|Ex-wrestler, fan form unshakable alliance
Ailing Missouri youngster spends weekend in North Bay with retired pro grappler Tyler Reks (Gabe Tuft) of Cotati
Gabe Tuft and Jonathon O’Malley had struck up a friendship through the wonders of technology before actually meeting face to face. The two recently got the opportunity to spend an entire weekend together, and now they share an unbreakable bond.
Tuft, who is better known as former professional wrestler Tyler Reks from the WWE and lives in Cotati, treated perhaps his biggest fan, 15-year-old Jonathon, from Kansas City, Mo., to a whirlwind tour of much of Sonoma County. Jonathon’s trip to Cotati was made possible by the Dream Factory of Kansas City.
Diagnosed with Dermatomyositis
Jonathon three years ago was diagnosed with Dermatomyositis, a disease that causes damage to a person’s muscular system. He’s done chemotherapy and has taken a regimen of steroids to combat the disease.
Before the advent of modern treatments such as prednisone and intravenous immunoglobulin, the prognosis for those with Dermatomyositis was poor. Now there are numerous treatments and drugs, and more than 90 percent of patients today will do well for many years with remission being a possibility.
“You kind of lose your core muscles; you get really weak and fatigued,” Jonathon said in matter-of-fact fashion. “I’ve probably lost 30 pounds and I was small in the first place.”
His mother, Lori, said Jonathon has worked really hard to overcome a lot in three years. In fact, out of his admiration for Tuft, he recently joined a gym.
Jonathon learned he’d have the opportunity through the Dream Factory to meet Tuft more than a year ago and shot him an email saying he’d like to hang with him for a weekend. That’s also when Tuft learned of Jonathon’s illness.
“He didn’t know what was going on…he had no idea I was sick,” Jonathon said.
Earlier this year, he got confirmation he was coming to California.
He was more than strong enough to enjoy his time in Northern California, where he attended the Pacific Island Festival in Rohnert Park, rode rides at Great America in Santa Clara, and he also got to see the house where the television show “Full House” was filmed.
The Dream Factory did not organize any of the myriad activities for Jonathon. Much of that was done by Tuft’s wife, Priscilla. She was able to get numerous local service organizations and businesses to donate something for Jonathon’s trip.
One of the highlights was getting to square off with Tuft in a Halo game on a big screen at the Rialto Cinemas in Sebastopol.
Meeting through online game
The Halo game actually brought things full circle for Tuft and Jonathon. You see, that’s how their friendship took root.
“I ran a contest on Twitter a year and a half ago, where fans would submit any T-Reks paraphernalia and I bumped into Jonathon,” Tuft said. “There was a contest where the winner would get to play Halo with me online. There were teams of four, and we only had three players. I picked two winners but none of the guys had Halo or they didn’t play the game. But I knew from communicating with Jonathon that he played. I needed a third, and let me tell you, he is really good. So, we just started playing a lot.”
Needless to say, Jonathon is an avid fan of professional wrestling. He can tell you all the ins and outs of the business. If you want history on a particular wrestler or an event, Jonathon is a walking, talking pro wrestling encyclopedia.
“I’ve been to more pro wrestling shows than I can count,” he said.
The big question was why Tuft, oops, Tyler Reks, became his favorite.
“I was actually at a show when I first saw him wrestle,” O’Malley said. “They didn’t use Reks very much at the time. But I saw him coming down and I said, ‘who’s this crazy guy with dreadlocks?’ I was sitting there laughing at him. I said I’ve gotta look this guy up when I get home.”
O’Malley said he’s been drawn to the heels (villains) in wrestling rather than the faces (heroes). Tyler Reks fit the bill for him.
A sincere heart
“As his stage persona, he was cocky and arrogant…he was a heel,” Jonathon said. “When he’d cut some promos with his tag team partner, they’d be really cocky, and they’d cheat to win their matches.”
O’Malley says Tyler Reks is completely different outside the squared circle.
“He’s got such a sincere heart…such an amazing guy outside the ring,” Jonathon said.
Lori O’Malley, Jonathon’s mother, was leery about leaving her son with a professional wrestler at first. But once she got to know Gabe and Priscilla, all her concerns quickly vanished.
“They are the most wonderful people in the world,” Lori said.
Tuft retired from the ring in 2012 and now is a partner in a local digital marketing agency known as Local Promoter 2.0. Tuft’s family lived in Rohnert Park until he was 10 when they moved to Sebastopol, where he attended Analy High. He graduated from Cal-Poly San Luis Obispo.
Priscilla is a Calistoga native, and they have a daughter named Mia.
Tuft relished the opportunity to meet one of his most devoted fans.
“It’s an honor, it’s humbling and it’s emotional…yeah, I think honored is the best word to describe how I feel right now,” Tuft said.
The following is a complete list of those who donated to make Jonathon's trip memorable. Priscilla Tuft calls them Jonathon’s Angels:
Active 20/30 Club Of Santa Rosa
Cristy Burchfield Eye Design Artistry
Chris Tuft at Hansel Ford
Flying Frog Freerunning
Fran Russell Photography
Highland’s Christian Fellowship
Highland’s Christian Preschool
Intimate Skin Spa - Erin Van Valkenburg
John Ash & Co
Local Marketing 2.0
Napa Valley Film Works
Pacific Technology CCTV, Inc
Pure Luxury Limousines
Rohnert Park Gymnastics
Rohnert Park Chamber of Commerce – Vera
Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce- Tammi Matthias
Serve A Little
World Wrestling Entertainment