Professional wrestling means more than an evening’s entertainment for three Texas wrestlers, who say the sport and the physical training it demands keep them functioning despite post-traumatic stress disorder from their time in combat.
The three — Army veterans and wrestlers Jan Ohrstrom, John Brazier and Eddie Wittern — tell their story in the film “Valhalla Club” that makes its debut at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Waco Hippodrome.
The documentary, written and directed by Waco filmmaker R. Bradley Morris, evolved from a discussion between Ohrstrom and Wittern a few years ago, when both men shared their struggles with PTSD and how wrestling helped them cope with the stresses of dealing with their combat experiences in Iraq.
“It hit me: This is a story that needs to be told,” said Ohrstrom, 36.
The veteran raised money for a film, got Brazier involved as a third veteran/wrestler and pitched the project to Morris, who readily agreed.
Not only was Morris’ father a Vietnam veteran who suffered from PTSD, but Morris experienced similar symptoms eight years ago in the trauma of a missing daughter, who was later found.
The filmmaker and his Royal Goblin Films team shot “Valhalla Club” over six months in 2016, but coordinating schedules for wrestlers who live in San Antonio and Killeen, plus post-production work added up to a January 2018 debut.
The three wrestlers plan to attend Thursday’s screening and answer any questions from audience members, some of whom may be fellow veterans. Texas wrestling fans may know the three by other names: Ohrstrom wrestles as Johnny Dynamite, while Brazier, 29, and Wittern, 34, often team up as brothers, with Brazier as Mr. Studtacular Brysin Scott and Wittren as “El Guero” Scott.
Even with combat experience and years performing for wrestling crowds across Texas, putting their stories up for public consumption took a bit of vulnerability.
“It was a little bit scary (revealing things) that you usually keep bottled up inside,” said Wittern, seven years a combat medic and now a Brazilian jiujitsu fighter as well as wrestler. “But everybody’s been through it. … You have to find your thing and dissociate yourself from this weight that you’re carrying around.”
Wrestling for Brazier, who served as a tanker in 10-month deployments in Iraq and South Korea, gave him an outlet to blow off steam and anxiety.
“It relaxes me. It gives me another place to put that negative energy,” he said.
That’s what Ohrstrom, 13 months in Iraq with the First Division 133rd Field Artillery, has found as well in the physical training needed to keep in shape as a professional.
“You’re projecting all this negativity into something positive,” he said.
DeLisa Russell, director of Veterans One Stop in Waco, didn’t discount that wrestling could have benefits for veterans with PTSD or what new research is terming “moral injury.” Russell said evidence-based therapy is still preferred, but individual veterans know what works for them.
“If it’s helping one vet … that’s all I need,” she said.
The 43-minute film has been submitted for consideration by the GI Film Festival, the Slamdance Film Festival and the Sundance Film Festival. Morris, who is serving as co-producer for the film “Gus” with Edward James Olmos, aims to have “Valhalla Club” released on Amazon and Hulu.
He will attend the showing as well, bringing his late father’s dog tags.
“I got some brothers for life out of this,” he said.