An entrepreneur who’s gained a following with his homegrown wrestling company and deeply personal cancer survival story is hitting the road — hoping to change perspectives about the disease by engaging and uplifting others who are fighting or affected by the disease.
“It’s so easy to ignore something like brain cancer when it is seen as nameless and faceless,” said DJ Stewart, founder of Journey Pro Wrestling and who was diagnosed with Stage 4 glioblastoma in 2019. “And when people do think of a cancer fighter or survivor, they think of some decrepit, sad person. It makes them shy away because no one wants to be bummed out.”
Earlier this summer, Stewart secured his dream job with Head for the Cure — a nonprofit that builds awareness, raises funds and inspires hope for the brain tumor community. In his new role, Stewart is traveling around the country in a motorhome with his wife, Erin, to give a face to brain cancer while planning a new series of fundraisers.
“It sounds all dorky but a fundraiser should be fun — because that is what will generate interest, generate dollars and generate somebody coming back,” Stewart noted. “If I can tell a story that engages people, I can show them that [cancer] is not the end of your life. It’s something you can fight, so you can keep going and do awesome shit.”
Shred for the Cure
Growing up in Kansas City’s skateboard community, Stewart pulled his first fundraising idea from his own life experience. From that, came Shred for the Cure.
“Shred is a skateboarding term for whenever someone’s really good,” Stewart explained. “My idea is to create a nationwide contest or skateboarding demo event series that benefits Head for the Cure and brain cancer awareness. I think it would also bring out a new crowd. Kansas City would be a great place to start the series and then take it around the country.”
Although Stewart and his wife sold their home to fully embrace life on the road, Kansas City will always remain their homebase, Stewart said, noting that he and Erin are very close to their family in Kansas City and plan to come back when they decide to raise children of their own.
Stewart’s major career and lifestyle pivot builds on momentum from the release of “Rare Enough” — an award-winning documentary short that captures Stewart at his most raw during his fight against Grade 4 glioblastoma, while highlighting his spirit and community.
“I would love for ‘Rare Enough’ to be a series,” Stewart said, explaining that traveling around the country gives him the opportunity to meet other cancer survivors and fighters who are not letting their prognosis hold them back.
“I know one guy, Imperial Beach Dad, he’s a six-year brain tumor survivor and builds epic hot rods; right now, he’s redoing an old school bus for his entire family to live in and travel the country,” Stewart said. “If I’m ‘rare enough’ then that guy’s fucking rare enough. His story should be told more. There’s another awesome brain tumor survivor who is a competitive lightsaber fighter.”
Click here to watch “Rare Enough” and read more about the process of creating it.
Shortly after the film’s public release, Stewart was invited to be a guest on the “Hawk Vs. Wolf” podcast — hosted by American skateboarder Tony Hawk and Australian radio personality and skateboarder Jason Ellis.
“If my story got me on the Tony Hawk podcast, then other survivors should also be sharing their story on a major scale,” he said.
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As for Journey Pro — the professional wrestling company that Stewart co-owns with Hartzell Gray — not much is set to change within the business, Stewart said. He will still operate his part of the business remotely, while other team members continue necessary in-person operations.
“I’ve got to be back in Kansas City for doctor’s appointments every month and a half as is,” Stewart said. “I’ll be focusing a lot on building up the wrestling school. I think [the Journey Pro wrestling school] will elevate the professional wrestling scene in Kansas City. I don’t believe there’s anywhere within a three-hour drive that you could find better coaches, better trainees and a better facility to wrestle at than ours in Kansas City.”
Journey Pro’s first tryout for its wrestling school is set for 11 a.m. Saturday, July 23 at the business’ space on Agnes Avenue and East 14th Street.
Falling into place
Stewart and his wife had already teased and entertained the idea of selling all their belongings to live a more nomadic lifestyle, Stewart recalled; but it was not until a bad day at work in early June when the couple seriously considered what it would be like to do it.
“Our real estate agent said we could make a good profit on the house. So then, we said let’s do the scary thing and tell our parents,” Stewart said, laughing. “It surprised us when everybody was like, ‘Oh hell yeah, that sounds sick!’”
With their parents’ approval and the ability to sell their home, Stewart decided to pitch a job position as a spokesperson and fundraising coordinator for Head for the Cure to Matt Anthony — the founder and president of the non-profit organization.
“I prepared this elaborate 30-minute pitch and told Matt I wanted to ask him something crazy; he responded saying that there was something he also wanted to ask me,” Stewart said. “… So I’m about two and a half minutes into my pitch, and he’s like, ‘This is so weird because I was here to pitch you the exact job.’”
The couple’s vision had become a reality in the course of just a few weeks. Now, they are planning out where they would like to travel.
“Erin really wants to visit Napa, and there are some podcasts and other cool ideas in California I would like to check out,” Stewart said. “Right before COVID, Erin planned a trip for me and her to go to the Stanley Hotel [in Estes Park, Colorado] which is where ‘The Shining’ was filmed, so I’m pretty stoked to finally be able to do that.
“We’re going to take my motorcycle sometimes, and I’m going to take her on the back and ride the Pacific Coast Highway,” he continued. “It’s just stuff like that I’m really looking forward to. And the rest, we’ll freestyle.”
Click here to follow DJ Stewart on Instagram to stay up-to-date on his travels across North America.