June 1, 2005
Stampede ref in the swim
By DOUG MCINTYRE - Cochrane Times
By day he teaches swimming to kids at Bighill Leisure Pool in Cochrane, Alberta; by night, he tries to bring order to pure mayhem as a referee with Stampede Wrestling.
"It's a lot of fun," chuckles 29-year-old Cochrane resident Richard Gaida of this unlikely transition from the breaststroke to the suplex.
"It's something I do in my spare time when they need me."
No matter what the sport, wearing the zebra stripes is a surefire ticket to earning the wrath of fans and athletes alike. However, in the wacky world of pro wrestling, officiating duties -- or being a "paragon of virtue," as Gaida puts it -- entail a special form of abuse.
Besides the calculated distraction tactics of villainous ringside managers, a wrestling ref can often find himself knocked senseless, whether intentionally or not, by the bloodthirsty behemoths doing battle in the ring.
"It's fun sometimes but it hurts too. It doesn't feel too good to land on your head," says Gaida, who referees as Rene Richards.
"Being the ref is a tough job. You know you're doing your job well if the fans don't notice you."
Gaida will have his hands full, and possibly his noggin bruised, this Saturday when Stampede Wrestling descends on Totem Arena at 7 p.m.
In the main event, local grappler Devon "Kid Nichol" Nicholson squares off against the evil Karnage in a no-disqualification bout for the North American heavyweight belt. The bitter ring foes fought to a double-DQ in April at the same venue.
"It's fun to ref here in town in front of people who know me," says Gaida, adding two of his swimming students were surprised last time out to see him mediating the procession of piledrivers and body slams.
When he first became acquainted with the late Stu Hart's legendary organization in 1999, Gaida was looking to wear the wrestling trunks, and not the stripes.
"I actually started off wrestling but had some injuries, so (refereeing) started from there," he says.
However, a separated shoulder sustained only two hours before his first match left Gaida out of action, a twist of fate he calls "a rough deal."
Serving as referee has allowed him to stay right in the action of a sporting spectacle he's long held a special place in his heart for.
"I've been a fan my whole life -- much to my mother's chagrin," laughs Gaida.