Northern Ireland man Josh grapples with heart issue to become wrestling star
A man who overcame having multiple open-heart surgeries before the age of 12 has become a rising star in the world of wrestling.
Josh Wright (22) from Portadown has reached semi-professional status in the sport while studying drama at university in England.
Over two decades ago the odds were against him as he was born with chronic heart disease that left him unable to climb stairs without getting breathless.
"I was born with two of my heart valves not working properly and they both needed replaced," Josh said.
"I had my first operation at six weeks old, the second at 18 months, the third aged four and the fourth at 11.
"I needed the valves replaced every so often because I needed bigger valves as I got older.
"Growing up at primary school in Portadown, I wasn't able to do PE. I couldn't keep up with the other kids at playtimes."
The first three operations were lifesaving, but it was the last surgery 11 years ago that transformed his life.
"I estimate that a quarter of every year up to the age of 10 was spent in hospital. After I got my fourth surgery I was back to school in a month," Josh said.
"Being really young, it was like having a new heart. I wasn't tired walking from the bottom to the top (of the stairs). I never could play contact sports and now I could play football."
A fan of wrestling from childhood, the former Portadown College student got involved in the sport when he went to the University of Portsmouth.
"I moved there to do drama," Josh said. "Trying to get comfortable in a new city, one of the lads in the year above me suggested going to the wrestling training school one day."
That quickly developed into a fully fledged passion for the sport, leading to Josh's debut match in front of an audience of 500 in April - a proud moment for dad Andrew, mum Julie and brother Charlie (18).
"I don't think my mum saw much of the match with her face behind her hands," he said.
"But standing up on the ropes and seeing your parents in the audience rather in a hospital waiting room was unbelievable."
Josh is full of gratitude for the work of medical staff at the Royal Victoria Hospital, in particular Dr Brian Craig and Dr Gladstone, "for all the lifesaving help and support they have given me and my family over the years".
He said his wrestling persona has been very much informed by his journey to full health.
"I use (what I've gone through) in my wrestling. My character is just me times a hundred," Josh explained.
A 10-inch scar left by his multiple operations which runs vertically down his chest is proudly on display while he is in the ring. "I even put a little bit of make-up on the scar to enhance it and away I go," he said.
"At school when I got changed for PE, I was bullied for my scar for many years, but it's made my wrestling career what it is so far.
"A scar is just as much a part of you as your hands. Don't be afraid to embrace it.
"If someone told me as a four-year-old kid that I was going to be a semi-professional wrestler, I wouldn't have believed them."
Josh, whose wrestling name in the ring is AJ Wright, is due to stage his third match in the autumn with tag team partner Kai Cayden.
Currently with Portsmouth promoters and trainers Revolution Pro Wrestling, he has set his sights on going professional and in the long-term is considering moving to London or the US in the hope of achieving his dream. In the short-term he plans to stay in the south of England.
Wherever the sport takes him, he would love to have a bout in Northern Ireland.
"That would be great. It would be really cool to come home to do one. You never know," Josh added.