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   Sun, February 25, 2007



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Wrestling's toughest tour - northern Manitoba
Performers take home golden memories from trip through tundra
By BOB HOLLIDAY - Winnipeg Sun


Lance Storm has wrestled all over the world but his fondest memories are surviving the Northern Death Tour for Winnipeg promoter Tony Condello.

"It was the toughest tour I've ever done, but it has the best memories," Storm said from his home in Calgary.

"Calgary can get cold, but no where near Oxford House after an eight-hour trip over the cracking ice of a winter road."

The former star with the World Wrestling Entertainment and other pro organizations, who runs a Calgary-based training school for wannabe wrestlers, empathizes with the current crew bouncing over the frozen tundra to entertain people not used to seeing live shows.

"The worst thing is the road. You feel so isolated jammed in a van for 10 to 12 hours," said Storm. "You're like a band of gypsies. But if the people you're travelling with are good, it's the best tour you'll ever do. The crowds are really responsive."

Condello's band of merry men left Winnipeg at 5 a.m. on Feb. 16 en route for their first stop that night in Little Grand Rapids. Other scheduled stops on the 2,000-km tour were Wasagamack, Garden Hill, St. Theresa Point, God's River, God's Lake narrows, Oxford House and Cross Lake.

Instead of hotel rooms, wrestlers sleep in the ring or on the gymnasium floor. They cook their own food in the high school cafeteria, said Condello. He chuckles at the ribs he's pulled on newcomers over the past 30 years.

"The ice was crackling so I told the guys we could break through, which we couldn't, so I tied a rope onto Scott Norton and had him walk ahead of the bus," said Condello.

Norton, a powerhouse known as Flash Norton, went on to a career in the defunct World Championship Wrestling and in Japan. Others who cut their wrestling teeth on the tour were WWE superstar Edge plus TNA's Christian Cage and Rhino.

"I've seen people crying. They thought they were going to die, especially the year there was an early melt and water was lapping at the running board. They thought they were stuck there for another six months," said Condello.

"It's rather unsettling to see a big rig on its side and halfway through the ice," said Storm.

Condello has been on the receiving end of several ribs. On one trip Storm and another wrestler spread a trail of bread crumbs across the floor, and into the deep-sleeping Condello's moustache.

The pair let loose a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig, which followed the trail and even tried to get the final morsels from Condello's moustache.

But the tour, officially known as Wrestling with the North, is not all fun and games.

Condello and the wrestlers mingle with children and advise them to live a drug- and gang-free life.

"It's a promise I made to Grand Chief Phil Fontaine many years ago," said Condello.

Northern exposure all part of paying dues for young grapplers

So you wanna be a wrestler?

Vance Nevada supplied the talent for Tony Condello's tour through remote northern Manitoba towns.

"Ten of us drove 2,300 kilometres, non-stop from Vancouver in 25 hours to get here the day before we start a 2,000-kilometre trip," said Nevada, who grew up in the Westman area and wrestled in Winnipeg before moving west.

"Most of these guys have never been east of the Rockies. This will be a lesson for them," said the veteran of two northern tours. "You have to pay your dues."

Sharon, who goes by the stage name of Aurora, wasn't prepared for the -40 C temperature that greeted the West Coast crew.

"I worked a year in Mexico and I'm used to 40 degrees. Not this," she said. "I'm not looking forward to the weather."

She's heard about the rigours of the trip and how travelling through the northern Manitoba terrain is like travelling through a different country.

Apparently, a demanding trip like this is just what the doctor ordered for young wrestlers.

"Doing the tour is something a Canadian independent wrestler should do. It's part of history," said Scotty Mac. "I've heard so much about it from veterans like Dr. Luther."

-- Bob Holliday



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