees in there,” Hayford recalled. Eventually, someone called for a referee, “And I jumped in without asking,” he said.
He presided over four matches. Then a fifth, a sixth and a seventh. Nobody was stopping him.
“Then I decided to do a slide on the mat with my arm extended,” he said. “I completely dislocated my shoulder. I remember fear overtaking me – 'This is the end.' It was the longest 30 seconds of my life. But nobody was paying attention to me. They were all watching the wrestlers. So I took my wrist,” he said, demonstrating the wrenching move he performed on himself, “and it popped back into the socket. The most excruciating pain you can imagine.”
Then he refereed an eighth, ninth and tenth match. Eventually, the men in suits who had been watching asked who he was. “My name was not on the list,” Hayford said. “One of them said to me, 'Son, if you change your travel plans, I'll give you the opportunity to change your life.'
“So I walked out of the place and called my wife and said, 'I did it. The idiot made it,'” Hayford said, laughing. “Four hours later, I was refereeing in front of 15,000 to 20,000 people. If I could take the energy of walking into an arena full of people screaming and put that into a bottle and sell it, I would be a multi-zillionaire. The energy is unprecedented. I can't put into words what it's like.”
He toured with the WWE for months, a different city every night, and didn't return home all that time. Missing his family, he eventually decided to leave, but he has no regrets. “I got to be one of a small fraternity of people who get to experience that from the ring,” he said. “Just to be part of the show at that level was humbling.”
That experience of living with the larger-than-life stars of the wrestling world has come in handy in Hayford's current direction – being a motivational speaker to young students, some of whom still share a passion for wrestling. While the names of the stars have changed since Hayford's days, he is happy to tell kids that he once had the guts to get into the ring. “I use it as a launch pad with kids,” he said. “The one thing that scares me to death is regret. When I'm 95 and I wish I had just done something when I could. The message I have for people is to step over your doubt and fear.”
Thanks to his contacts with local schools, Hayford began volunteering to speak to young people in the Downingtown School District, as well as in New Jersey and Delaware, about peer pressure, avoiding drugs and focusing on goals. And he's very convincing.
“Right before your biggest breakthrough is your biggest resistance,” he said. “When you're being tested by the universe, you have to push back just as hard. The people who refuse to lay down and take 'no' as an answer are the ones that push through and deserve to win.”
In his school presentations, Hayford tells students, “If you're a bully, you're actually weak. I tell them to be advocates for other kids. Help the weaker ones. That's what leaders do. You will be more popular if you support others.”
He also shares the story of a childhood friend he calls Freddy. “He was my closest friend as a kid, through my teens,” Hayford said. “I tell kids that when they're introduced to drugs – and they will be – to be careful. They've heard that all before. What they want to know is, 'Why are drugs bad?' I tell them about Freddy. He just wanted to have fun, and now he's 45, lives with his mom, and his brain is scrambled, like eggs. All because he just wanted to have fun and went the wrong way.”
Hayford also speaks to prisoners, who are seeking a way out of their mistakes once they return to society. “I sit down with groups, and tell them, 'You are not your past. You need to get a view of the future.' We're all here to lift each other up.”
Hayford reaches out to everyone with a series of YouTube videos called “Monday Mornings With Marc Hayford,” during which he lays out some of his motivational principles and success stories. He has even taken on the daunting task of speaking to groups of laid-off people and convincing them that they can pick up and move on.
And he's nearly finished with a book, as yet untitled, in which he tells his life story and motivates readers to follow their dreams.
Through it all, Hayford credited his wife's support. While he laughed and admitted she seriously doubted his WWE audition crashing, she has been “my biggest supporter,” he said. “She is always telling it like it is, but has my back. She's the backbone of our family. And we are in step when it comes to our kids. We teach them to think differently and to be extraordinary.”
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To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.