They Will Carry The Torch

Florida Times-Union – October 5, 2001
By Gordon Jackson

KINGSLAND — Bruce Pobanz made his living for 24 years by wearing a mask, carrying a noose and busting wooden chairs over skulls — often his own — before retiring two years ago.

After work, Pobanz, also known as the professional wrestler The Hangman, autographed chunks of shattered chairs picked up by fans during his matches.

“Having 30,000 people cheer for you, that’s the part I miss,” Pobanz said. “The more chairs I broke, the more money I made. But every morning my body tells me where I’ve been.”

Despite the fame of being a former light-heavyweight champion, Pobanz said a recent honor overshadows anything he accomplished as a professional wrestler.

Pobanz, 44, was selected, along with his wife, Jacqueline Branch-Pobanz, to carry the Olympic torch Dec. 7 on the route between Jacksonville and St. Augustine.

“I think carrying the torch will be the pinnacle of my life,” Pobanz said. “Being a champion is great, but carrying the torch is a symbol of the Olympic spirit of being the best you can be.”

Despite the role he played as a villain, where he’d use his rope to hang his opponents over the ring ropes, Pobanz had a softer side when he wasn’t performing.

Pobanz said he spent much of his time visiting sick children in hospitals and volunteering for different charities throughout the world during his wrestling career.

He has several plaques on his living room wall honoring him for community service.

Branch-Pobanz said she nominated her husband for the honor of carrying the torch because of his years spent volunteering for charitable causes. She believes her husband’s community service earned him the nomination.

But Branch-Pobanz said she was stunned to learn she was also one of the estimated 13,500 people who will carry the torch through 46 states en route to the Winter Olympics, when the Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee sent the letter accepting the nomination.

The torch route starts Dec. 4 in Atlanta and will arrive in Salt Lake City on Feb. 8, in time for the ceremony to light the Olympic flame.

“Not only will your nominee help carry the flame to Salt Lake City, but we would like to highlight your story by having you carry the flame as well,” the acceptance letter from the committee said. “As an inspirational pair, we will team the two of you so that you pass or receive the flame from the person who has been a source of inspiration in your life.”

Branch-Pobanz, 53, said she wasn’t surprised her husband was accepted but she never expected to also earn the honor.

“It’s just now starting to overwhelm me,” she said. “I just thought I would be standing along the road and waving.”

Pobanz has continued his role of community activism since moving from Las Vegas to Kingsland in June to live closer to relatives.

He volunteered as a photographer for the city’s Labor Day Catfish Festival and serves as publicity chairman and media liaison for the Kingsland Betterment Program, said Tonya Rosado, marketing director for the Kingsland Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“He’s come in and created new enthusiasm and good ideas,” Rosado said. Pobanz said he has the extra time to volunteer because he isn’t working currently. He described himself as a “house husband.”

When he isn’t volunteering, Pobanz said he works on his acting career, which spans 29 movies, including small parts in Lethal Weapon II, Casino, Play It to the Bone and Showgirls, he said.

He also has a small role in Undisputed, starring Wesley Snipes and Peter Falk, scheduled for release Nov. 9, and a speaking role with Julia Roberts in the remake of Ocean’s 11, scheduled for release Dec. 7, he said.

The scene with Julia Roberts may get cut, Pobanz said, because of an explosion scene that producers think may have too many similarities with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York.

Movie roles and wrestling matches will not compare with the feeling Pobanz said he will have carrying the torch, however.

And the best part is the cheers he will hear, after a career of boos, Pobanz said.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime event,” Pobanz said. “I may not be skilled enough to go after the gold, but I get a chance to be part of the Olympic spirit.”

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