By JACQUELINE DURETT
SAYREVILLE — Ryan Torok, who was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 4, was given a powerful visual to help him get through his life-threatening illness.
Torok said his doctor picked up on his interest in wrestling and explained to him that “Hulk Hogan is your chemotherapy,” he said, adding that Hogan was coming after “all of these bad guys in me.”
Both the visual — and wrestling — have stayed with Torok ever since. The Sayreville resident is now with Sayreville-based UWA Elite professional wrestling company. He started wrestling at age 18, and now at 29, he is a referee.
While he has been cancer free since age 7, he thought he would always remain a wrestling fan, but surprised even himself when he wound up in the ring.
He also gives back to children facing cancer by supporting the work of The Valerie Fund. Torok said that when he was a child, the Maplewood-based national charity for children with cancers and blood disorders provided him and his family with tickets for special events.
At the April 1 UWA Elite event at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in South River, Torok will hold his first toy drive for The Valerie Fund. He will also have a table with information on the charity at the event.
He said he hopes that people are excited about the wrestling event and the opportunity to help children.
“It’s going to be wild,” he said, hoping this serves as the beginning of an annual toy drive.
In the past, Torok said he has supported The Valerie Fund in other ways, such as through walkathons.
“They continue to grow; they continue to help,” he said of the charity. “It means a lot to me.”
While toy drives are usually during the holiday season, Torok said it was important for him to do one now for a few reasons. First, he said, a portion of the drive will support The Valerie Fund’s summer camp, Camp Happy Times, which he attended as a child. The camp means so much to him, he said, he even has a tattoo of its logo.
Plus, he said, he liked the idea of giving at a time of year when it was not expected.
Torok said he hopes his own story of overcoming leukemia can help others who are facing a similar scary diagnosis.
“You don’t have to give up on your dreams,” he said. “Anything is possible.”
In fact, Torok is optimistic that he will go on to realize his own dreams of moving to Japan and becoming part of the World Wrestling Entertainment company. He said he knows many of the WWE wrestling stars personally.
However, he said he really enjoys being a part of the borough organization.
“You get to meet so many great people,” he said. “I get this great rush about doing it all the time.”
He said all are welcome at the April 1 event, which is called “Luck of the Draw.” The event starts at 6 p.m., and general admission tickets cost $15.
“Come out and enjoy a great show,” Torok said.
For more information, visit UWAElite.com or www.thevaleriefund.org.