Where Are They Now? Kenny Dykstra
Kenny Dykstra wants to pump you up.
He wants to inspire you. He wants to motivate you. He wants you to become your best self, and he wants to become his best self so he can help you facilitate that transformation.
A former member of WWE’s Spirit Squad-turned- student/author/fitness guru/ordained minister/autism behavioral expert, Dykstra doesn’t speak of his life in terms of events, but in opportunities. The trip that took him to WWE Headquarters for the first time was an opportunity to apply for a job at WWE. Getting worked over at Killer Kowalski’s school was an opportunity to prepare himself for WWE talent scouts. When he made it to the big show, being one-fifth of the notorious Spirit Squad was an opportunity to make his mark. And getting released just as he was hitting his solo stride opened up a wealth of opportunities to fulfill dreams both lifelong — playing college football — and unexpected, like writing a children’s book or the pursuit of his Master’s degree at Nichols College.
“I just have the type of personality where, if somebody challenges me, I have to act on it, I have to do it, I have to excel at it,” Dykstra told WWE.com. “I never say never.”
Superstars who played football | Full Where Are They Now? archives
Any opportunity I took, I jumped on.Is this self-motivation machine an instance of life imitating art, or was The Spirit Squad just the right persona for the right guy in the most unexpected packaging imaginable? Either way, a conversation with Kenny Dykstra will have you ready to run through a wall, hit the textbooks, lace up your boots or hit the gym — and if you don’t know how to do one of those things, he’ll make you want to learn so you can. He’s just that kind of guy.
Even from a very young age, Kenny Dykstra knew, if not what he wanted to do, that he did not want to be limited in what he could do. His parents hadn’t completed their education, and Dykstra recalled a scarcity of professional avenues for them as a result.
“I knew [from] a young age I didn’t want to have any doors close because of education or experience,” Dykstra recalled. “Any opportunity I took, I jumped on.”
One such opportunity was a trip to Stamford, Conn., where Dykstra finagled his way into WWE Headquarters and asked for an application to become a WWE Superstar. He was more or less laughed out of the building (“I was like, ‘Man, that didn’t go the way I thought.’”), so he sought out WWE Hall of Famer Killer Kowalski to learn the (literal) ropes of the wrestling trade. Given that he was only 13, Dykstra was more or less laughed out of that building too, though some quick thinking saved his chances at the last second.
See Triple H's Kowalski story | Watch Kowalski vs. Bruno Sammartino
“[Kowalski] said, ‘Come back when you’re 18.’ And I said, ‘Well, if I train now, in five years I’ll have five years’ experience and then I’ll get signed by WWE,’” said Dykstra. “And he just kind of looked at me like, ‘You’re crazy.’ But he also had the look of, ‘Well, I guess that kind of makes sense.’”
So Dykstra got his wish. And Kowalski did his best to make sure the can-do kid wasn’t wasting anyone’s time.
“The first six months, he wouldn’t let me in the ring. He just beat me up to see if I would keep coming back,” Dykstra said of his time in Kowalski's school. “A lot of the guys looked at me like, ‘This kid just wants to come in here and play wrestle, he doesn’t want to actually wrestle.’ But lo and behold, I came back every day.”
Dykstra’s work paid off. He was, indeed, signed by WWE, and soon found himself on the main roster among one of the more infamous factions of all time: A sinister cadre of male cheerleaders called The Spirit Squad. Sports-entertainment legend is a bit hazy on how, exactly, the idea of the group sprouted among the powers that be. But Dykstra recalls the day he got his marching orders quite clearly.
“I remember they brought us into Cincinnati and we had a meeting with Vince McMahon. He brought us in and presented us the idea, and I was kind of waiting for someone to jump out and say, ‘Gotcha!’” Dykstra said. “And I just kind of giggled and went, ‘Okay, I’ll just go along with it.’ But then we left the meeting and I was like, “Wait, I think he’s serious. That’s what he really wants.”
WWE Countdown: Most infamous gimmicks in history | Watch Dykstra's career highlights
Anytime you're main-eventing with DX, you want to do your best.Dykstra does acknowledge that the role was difficult to slip into at first, given his past as a high school jock. But once he and his fellow Squad members — Mikey, Nicky, Johnny and Mitch — were advised to loosen up, the spirit (so to speak) came a bit more naturally. They pranked fellow Superstars in the ring. They drew on them with markers. They were as entertaining as possible, and the shtick got them the World Tag Team Titles — Freebirded among the five of them — and a few main-event matches with D-Generation X.
Photos: Teams that used the Freebird Rule
“Anytime you’re in there and you’re main-eventing pay-per-views with guys like Shawn Michaels and Triple H, you know that you’ve come a certain length in your career that not many people will ever get to, or even get to have the opportunity to do,” Dykstra said. “You just capture the moment, you go out there and you perform your best. You don’t want to let those guys down.”
The dissolution of The Spirit Squad proved to be the end of the line for Mikey, Johnny and Mitch ( Nicky stuck around for a bit), but Kenny remained on the roster, forging a singles path that included an impressive rivalry with Ric Flair stemming from “Naitch’s” conflict with the Squad as a whole.
