By Jim McElhatton (Photo/Sawyer McElhatton)
Nyla Rose made no secret of her career plans during high school, though none of her T.C. Williams classmates back in 2000 believed her dream of becoming a pro wrestler would come true.
But on Saturday night, there she was, picking up and tossing two other wrestlers — at the same time, no less — into the corner of a ring inside a gymnasium in Gaithersburg, Md. Rose has been a part of a pro-wrestling circuit based in West Virginia for almost two years.
An operations manager in Annandale by day, she hopes to eventually make pro wrestling a full-time job. It’s a big payday if she can make it to the upper reaches of the business. The WWE — a publicly traded company — makes hundreds of millions in revenue each year, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings.
And its top performers can earn millions.
But for every famous wrestler like Hulk Hogan and The Rock, there are many more like Rose who scrap and claw their way through local circuits in hopes of landing a big break. It’s not an easy life. She deals with a litany of injuries, buys her own health insurance and often loses more money than she makes on a given night.
Still, it’s worth it.
“My grandmother’s the one who got me into it,” Rose said after her Saturday night match. “She used to watch it on TV religiously, and I’d sit there with her.”
Following high school, she went to a wrestling school in Manassas, which has since closed. She temporarily fell away from wrestling but found herself in Berkley, W.Va., about two years ago after seeing a brochure for Covey Pro Wrestling.
She tried out and has been with the company ever since. Cody Covey, an Army veteran who started the wrestling company after returning from Iraq, said Rose has been a good addition to his stable of wrestlers, who include the likes of “John Boy Justice,” “Justin Thyme” and “Big Budda.”
“She works hard,” he said. “She knows what she’s doing out there.”
Rose said her moniker in the ring — the “Native Beast” — came about, in part, because she is American Indian, her ancestors hailing from the Oneida Tribe.
“I wanted to play that up and bring awareness and pride to my heritage,” she said. “I can be very aggressive, so somebody one day said, ‘That’s a beast of a woman,’ because I am stronger than I look and I can be aggressive. Hence, the Native Beast, that’s how that was born.”
Rose said nothing really prepared her for getting into the ring. In ways, she said, it’s almost like ballet.
The participants execute perfectly timed moves, sometimes flipping their bodies in and out of the ring. She insists it’s all quite real, pulling up a sleeve to reveal what she expected to be a big bruise the next day.
“Half of it is learning to execute moves, and the other half is learning to defend yourself against somebody else’s moves,” she said.
“But don’t just go get yourself a pair of boots and think you’re going to be a pro wrestler and think that’s all there is to it, because you’re not going to cut it.”
At about 10 p.m. Saturday, minutes after the Gaithersburg event ended, Rose was preparing to drive all night to Saginaw, Mich., for another match Sunday. Then, she would to turn right around to get back to work on time early Monday.
“At this level, it’s really a labor of love,” she said.
The hope for Rose and many of her colleagues is to one day earn a tryout and — hopefully — a contract in a more high-profile, better-paying job, perhaps with the WWE. She’s still learning what it takes to advance.
To move on, she said, she’ll need to make the right connections and get her name out. But for now, she’s happy to be living her dream.
When she sees old classmates around Alexandria, she tells them what’s she’s doing these days. And the reactions range from shock to pleasant surprise.
“It was one of those things where nobody believed it would happen,” Rose said. “And everybody says, ‘Oh wow, you actually did it.’”