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espnW: Trish Stratus trades wrestling mat for yoga mat
Courtesy espnW / By Sarah Spain
Seven years ago, WWE Diva Trish Stratus retired her famous "chick kick" and "Stratusfaction" moves in favor of downward dogs and chaturangas. The transition from the wrestling ring to the yoga mat was an easy one for Stratus, who is handling the newest "bump" in her career (a baby due in September) with equal ease and serenity.
The 5-foot-4 dynamo from Ontario was a seven-time WWE women's champion and a pioneer for female wrestlers. She retired from the ring in 2006 and earlier this year, at age 37, became the youngest person inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
Transitioning to "real life" after a career as a professional athlete can be tough for some, but Stratus discovered her next great passion years before retiring from the ring.
In 2004, she was sidelined from wrestling after being diagnosed with degenerative disk damage. Unable to sit more than 30 minutes at a time without pain, Stratus was directed by WWE to take time off and get surgery, but she wanted to try some alternatives before going under the knife.
After a few months of daily physical therapy, WWE was getting antsy to have its defending champion back in the ring, but Stratus was feeling no relief from her pain.
"I was sitting at a stoplight, totally frustrated, getting ready for a physical therapy session," Stratus said, "and I saw a Bikram yoga studio on the corner. Around this time, yoga wasn't as popular as it is now; it was just starting to become all the rage. I pulled in and walked into my first class. It was 90 minutes long ... and afterward I instantly felt a difference.
"It sounds crazy, but with the heat in the room -- over 100 degrees -- well, it was the first time I had any mobility within my body. I decided yoga was right for me. I did two and a half months of yoga, literally every single day, and I reversed all the damage."
When Stratus returned to wrestling, she found that her time spent in the studio had changed her not only physically but mentally as well.
"The wrestling schedule is really crazy," Stratus said. "In the seven years that I wrestled, the only time I had off was for injuries -- a broken thumb, broken ankle, broken nose, herniated disk. I used to feel like it was a crazy pace with no time to think, but I went back after my back injury and, though it was the same crazy schedule, I was looking at it with different eyes.
"I appreciated what I was doing more. The last leg of my career was amazing. I didn't have the headaches from all the whiplash anymore, and the yoga I was doing gave me clarity, made me a better performer, made me recover faster and made me enjoy what I was doing more."
By 2006, Stratus felt she had accomplished everything she wanted to in the ring. Family responsibilities and challenges outside of wrestling began to tug at her, and she decided to leave WWE.
"People thought I retired to start a family," Stratus said, "but I was just ready to leave the business. Athletically, I achieved everything I wanted to, and I'd worked with everyone I wanted to. I was really fulfilled. It felt right."
Later that year, she married her high school sweetheart and started working on a string of TV shows, including the short-lived celebs-turned-police officers reality series "Armed & Famous" and her travel show "Stratusphere."
All the while she was still practicing yoga, getting certified in ashtanga and learning as much as possible about the practice. Living in the suburbs of Ontario, she had to drive an hour to get to the closest studio, so in 2008 she decided to open Stratusphere Yoga in Vaughan, Ontario.
"It was just a natural progression to open my studio," Stratus said. "I wanted to use the platform I had to expose people to this wonderful thing, a simple thing you can do -- an hour of your day -- that can change everything."
The studio has led to a Stratusphere product line: yoga mats, dumbbells, her trademark fit gloves, instructional DVDs, even her own line of wellness teas.
"What I love about what I do," Stratus said, "is that it's actually what I do. It's not a job. It's the life I live. It's all fueled by passion, and everything in my life somehow turns into part of the business."
The latest life/work development has involved adjusting to pregnancy and preparing for the birth of her first child.
"My business was my baby," Stratus said, "and last year it just started to work on its own. I didn't have to change its diapers all the time. It kind of watched itself. That's the peace of mind my brain needed [to start trying to conceive]."
A baby on the way for Stratus means a prenatal video may be in the works and the beginnings of a book on the yoga lifestyle for women who want to stay healthy and athletic during pregnancy.
It's a far cry from getting thrown through tables on national television, but it's as natural a progression as can be for Stratus. She has embraced the challenges of business the same way she embraced her battles in the ring and is constantly finding new goals to reach for.
"Whatever I'm doing, I want to be challenged," she said. "I want to hit new levels. I want to do something I've never done before in whatever world I'm in and then move on."
• ESPN.com: WrestleMania 29: Trish Stratus joins HOF
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