DENVER - It's been a life of challenges: a rocky road filled with extreme highs and extreme lows.
For Justin Wren, life has been much like the sport of mixed martial arts.
He's been a fighter for nearly a decade, once training for the Olympic wrestling team. But years ago, drugs and depression ended his career and almost his life.
“I said 'God what do you want me to do with my life?' And I know, crazy as it sounds, I had a vision,” Wren said.
That vision turned into a mission to help a group of people that, at the time, he didn’t even know existed.
They call themselves "The Forgotten." others know them as "The Pygmies," the first people of the Congo Rainforest.
Wren has since visited the Congo half a dozen times, taking five years off training and fighting and immersing himself in their community for up to a year at a time. And he’s seen firsthand the struggles they face.
“They get parasites and worms," Wren said. "I’ve had those, tuberculosis and even leprosy. Death is in your face. I’ve held two children and buried them.”
The No. 1 killer is tainted water.
“That’s what I don’t understand. Why [does] everyone know about Cecil the Lion and some stupid Starbucks cup that’s red, and why we don’t know that 5,000 children die of something every day that we have at our fingertips,” Wren said.
Despite the dangers and challenges, "The Forgotten" find joy in life.
“Part of what I am so amazed by is that they want to enjoy the life they have while they have it," Wren said. "They laugh more than we do.”
Since Wren’s first trip, his organization Fight for the Forgotten has bought nearly 3,000 acres for the Pygmies to call their own, three working farms where they can grow their own food and, most importantly, clean water with 35 water wells and counting.
“To me, the sound of the splashing of the water when it hits the cement when it first comes out and the eruption of the whole village that to me is the most special sound in the whole world,” Wren said.
Now, when Wren enters the cage it has a new meaning, once fighting against people to now fighting for people.
“I want my journey and legacy on this earth, no matter how short it is, [to be that people say] 'That dude ... he loved people,'” Wren said. “I want to do three things in my life: I want to love God, love people and push back darkness. And if I can just live to love, then I know I’ll love to live.”
Wren is fighting Friday night in Texas. You can watch it on Spike TV. He donates a lot of his fight money to ‘Fight for the Forgotten.' After Friday, win or lose, he's heading right back to the Congo for a month.
To learn more about ‘Fight for the Forgotten” or help out, visit: http://bit.ly/1NeGVTw.
(© 2016 KUSA)