It takes a lot of nerve to get up in front of people in a skin-baring costume only to be slammed flat on your back, but that is what wrestlers with CanAm Wrestling insist brings them joy.
“This is like family,” said Ehva Jones, who goes by the ring name E.V. “It feels wonderful 24/7.
“It may be painful and it may be rough, but it’s absolutely one of the best times I’ve ever had.”
Jones joined Calgary-based CanAm Wrestling just six months ago. It’s given her a safe place to do what she loves.
“I’m a proud transgender wrestler,” Jones said. “I’ve gone through a lot of discrimination in my life and a lot of people criticized me, but people at CanAm Wrestling have been absolutely open-minded. They’ve been the best allies.”
At four-foot-eight, Bruce Rutter is a fierce competitor in the ring. The Calgary man has been wrestling for 17 years.
“I get in that ring with guys that are six-feet (tall), or my height, or 300 pounds,” Rutter said. “You put your mind to it.
“Don’t let anybody tell you you can’t do it.”
Both Rutter and Jones have been targets of bullying throughout their lives and both have found strength and confidence through wrestling.
“The way wrestling has helped me in my life dealing with bullying and teasing is showing people that I was small and I went for my dream — that I always wanted when I was a kid — of being a professional wrestler, and look where I’m at now,” Rutter said.
“I didn’t let teasing and bullying stop me from what I wanted to do.”
CanAm Wrestling recently partnered with Bikers are Buddies Canada, a bullying prevention group. The groups are working together to bring an anti-bullying message and program to schools and communities.
A wrestling scholarship has been established for the Alberta Wrestling Academy named after Calgary professional wrestler Steve Gillespie, who passed away two years ago.
“He was my mentor and my trainer,” said Otto Gentile, the CEO of the Alberta Wrestling Academy.
“It’s important for me because I have two daughters, and I just don’t like seeing bullying at all,” Gentile said. “There’s no need for it.
“We need to build a loving community.”
On Saturday night at a wrestling event in Strathmore, Alta., a boy with a love for wrestling who has experienced bullying was presented with the scholarship. Gentile said it’s all about letting young people know they are not alone and that there are adults looking out for them and offering them support.
“Being transgender is breaking down barriers and allowing other people to see that it’s more than just male and female wrestlers — there’s everybody. There’s a spectrum of us,” Jones said.
“I am trying my best to be a role model for the trans community. I would love to see more people at the shows.”
At Saturday’s event, Rutter won the Alberta Wrestling Academy/Bikers are Buddies event and will now be an ambassador for the organizations’ anti-bullying efforts.