Featured Colleague: Brian Druckenmiller’s Journey From Could-be Professional Wrestler to Valencia ProfessorShare
By Dani Moritz-Long
Few children who grow up aspiring to become professional wrestlers see their dreams realized (much to their parents’ relief). English Professor Brian Druckenmiller, however, came incredibly close.
Having dreamed for years of donning a professional wrestler’s belt and finding himself under the professional spotlight, Brian began training with World of Hurt Wrestling in Schenectady, New York, when he was only 15 years old.
“I trained for three years and was pretty good, working light-heavyweight title matches and getting some fan support along the way,” Brian said. “I wrestled under a few gimmicks, most of which were masked.”
But, when Brian turned 18, he had to make a choice: forgo his wrestling ambitions and go to college or step into the professional ring, which, Brian explains, is actually rather dangerous.
“Just to clarify things,” he said, “while it’s scripted, it hurts. A lot. While the ring has some give, every bump taken is on sheets of plywood covered by a sheet of canvas, held up by either metal bars or 2x4s. The stunts are dangerous and, while practiced, consistently lead to injury. In my second biggest match, myself (as Ekundo) and my partners Syro and Griffin took on Danger in a 3-on-1 handicapped match in which I botched a moved and was dropped on my head with my body bending in a way it shouldn’t have. I was out for a good while, but wound up continuing the match, taking a top-rope sit-out powerslam (a Michinoku Driver) and eating the pin. While it is entertainment, it’s incredibly dangerous.”
Ultimately, Brian chose to step out of the wresting ring and into academia (which, to be fair, can sometimes still feel like a battleground). He attended his hometown community college, Hudson Valley Community College, before transferring to Coastal Carolina University (CCU) to study English, where the inspiration for his next career was sparked.
“During my senior year, I washed dishes at The Loyal Thai restaurant in Myrtle Beach and loved it,” he said. “I developed a palate for spice, trying any unique dish our chef would place in front of me, eventually leading to him showing me how to cook the entrees (as a dishwasher, I did some prep-cooking, but never touched the woks). One day, our general manager asked me to whip her up an order of Drunken Noodles, and, apparently, I impressed her enough to be officially trained in the kitchen simply to serve as a back-up for the chef on busy nights (i.e. leave my dishwashing post when tickets piled up to cook entrees on the second wok). A few months went by, and the chef was offered a position at a bigger area restaurant, leaving me as the lone chef. So, as a college senior, I was head chef at a Thai restaurant. Pretty cool position to have at such a young age.”
Unfortunately, the culinary gig didn’t work out long-term and, after graduating from college, Brian found himself in a financial predicament.
“After college, I wasn’t in a very good place, focused more on partying and socializing rather than working and paying off debts,” Brian admitted. “I wound up running out of money and moving back to my father’s house to work in a cubicle for an awful company. I ignored how awful the experience was because, for the first time, I was making steady money and had benefits. Unfortunately, making money became my focus, and I completely stopped reading and writing — things I had always loved and fell more in love with during undergrad. Eventually, my lifestyle got me into some hot water, and I knew I needed to make some serious changes.”
These changes manifested as additional education. Brian applied for graduate school at his alma mater, a school he credits with saving his life.
“The classes I took were wonderful, the faculty (some new) were fantastic, and I rediscovered the love I always had for reading and writing while also discovering a love for something I never thought I’d fall in love with: teaching,” he said. “For creative writers (not all, but many), teaching is looked at as something we have to do because — let’s face it — most literary writers do not make a great deal of money with writing alone. That’s how I always viewed teaching: something I’d have to do to avoid being a starving artist. Through extensive work with Dr. Denise Paster, CCU’s coordinator of composition, I not only learned that I wanted to teach, but I learned that I had a knack for it. She was the first person to show me what I was capable of, and I’m forever indebted.”
Upon graduation, Brian taught as an adjunct professor at CCU for two years before moving to Orlando where he received the Dean’s Fellowship and a Graduate Teaching Assistantship to attend the University of Central Florida’s Creative Writing Master of Fine Arts program. During the program, he earned the College of Arts and Humanities Award for Graduate Teaching Excellence as an Instructor-of-Record for multi-genre creative writing and advanced fiction courses.
Looking to combine his passions of teaching, reading and writing, he then accepted a position with Valencia where he now enjoys teaching courses like composition and creative writing.
Commenting on what he enjoys most about teaching at Valencia, he said simply, “Valencia cares.”
“I know that’s super lame and could be scrawled on a free T-shirt from freshman orientation,” Brian continued, “but Valencia has created a culture of caring. It’s evident that the College’s administration really cares about students and faculty both on and off campus. The number of resources available for everyone to learn, explore and engage in meaningful dialogue is splendid.”
Outside of work, you can find Brian continuing to refine his craft as a writer (he recently published his short story, Harness, in the Hawaii Pacific Review), hiking (or, as he says, “all-terrain walking”), keeping up-to-date with professional wrestling and, when the muse hits him, singing karaoke.
Know of someone who embodies one of Valencia’s Values (learning, people, diversity, access or integrity), who has been an employee for one year or more? Send the colleague’s name to us at The_Grove@valenciacollege.edu. He or she might be one of our featured colleagues, subject to supervisor’s approval.