"Broken necks, splattered patellas, severed arteries: These are the things from which dreams are made of."
Mike Hegstrand, better known as Road Warrior Hawk, captured the tension at the heart of professional wrestling in this quote. Participants dismiss any suggestion their pre-scripted routines are “fake.” But assuming they’re real, the body blocks, “battering rams” and “flying clotheslines” they give and receive can take a heavy physical toll.
Yet this is the stuff of dreams for the 10 participants in Calgary wrestling guru Lance Storm’s new show, World of Hurt, coming to Canadian cable network The Cave in the spring. Filmed at Pyramid Productions’ Douglasdale studio, each episode of the series will focus primarily on one of the six men and four women, all in their early 20s, as they train under Storm and build the skills they hope may eventually lead to a spot with WWE.
Storm, 41, has maintained his own wrestling school in the city for the past five years since completing his career in the ring. Originally from North Bay, Ont., he was once an accounting student, but dropped out in favour of a more honest profession.
“I was a big fan and it looked fun, and I thought I’d be halfway decent at it,” he says of the factors that drew him towards wrestling. “I was at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, took a huge change of pace and decided to kick people in the face for a living instead.”
For those who don’t avidly follow professional wrestling, perceptions of it often stem from movies such as The Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky’s drama about an aging has-been. Storm argues his show will offer a more realistic portrayal of wrestling than the film, something he feels is important for correcting public misconceptions.
“I’m not trying to convince anyone that the results are legitimate or anything,” he says, noting: “I don’t think anyone would describe figure skating as fake, yet in pairs figure skating, they send two athletes out there to execute a routine that is very difficult and they get respected as athletes. If two wrestlers go out and perform a routine, someone decides it’s fake, and they’re not really athletes. I find that disrespectful.”
With his burly build and shaved head, Storm certainly fits the popular image of a wrestler. But were it not for her hot pink tank top and knee-high boots, one would never think the same of his comely pupil, Irena Janjic. Soft-spoken and slight, the self-described “Bozzy Ozzy” (an Australian by way of Bosnia) studied law and finance Down Under and had no interest in wrestling for most of her life. So, when she announced earlier this year she was turning down the offers she’d received from firms to come study under Storm, family and friends wondered about her sanity.
“Everyone thought I had to be committed,” she says of her improbable career change, which she describes as “the best decision I’ve ever made.”
“Great decisions have always met opposition from mediocre minds,” she adds.
Maybe there’s an understandable rush for Janjic in slamming fellow wrestler Deryck Barton, a much stockier opponent, on the floor of the ring, a move that certainly seems authentic if his resulting anguished curses are any indication. People do often get hurt, she acknowledges, but she’s quick to argue wrestling isn’t just about brute force, placing it on a higher plane.
“It’s not just a strength sport, it’s an agility sport,” she says. “When you have a great match, there’s nothing like it. It’s like art. It’s really what fuels you.”
Chatting genially as they wrapped things up for the day, the wrestlers certainly seem content, any injuries they’ve sustained temporarily forgotten. Few would likely agree with Janjic that wrestling is art, and many may continue to dispute it’s even a sport. But like both of those things, it can offer the chance to pursue dreams, to escape from the tedium or tumult of a workaday world.
“The only place I get hurt,” says The Wrestler’s Randy Robinson at one point, gesturing outside the ring, “Is out there.”