Goddess Athena: For Love of the Game
MIKE ALTAMURA - SLAM! Wrestling
|Athena. -- photo by Penny Adams
When Nashville, Tennessee's Goddess Athena speaks about the wrestling business, there's an inherent passion in her voice. She's loved her five years in the game, which has seen her showcase her talents as a manager for a bevy of promotions in the southeastern U.S., most notably NWA: TNA, Memphis Wrestling, Music City Wrestling, USA Championship Wrestling, and USWO Wrestling.
"I'm very passionate about stuff I like, and [wrestling] is what I love," Athena told SLAM! Wrestling, in an exclusive interview. "It's in my heart, it's in my blood, it's in my soul, and it just keeps me going."
The love and dedication she demonstrates towards wrestling hasn't gone unrecognized by wrestling enthusiasts, and in fact at this present time despite working predominantly as a 'heel' she is one of the most popular women on the U.S. independent circuit.
Popularity though, is something that surprisingly eluded her for most her formative years.
The 30-year-old remembers this one time, when she assisted in the operation of band camp, and all the football players would bump her in the hallway so she'd drop her books, and the girls were really nasty. Oh, and it wasn't cool.
Music was her first passion in life, and she learned how to play the saxophone, oboe, and trumpet en route to graduating from Middle Tennessee State University with a Music Education major. While in high school, she was ridiculed because of her involvement with the band.
"I wasn't popular at school, but everyone knew who I was, if that makes any sense," she explained. "I was the band's Vice President and I was always making announcements, 'Come out and support the band this weekend', and getting laughed off the stage at the pep rallies."
Her character type, she admits, was not totally indifferent to that of "band nerd" Michelle Flaherty (played by Alyson Hannigan) in the American Pie series.
"I was definitely like her as far as the love for band camp," Athena revealed. "That was me, no doubt. But the wild side of her, I didn't quite get that opportunity until my senior year, to even kiss a boy. It was like ... I didn't really have a date until a few months before I turned 18. So, I can't say it was exactly like that for me."
So how does one go from being a "band nerd" to a figure of admiration? "I'm really not sure," she admitted. "I think a little makeup probably helped, and the padded bra was a good help I think for that (laughs)."
The self-confessed "late bloomer" started to shake off the "nerd" image when she got involved in television while in college, hosting a music video show. A few years later, she watched a television special on the infamous Andy Kaufman/Jerry Lawler feud, and within a year, following a meeting with Southern veteran 'Hot' Rod Biggs, she entered the wrestling business.
It's no shock, considering the taunts she was exposed to in adolescence, that she's worked as a 'heel' the overwhelming majority of her wrestling stint.
"I really think [the teasing] is why I love to play the 'heel' because it's almost like I guess like taking out my revenge on all these guys who used to pick on me because I wasn't popular at school," she said. "I just use that anger the anger from my childhood on all the fans in the front row. I take it out on them."
At her 10-year high school reunion, two years ago, the dark-haired (sometimes it's black, other times brunette) beauty relished the chance to show her transformation, get some sweet revenge so to speak.
"I have to tell you, my 10-year reunion was really nice," she said, with notable enthusiasm. "I really enjoyed that two years ago. Oh man, that was great!"
But, despite the differences in the popularity stakes, Athena believes she's still the same person. "I really haven't changed much at all since I was a kid. I guess I curse a little more now," she added with a laugh. The latter her laugh is one of her most distinguishing traits. It's representative of her warm, welcoming nature. A nature which spawns from her confidence.
"I don't really care what people think about me," she said. "You know, if I run out to the mall or something, I don't have to be dressed up all the time. I just don't care what people think. That's certainly not to offend anyone, you know, I don't mean that, but I just you know, kinda try to be myself and not pretend to be anybody I'm not."
Nerves while at ringside, she asserts, are something she scarcely experiences. "I really rarely get nervous. I'm just more excited. I live for that music to play and just to go through the curtain."
Her element, her domain in wrestling is Tennessee. The state has long been regarded as the home the epicenter of traditional professional wrasslin' in the United States. She likes the 'old school' type approach towards the business.
"I love it, it's the only thing I know, so I like it this way," Athena said. "I like the fans here. I like the way the guys work here. And, you know, I guess you can get the whole place worked up over chain down here, whereas up North I think you've gotta do the high-flying stuff, they wanna see people being bashed in the head with fluorescent light tubes, and down here, you don't have to do any of that stuff and these people go nuts."