WWE Network: DX and The Squad go to war | Dykstra vs. Flair in 2007
“I’ve been doing this 16 years, but working with Flair [gave me] 10 years of knowledge in the six months I worked with him,” Dykstra said. “Every time I left that ring, I would sit and think about what happened, what I learned and how I could get better. And Steamboat would always throw around the fact that I was the only person to beat him three times in a row, which I’m not sure if that’s true or not.”
Close. Goldberg holds the record with four. But Dykstra is happy to have history on his side.
“I’m thankful for the opportunity to get to do that, and I’m thankful for the ropes being there when I held him for the three-count.”
Unfortunately, Dykstra didn’t last much longer after the rivalry with Flair ran its course, and he was ultimately released from his contract. Despite the disheartening news, he didn’t let it slow him down.
“I always had an education to fall back on,” Dykstra recalled, “and I always had two goals coming out of high school. One was to be a pro wrestler and the other was to graduate with a degree, so I knew that was an opportunity I could pursue.”
Pursue it he did. He enrolled at Nichols College in 2012, where he’s a Dean’s High Honors student going after an MBA and MSOL dual Master’s degrees, and a two-season varsity football player. (He’d originally only planned on one, but he blew his knee out at the end of his first season and decided to come back in hopes of a more dignified exit from the game.)
Photos: Dykstra in WWE and on the field | Watch PhD candidate Xavier Woods on YouTube
But the most interesting post-WWE aspect of Dykstra’s career began when he found himself reading a posthumously-published Dr. Seuss book for a friend’s child that didn’t quite hold the same magic as the good doctor’s earlier works.
“I remember saying, ‘This book is horrible! This isn’t the Dr. Seuss I’m used to!’ and [my friend] said, ‘Well, then why don’t you write a book?’”
I always had an education to fall back on.Seizing upon some ripped-from-the-headlines inspiration and the lack of anti-bullying education in the country, he published a 2013 children’s book called “Billy’s Bully.” The book, which tells of a pair of friends who find themselves targeted by a schoolyard aggressor, enabled him to tour as a guest speaker at K-12 schools across the country for anti-bullying seminars.
“At the time, in certain states it wasn’t mandatory that kids had to learn about bullying,” Dykstra explained. “I always thought it was something they should learn about it, so if I wrote a book about it, then I [toured to support it], it’s kind of [raising awareness] in the backdoor way.”
Billy's Bully: Learn more about Dykstra's debut book
The book led to yet another goal for Dykstra to chase after a friend brought him in to do some hands-on work with children on the Autism spectrum, revealing an as-yet undiscovered passion for education within the former Superstar.
“It became very rewarding for me,” said Dykstra, who transferred to the Autism Behavioral Center in 2015 and took a role as their Lead Behavior Technician. He says his WWE past has actually helped a great deal in interacting with the children under his supervision. “Honestly, it just made my job easier. I knew that I could use that as a positive reinforcement. If we can get some things done that I need done, we can take 20 minutes and talk about wrestling, or we’ll talk about different stories. It always gave me that kind of leader role within the company. I just took that and capitalized on it.”
Oh, and he also became a national fitness competitor. “I think somebody called me fat one day, so I just got on the treadmill and never stopped,” he laughed of his motivations. He has won several competitions since then and used his wisdom to start a bodybuilding forum, KennDoaneFit.com, where he shares his tips for gym buffs looking to achieve their goals. (Sample Update: “Favorite Ab Exercises That Could Save Your Belly.”)
“I try to help people on life’s journey and help them out on their fitness journey, plus take what I’ve learned and share it to them,” Dykstra said. “Whether it works or doesn’t, I don’t know, but everybody’s different so they just gotta try it. They can always reach me through that as well.”
Get Pumped: Learn Kenny's secrets on KennDoaneFit.com
All this, by the way, before he has even turned 30.
“In the wrestling world, I guess I’d be old for having 16 years’ experience,” he said, “but in reality my age is fairly young.
I have a lot more to accomplish.Which means there are plenty more opportunities to be discovered. More schooling? As a recipient of WWE’s Talent Scholarship, it’s definitely on the table. “I might even go for a PhD at this point. I don’t know,” Dykstra said. “I never in my life would think I’d have gotten a college degree, let alone a Master’s. So who knows where it’ll go?”
More wrestling? Already there. “I do some independent shows throughout the Northeast and pretty much all over, wherever I get booked if the logistics work out well,” Dykstra said. Plus, he and The Spirit Squad still keep in touch over a group text thread. (Pause to bemoan the fact that the WWE Universe at large will never get to see this precious, precious correspondence.)
More books? Seems like that’s coming. “I was speaking with Timmy White, who used to be Andre the Giant’s right hand man; I know he was looking to create a children’s book because nowadays Andre the Giant is almost like this mythical character to new wrestling fans. To actually have something they can relate to and see what he did in his life [would be great].”
Andre: The truth behind the myths | See Tim White escort the Andre trophy
Dykstra has also already had a couple nibbles on an autobiography. Ironically, that’s the one challenge he isn’t quite ready to field.
“I’m only 29,” he said. “I have so much more to accomplish that I don’t know that I’m ready to even think about that yet. But maybe as I get older. Maybe in 10, 20 years I’ll do that.”
Sounds like quite the opportunity.
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