Kitchener – Vanessa Douglas was standing in the storeroom of an electronics store on Lancaster Street, looking at the woman he had just grabbed by the hair and knocked flat.
Dressed in flower tights and socks matching the movie “Jaws,” Douglas crossed his tattooed arms and contemplated the result.
“It felt strange,” said the 31-year-old.
The other woman, 20-year-old Wilfrid Laurier University student, Heather Berry, pushed herself to her knees and looked through her sweaty strawberry blond hair, with a look that said the fall hurt her more than she expected. Is.
Berry had come to the Off the Ropes studio, a wrestling school in Kitchener, where Douglas, a co-owner and trainer, was throwing him around a ring no smaller than the room he was sitting in.
At the time, the lesson was how to do a “hair toss,” where a wrestler grabs an opponent’s hair, then dramatically tosses them into the ring. In fact, this move is mainly performed using a solid grip on the wrist. Long hair works especially well because it hides deceit, and because it can be easily twisted, adding the illusion of violence.
But the throw is only half the trick. The last important part is hitting the mat, or, as wrestlers say, “taking a bump.”
Berry’s first attempt ended when she landed on her foot in pain. Wrestlers learn to land flat with arms outstretched, delivering lots of impact, but sounding so loud that the result can be a broken back. The goal is to bang but without the actual injuries.
“Let’s do it again,” said Douglas.
He repeated the throw a few more times, each with a better landing until Douglas stopped and picked up a bunch of Berry’s hair from the mat.
Professional wrestling may be a choreographed performance, but it can still hurt. For Berry, losing some hair is the cost of learning to make it look real.
When Douglas was 15, living in group homes and foster care in Hamilton, she was bullied so badly that she dropped out of high school, she said.
“I still lived with my parents, parts of the time, but they had issues, I had issues,” she said.
The group didn’t have friends her age in the house, but she found comfort in watching professional wrestling, something she’d loved since the age of 12.
Bedtime was 9 p.m. but, if she worked extra, she could stay up to 11 p.m. so she could watch wrestling on television on Monday nights.
Around that time, Douglas discovered the Living Legends Wrestling Academy and was soon making the one-and-a-half hour trip to Hamilton Mountain, both by bus and on foot, six nights a week for training.
“I wanted to get out of where I was. I used to do what I had to do, which was work, and just make sure I get home on time so I can go out to training the next night. “
At the age of 16, his trainer allowed him to be booked by promoters. She wrestled in shows in Canada under such ring names as Sapphire, Sabrina Kyle, The Harlequin Sabrina Kyle and Queen of Horror Sabrina Kyle. When she wrestled in the United States, she was sometimes called Miss Canada Sabrina Kyle.
“I was going to Detroit every other weekend and had like three or four matches on a show because they were TV tapings,” Douglas said.
Her schedule slowed down when she became pregnant with her son, Jenson, but in 2018 she returned and wrestled several times every weekend.
When the COVID-19 pandemic came, everything came to a halt.
Douglas and Jenson moved to Kitchener, where she would be closer to her mother and so she and her partner, Jeff Black, could look for a place to start school.
“We’ve wanted to do this for a long time, and I was like, I really need to do this. It’s important,” Douglas said.
Professional wrestling had just gone through its own moment after a woman accused an independent wrestler of sexual harassment. Several allegations were leveled against a variety of men in the industry.
“So many women came forward. When I was like that, we need a safe place to train people, where we know who’s coming in and going out.”
Douglas says that she has always had good people with her and that she hasn’t run into that problem. But she knows that after years of business, wrestling can be different for women.
“I messaged every single girl in Ontario who was already wrestling and asked them if they’d ever be put in that position. I don’t mind calling anyone. But if you’re new to the business, that’s it. You can be essentially blackballed for saying that someone in power has done something to you.”
Once Douglas and Black found a place, on Lancaster and Brethoupt streets, they built a custom ring with the help of friends and opened the doors to students in October 2021.
Douglas believes that the Kitchener School in Canada is the only school owned by a woman and the only women’s class run by a woman. The school also has male instructors and students.
He has several students, including Berry, who is preparing for his first match in front of a live audience with wrestling partner Sarah Roberts-Smith.
“My main focus now is helping these guys wrestle,” Douglas said. “I want the girls who come here to have those opportunities. I don’t need them. I’ve taken them.”