The vibrant 5'4" Athena has plied her trade alongside some of the greatest in Southern wrestling history, including Jerry "The King" Lawler. She acquired much knowledge from Lawler when she wrestled a series of matches with his ex-wife, Stacy "The Kat" Carter, following Carter's firing and Lawler's subsequent resignation from the WWE in 2001.
"I wrestled The Kat a ton of times, and that was some really good experience for me because I was getting help from Jerry Lawler, and to me that was just the greatest thing in the world, and still is," she explained. "I learned a lot back then."
To her disappointment, the angle with The Kat was cut short, following a near career-ending injury in June 2001, at the Memphis Wrestling Clash of the Legends show held at the Mid South Coliseum. Midway through her match with Carter, she tore her ACL and some cartilage in her knee. The pain was excruciating, but she still managed to finish the encounter. The complications that ensued were, putting it pleasantly, horrendous. She needed four corrective surgeries, and three years later, she still can't get full extension in the knee.
The complications have led her to be a "little hesitant" to wrestle today, outside of the occasional gimmick-type match. This, coupled with her preference to work as a manager, indicates that she has no intentions to make the transition to wrestler.
"I got in this business to be a manager," she said. "I know I'm a better manager, I know I have more to offer as a manager than I do as a wrestler... Around here people want to see me manage, I think. I'm not gonna be one of these girls who says, 'Oh yeah, I can work,' just 'cause they wanna be on the show, and then get out there and have a bad match. I don't want to make people have to sit through that. I don't want to do that to fans, I don't want to do that to a promoter, and you know, I'm not gonna go out there and look like a fool either.... I wanna give 100% when I do something, and I know I can do that as a manager better than I can as a worker."
Athena is one of numerous talented females that was a regular at Tennessee-based NWA: TNA before the company suddenly, and inexplicably stopped booking her. She debuted as the TNA 'ring girl' in 2002, and in March-April 2003 worked as a 'babyface' role as David Young's manager in an angle involving Sonny Siaki, until Young turned heel. She figures her chance of returning to company is slim, and she's quite okay with that.
"I have no idea [about my chances of returning]. You know what, I'm gonna say probably not, not a snowball's chance in hell. But, you never know. Never say never in wrestling. I don't really know what happened in TNA. I really don't have a clue. I just know I'm not there anymore. And, I'm really happy where I am now, so I can take it or leave it I guess. It would be nice, because it's good exposure, and I've got some friends there, and it would be nice to be part of it again, hopefully more in a role I'd be better suited for. But, like I said, I'm happy on the indies right now. I'm really, really happy with how everything is going."
At the moment, she is a regular on USA Championship Wrestling and USWO Wrestling cards, and works anywhere from one-five days a week. She also maintains an 8-5 job. Contrary to what some may think, few wrestling personalities make a living on the independent scene.
"I have an 8-5 job in health care," she told SLAM! Wrestling. "It's very corporate, it's very Office Space, which is why I love that movie. I don't fit in there at all. I really, really don't fit in there at all, but I know right now it's what I have to do.
"On the indy scene, wrestling obviously doesn't pay enough to pay all the bills, to live comfortably by yourself, and I want to live comfortably
I don't live lavishly by any means, you know, but I wanna have nice stuff and I wanna feel comfortable, and be safe at home, and live in a decent part of town and all that stuff."
Athena's commitment to the wrestling business, she concedes, has not been beneficial to her social life. In fact, she revealed that it's recently led to a break up with her long-time fiance.
"We'd been together for three years," she said, "and actually for the last year he'd been in Korea he's in the United States Army. And he got back, but things got bad when he was gone, and honestly, he really didn't like me wrestling. I'd been wrestling before he and I got together, and when he went to Korea ... I picked up a lot more shows because I thought it would help me pass the time until he came back ... I think he would've stood by me and waited for me to finish ... but I just know in his heart he still didn't really like it, he didn't feel comfortable with it, and I didn't think that was really fair to him. Obviously it's (wrestling) not very beneficial to the social life, but that's part of the choice I make to do this."
The issue of political play behind the scenes, in the non-kayfabe era, is often examined by wrestling scribes, and Athena acknowledges the presence of it.
"I'm trying to think how to carefully word this here because of politics," she said with a chuckle, when pressed to discuss politics in the business. "And you can leave that in, because you do have to be careful with what you say all the time, because there is definitely a lot of politics. I don't really like to play that game too much, and I don't really like to kiss anybody's ass, and I certainly am I am in the business for the business. I'm not in the business to make a boyfriend. I'm not in the business to get laid. I'm not in the business to do whatever I have to do to get ahead, you know what I mean. And there are girls that do that."
