Imagine you have one all-consuming passion in life. The thing you can't live without. And suddenly, an illness threatens to take this very thing away from you.
Michael Hopes of Lancaster, Pennsylvania is 27 years old. He's a pro wrestler, and in the wrestling world, he is known as Tim Donst. Hopes began his training at the age of 16. "I wrestled in high school, and also did some theater, so to me, it was the perfect mesh of both worlds," he recalled.
Getting ready for the ring
During his training, Hopes spent a lot of time hitting the canvas, and bouncing off the ropes. "If you don't hit them exactly right, the steel cables completely rip up your back," he explained.
Hopes is friendly and polite, with an easy smile, but his alter ego is a moody, and dark villain. "Not a dude you'd want to invite to a pizza party," said Hopes with a laugh. As Tim Donst, Hopes wears black T-shirts, a leather jacket, his hair is tousled, his look is what he calls "unkempt."
Hopes has had a successful career so far, he's a former AIW Absolute Champion and holder of the Young Lions Cup, which he won in 2010.
His career choice has come at a price. "I have had my fair share of concussions, and other nagging injuries, it's like you're always hurt, so you just get used to it," he said. It's also meant missing out on a lot of things. "Every weekend we are fighting for another paycheck, I have missed so many weddings, funerals, party invites, because I want to do want I want to do and that's professional wrestling."
Hopes says he loves the improv aspect of wrestling. "I love the idea that you can tell a story with just two people. I have wrestled in Japan where we couldn't speak to each other because of the language barrier, and the fact that we had a good match says a lot."
Terrible news on the eve of success
In February of this year, Donst was preparing for a title match, and was about to make his pro debut for Combat Zone Wrestling. Instead, he was rushed to the ER.
"I had stabbing back pains all along my right side that completely knocked me off my feet I couldn't move," said Hopes. "It took them a long time to figure out what it was because of my age." Eventually, doctors found a tumor in his kidney.
"So, first I was told I'll never wrestle again which completely broke my heart." Despite his grave diagnosis, Hopes continued to dwell on the future of his wrestling career.
"It was never in my mind a life or death thing, the only thing I could focus on was that I would never be in the ring again, because I love it so much. When that aspect of my life was taken away, it was almost like I couldn't comprehend."
Hopes received a lot of support from the pro wrestling community, his childhood hero wrestler Mick Foley reached out to Hopes and even put the young wrestler in touch with a former WWE doctor.
Planning his comeback
Hopes had his kidney removed on March 24th, and it appears that the tumor was confined to the kidney, which means no further treatment is needed at this time. And Hopes is already planning his comeback.
"I don't plan on a patty cake match back, I want a hardcore match back," he said. "I'm not willing to live my life without any risk, because that wouldn't be much living at all."
For Hopes, there's no alternative to the path he's chosen.
"It scares me that I don't have a backup plan, but I don't think you can be really successful at anything unless you really devote your life to it, and I have chosen to do that in one of the weirdest, respected sports in the world."