How wrestler Andy Bird's perseverance is helping Indigenous youth spread their wings
ECCW champion's Bird's Nest initiative helping young people realize their ambitions
Andy Bird doesn't look like the average heavyweight pro-wrestling champion.
He is lean and long haired. His dreadlocks sway wildly as he launches himself high into the air off the ropes in the wrestling ring.
His persona, "The Dreadful Bird," really speaks more to his hair and not about his attitude. Bird is a relentlessly positive person.
"My character now is one that if you want something in life you go out and get it," he says.
"I wanted to become a professional wrestler I went out and did it. I wanted to be Canadian heavyweight champion and I went out and did it."
When Bird saw an opportunity he took it. If he didn't see an opportunity, he asked for help and followed that advice. It sounds like a simple formula for success, but shaking off one's past takes strength.
Bird has faith in others — a belief in people's desire to extend a hand and help someone up. And now he has attained his goal, he's helping other young people reach for a better life.
Homeless but hopeful
Bird has come a long way under his own steam.
He grew up in a family of four kids on a Saskatchewan reserve, under a single mom with a disability. There was little money and not always food.
He would stay with friends whose families offered help. But he remembers a time at school in Saskatoon, shortly before final exams, when that option became unstable.
He ended up spending the night under a tree and the only thing that got him through that night was this thought: "You want to be a wrestler."
"And that got me to where I am today... got me through that night for sure," Bird says.
Dream takes flight
Bird watched pro-wrestling with his mother when he was just a toddler.
It was his happy family time. He loved the drama and the comedy and the fun-loving nature of the ring. The wrestlers were big characters with a lot of charisma and confidence, and he wanted to be just like them.
Ultimately, he reached out to the famous WWE wrestling Hart family in Calgary and asked what he should do to fulfil his dream. They told him to get to the training centre in Calgary. As soon as he raised enough money, he did just that.
After training for 18 months he was asked to join the Elite Canadian Championship Wrestling league and moved to the Vancouver area to develop his character.
The Dreadful Bird
Bird looks at professional wrestling as an art form. He says not everyone's going to like a Picasso painting, but it's art.
He gets to create something out of nothing and everything he's made — from his entrance mask, his regalia and his dance — is from his imagination.
"My wrestling character is just me times 110. I just amplify as much as possible."
Bird loves the rush of hearing the crowd go crazy, including bird calls they make for him.
He's found his calling and realized his dream — and now he gives back.
The Bird's Nest
A few years ago Bird met and married a woman from Maple Ridge, B.C., whose family has been keen to support youth from Bird's Montreal Lake First Nation.
First it was a cousin who needed a stable home to finish school. Then more people wanted to reach for opportunities that weren't offered in their small community. So Bird formed a non-profit society to be able to offer more help.
Bird's mother-in-law co-signed on the purchase of a house that is now "The Bird's Nest".
Nine people from Montreal Lake are living there now to either finish school or find work in a field they like. So far, 20 people have been helped by the Bird's Nest.
"I'm trying to provide the things that I wish I had on my adventures to becoming the champion that I am today," Bird says. "I never really had a stable home. I never had food to rely on. I never had a support system to fall back on."
The Bird's Nest offers room and board. The society hosts frequent fundraisers to keep the home going. And it's producing results.
One young man from Montreal Lake, Dwight Ballantyne, was identified as a talented hockey player. Through the Bird's Nest he's been matched with former NHL player Cliff Ronning, who's helping him train and get into a local hockey camp.
Bird loves to watch others flourish. And he now has a 17-month-old son to watch grow, who is also being raised with the love of professional wrestling and the power of positive thinking.