TEXT BY: Harry Burkett

Dana Brooke will never forget August 21, 2017—the last time she would speak to her boyfriend, famed bodybuilder Dallas McCarver, who would pass away only a couple of hours later in their Florida home. It was the night after SummerSlam, and Brooke was away at Monday Night Raw at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

“We made a point to talk every Monday night,” recalled Brooke, who was in the role of statistician with Titus Worldwide during that time. “I’d ask, ‘How did I look on TV?’ And he’d say, ‘You’re beautiful.’ In our last conversation, he said he’d pick me up from the airport on Tuesday morning and that he’d call me before going to bed. And as usual, he said, ‘I love you.’

“The lesson I’ve taken from this is simple: Tomorrow is never promised.”

Once upon a time, it seemed Dana and Dallas would share an abundance of tomorrows full of promise.

McCarver and Ashley Sebera, who would later become known as Dana Brooke in WWE, met through their work in physical conditioning. McCarver was a top-ranked bodybuilder who would compete in the Arnold Classic and place eighth in the 2016 Mr. Olympia competition, while Sebera earned her way into the Fitness International at the 2015 Arnold Sports Festival. McCarver was a few years younger than Sebera, and she thought of him as sort of a kid brother.

They supported each other and became good friends. McCarver shared many of his quirky dating stories, relating how difficult it was to explain to a girl why he couldn’t eat cake for dessert but would later go out and eat a box full of donuts. They didn’t understand his dietary needs, his exercise regimen, or the lifestyle of a man who had to travel the world to make a living.

Brooke, because of her fitness background and her blossoming WWE career, understood what McCarver was going through. She knew about the constant training necessary to be a wrestler, the challenge to find ways to work out while on the road, and the desire to hit the gym on her days off. Dana understood Dallas because they were so much alike.

“After a while, it was like, what are we doing? We shared so much in common, and realized we should be together. He’d bring out this genuine side of me. I could just be Ashley. I’d always heard your partner should also be your best friend, someone who brings out your best qualities and loves your imperfections as well. He did that for me.”

Brooke and McCarver both lived in Florida, but they were 200 miles apart. McCarver met up with Brooke after a Raw in Uniondale, New York, and persuaded her to leave Orlando and join him in Boca Raton.

“I was extremely nervous,” said Brooke. “I wanted to live closer to the water. I’m so old-fashioned, though, I had never lived with a guy. My parents raised me the right way. But I moved down there and fell in love with it. He set me up with all his connections: a private gym, a chiropractor, a massage therapist, places to get facials and vitamin treatments—everything. He was like a living angel to me.”

They soon became known as a literal power couple, in the worlds of bodybuilding and wrestling. Brooke took the greatest pride in their interactions with children and their potential in being positive influences. “Children looked up to him as a larger-than-life character, and me as this superhero. This happened in our everyday life. It was such a good balance: He let me do my job, and I let him do his job. We had our arguments like anyone else. But I thought it was perfect. I couldn’t see our story ending.”

Of course, the story ended tragically when a friend found McCarver unresponsive just after midnight on August 22, 2017. The medical examiner’s report concluded the 26-year-old had died from a heart attack, with use of steroid and non-steroid hormones as contributing factors. There was an outpouring of reactions from the bodybuilding world, where he had gained a reputation for his quick smile and never-give-up attitude.

Yet Brooke’s instinct was not to go home and hide. She relied on all of her support systems: her family, Dallas’ family, and her WWE family.

Brooke wasn’t scheduled for any live events immediately after the August 21 Raw, so she had at least that brief period to deal with her grief and help the McCarver family make funeral arrangements. The next edition of Raw was set for the FedEx Forum in Memphis, and it just so happened that the McCarver family lives in Tennessee.

The WWE’s powers-that-be—including Vince McMahon, Stephanie McMahon, and Triple-H—encouraged Brooke to take off all the time she needed. Deep down, Brooke knew this was the moment she needed her WWE peers the most. Brooke insisted on being at the August 28 Raw, and she even scored a pinfall win over Alicia Fox in a match taped for WWE Main Event. Her parents, as well as Dallas’ mother and sister, were there to offer encouragement, along with all of her WWE family.

“The women’s locker room is a sisterhood—and they knew Dallas, our love and our tiffs,” said Brooke. “I remember driving with Emma, Tenille Dashwood, while I was dating Dallas and saying, ‘I can’t believe he did this or that …’ Most of all, they knew how much we loved each other. Two weeks after his passing, I went to pack up my stuff and Dallas’ stuff, and I remember sitting next to the spot where he was found. I couldn’t pick myself up. All that kept me going was WWE and the family we had created there. Bayley was texting me and Nattie [Neidhart] was texting me. Soon after that, Nattie lost her father, and I felt like it was my turn to lend out a hand and try to reach out to her. It was hard for Nattie to even talk about it, just as I couldn’t talk about it two years ago.”

Brooke admits that she’s only had two great passions: her love for Dallas and her love of the wrestling business. She’s grateful that her WWE career allows her to live out Dallas’ legacy, particularly through WWE’s outreach events.

“Dallas didn’t have an easy life growing up, and he serves as my inspiration during WWE’s anti-bullying events, during the UNICEF Kid Power events, and I remember him being so proud of his grandfather being in the military. I think of that during Tribute to the Troops and all our veterans events. His death and after-passing has made me a better person and motivates me more than ever.”

This is evident when Dana points to the sky during her ring entrances. She’s channeling Dallas at that moment and embracing the life she now must live.

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