The Sad Truth About John Cena's Childhood

John Cena's career has been defined by his physical constitution — more obviously as a professional wrestler but also in his acting work. But hitting the gym and cultivating his physique is way more than a means to an end. It's a lifestyle he hopes to die with. And he's taking the necessary steps to ensure that happens. "I'm trying to be able to lift weights when I'm 80, so I need to take a little bit more care of myself for the long term," he told GQ in February 2022. Cena's health ranks above all else, including his taste buds. After all, what matters is getting that protein in his system day in and day out.

As it turns out, consuming 3,613 calories that hit all the macros isn't easy, as fitness YouTuber Aseel Soueid experienced firsthand when he followed Cena's diet for a day in 2020. "I am very full. I feel like I need to go use the bathroom," Soueid told Men's Health. As Cena transitioned into his 40s, he took the focus out of strenuous workout routines and placed higher importance on other aspects of health, like diet, hydration, and flexibility. "My quest for strength probably lasted, I don't know, until my mid-30s. And now I'm on a quest for wellness," he told People.

His ability to think long-term is certainly impressive, especially considering he's been this way since Cena was a child. Unfortunately, his motivation to start weightlifting was rooted in trauma.

John Cena was bullied throughout his childhood

John Cena may be famous for his bulky physique, but that's not how he's naturally built. Cena was actually a lanky child, making him a target for bullies. "I was really scrawny — really skinny and scrawny — like, 100 pounds," he said on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" in 2019, referring to his weight at age 11 or 12 (via Cena's general tastes also deviated from the masses, complicating things further. "I was heavily picked on and bullied because of [my] choices of dress and music that I listened to," he added.

The bullying wasn't restricted to verbal abuse; Cena experienced physical violence as well. "I remember the walk to the school bus, at the very least, five times, shoved down, toppled down," he said in the "Come As You Are" campaign in partnership with Crocs (via Entertainment Tonight). Cena believed he could better protect himself if he gained some muscle mass. So he got his father's permission to start working out. By the time he was 12, Cena was already weightlifting, he told GQ.

His tactic worked. "By the time I was 15, I was 150 pounds. And by the time I was 17, I was 225 pounds," he told Fallon. "So needless to say, I wasn't being picked on." His former bullies even tried to get on Cena's good side. "The guys who were pushing me down were kind of like, 'We cool?'" he said in the campaign.

John Cena transformed trauma into a passion

John Cena was able to turn his traumatic childhood experience into an opportunity. "As horrible as a time as it was for me, it was a catalyst for me to find a passion of my life," he said in the "Come As You Are" campaign (via Entertainment Tonight). His intention never was to be seen as threatening, but simply to keep bullies away. Cena fell in love with weightlifting, a newfound passion that unexpectedly opened many doors. When Cena went to Springfield College, he not only qualified for the football team but also led it to its first NCAA Division III Tournament in 1988 as its captain, the school's website notes. That wasn't the ultimate goal, though.

Before Cena found fame in WWE, he studied exercise science and kinesiology at Springfield with the hopes of becoming a professional bodybuilder, according to People. "[After college] I headed out to Los Angeles not because of the entertainment allure, but because that's where the hub of fitness equipment, fitness manufacturing, fitness distribution, everything that applied to my degree was there," he told the magazine. The rest is, well, history.

Still, Cena never lost touch with the quirky side of himself that made him an outcast as a child. That's why Cena-the-actor enjoys working in comedies, like "Trainwreck" and "Sisters," he told CBS News in 2017. "I'm just not an intimidating guy by nature, so a bigger guy doing stuff that's opposed to type is kind of funny."