Athena believes oftentimes she may be overlooked because she doesn't 'play the game', and although it frustrates her, she is satisfied because she's remained true to her principles.
"Because of the way it works, sometimes I'm not given opportunities, and I know it's because there's things I won't do," she explained. "I look at it as, 'Okay, I'm not on TNA, I might not make it any further', but I can rest my head at night knowing I haven't compromised my morals, and to me, that's a better payoff than anything. Screw the money, and the fame."
Her motivation in wrestling, to keep going regardless of politics and other downsides of the business, stems partly from her willingness to be a role model for young wrestling fans.
"I want to set a good example," explained Athena. "I don't drink, I don't smoke, I don't do anything. Never tried any drugs at all, and I really strongly believe in that, in living a clean life and I feel like maybe I can be a good example for some of the kids that come out to the shows and stuff. By letting them know that. And I do. If the opportunity presents itself, I will talk to them after a show, or before a show, or during a show, whatever. And I think that that keeps me motivated, that I can help maybe set an example."
Away from wrestling, Athena enjoys spending time with close friends, and stalking music legends, U2, whenever the opportunity presents itself. She is an individual of many idiosyncrasies, for instance, she enjoys eating classy Italian meals, and then on the flipside loves "cookie dough." She's eager to share intriguing revelations about her background too.
"My dad, it's kind of an interesting story actually," she continued, "my dad and my mum, this is back in the '70s, they were never married. He actually took off when my mum got pregnant and it's really interesting. I never had any pictures of him, I never knew anything about him. The last couple years I've found out and I'm an only child I've found out I've got five other half brothers and sisters all over the country who had the same father and he left them too.
"Actually, in the last couple months I've got pictures of him, and he's definitely Italian, and it's like The Sopranos. Like these pictures are from the late '70s, and it looks like something out of The Sopranos. It's crazy. He's got a little tux on, and he's in these restaurants, and everybody is wearing tuxes, and everybody is Italian, and it's like, 'Oh my gosh, I'm mafia. I'm mafia blood'." She reassuring added, "I promise you I'm not!"
As for revelations pertaining directly to her, she confessed she "once had a mullet in seventh grade," and is a "psycho germaphobe." But, one of her more embarrassing "secrets" comes from just a couple weeks ago.
"I went to see The Darkness in Atlanta two weeks ago, and Justin Hawkins, the
lead singer, tore the zipper on his jumpsuit when he came back out after a costume change," she said. "He was singing and holding his hand over his crotch so he wouldn't expose himself and asked if anybody had anything he could use to cover himself up. So, I actually pulled my bra out from under my shirt and threw it on stage. I was pretty bummed when the stagehand grabbed it before Justin could see, but I guess it was worth a shot."
Although she hasn't exercised her musical talents for a number of years, she has intentions to resume that passion someday.
"I certainly, I think about it a lot," she said. "I think about playing because I did it so long. But I imagine I'm probably not too good right now, so if I play it's going to be like, you know, in the middle of a field somewhere where nobody can hear me! (laughs) ... I certainly hope to get back to it, you know, just as a hobby. I'll play again I'm sure, or I'll do something."
For the foreseeable future though, Athena's plans are quite simple. She intends to continue her love affair with wrestling.
"I really don't have ridiculous expectations of making it to the WWE," she explained. "I don't even know why I'm not in TNA, and that's in my own town. I'm not trying to be silly. It obviously would be cool, but honestly I'm not really sure. I just know that after I'm through with wrestling I'll be into something else, and you know, maybe that'll be something bigger, maybe not.
"I'll know when I'm ready to finish, and it's just not right now. I'm having a great time, I'm loving every minute of it, I'm still learning new things, and I guess I won't be like the band camp girl for a while (laughs)."
Note: Athena asked if all readers could keep Scott Hudson in their thoughts and prayers. "Scott Hudson is my best friend in this business ... and he had a really horrible car accident, and he's doing much better, but just still if everybody can please keep him in his thoughts and prayers I'd appreciate it because he's a great guy, and I'm really glad nothing happened to him."
Check out Goddess Athena's official website at: www.thegoddessathena.com.
Mike 'Kryptonite' Altamura is currently the only writer at SLAM! Wrestling from the land down under, Australia. He can be contacted via email at email@example.com.