December 8, 2011
Raven Lake and Bambi a formidable mother-daughter teamB.C.'s Halls put matriarchal spin on passing the wrestling torch
By RICHARD KAMCHEN – SLAM! Wrestling
It's a rare thing for daughters to follow their fathers into the wrestling business, and rarer still for a daughter to follow her mother into the ring.
Traditionally in wrestling families, the patriarch will pass the torch down to the next generation of males. There are, of course, exceptions, like Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart's daughter Natalie, who wrestles for his old boss Vince McMahon as "Natalya." Then there's Cora and Debbie Combs, who formed the first -- and only, according to the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame -- mother/daughter tag team in wrestling history.
Sammy "Bambi" Hall and her mother Thereasa are next in line to challenge the male-dominated tradition. The Vancouver duo ply their trade for All Star Wrestling, but that nearly didn't come to pass as one had little desire to get into the ring, while the other had already withdrawn from it.
"I wasn't really thinking about training while in high school," Sam Hall told SLAM! Wrestling. "I was pretty against it. Seeing my mom hurt and hardly able to get off the couch and being in the pain all the time -- I didn't want that."
By contrast, Thereasa grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. She was watching hours of wrestling by the age of nine, even staying up Saturday nights until two in the morning to get her fix.
"I knew when I was a kid that's what I wanted to do. Through high school I did a lot of sports and amateur wrestling, and when I turned 17, I met Michelle Starr and started training with him," Thereasa said.
During her instruction, she fractured her ribs and discovered she was pregnant with Sam. She took a year off but would return, ending up wrestling for Starr during the '90s as Raven Lake. A couple more kids followed, and Thereasa bowed out to raise her family.
Fast forward a few years, and the only mat action Sam and Thereasa would experience was when they took in an indy show together. But an All Star event in Surrey, B.C., would eventually lure Thereasa back into the ring.
"I'd be sitting on the stage and my foot would start twitching and I could see the next spot coming, and I'm sitting beside Sam on the stage and I'm like, 'Watch, this is gonna happen,'" recalled Thereasa, explaining how she could predict the match unfolding.
It revived old memories, and feeling a bit nostalgic, she headed to the back afterwards to catch up with some former peers she hadn't seen in years. One turned out to be Disco Fury, who asked her if she wanted to check out the All Star Wrestling Training Centre, run by Starr and himself, and offer her experience to one of the young female students.
Before she knew it, she was back as an active wrestler.
"If you saw tapes of the matches Raven Lake was having in 1994, it wouldn't surprise you at all that she's back in the ring," said veteran and cross-Canada indy headliner Vance Nevada, a friend of the family. "In my book Wrestling in the Canadian West, Michelle Starr credits the work that was done by Raven and other women of that era as being responsible for the success of independent wrestling on the west coast in the '90's."
The triumphant return of Raven Lake came three years ago and, as it turned out, Sam would be right on her heels.
"Once I turned 18 and graduated high school, I was working but I didn't really want to go to school yet and wasn't sure what I wanted to do. They were having tryouts at the All Star wrestling school in Surrey, so I went," Sam recalled.
Thereasa didn't relish the thought of her daughter following in her footsteps, and was in fact horrified upon learning of Sam's wishes to pursue becoming a wrestler.
"'Oh my God, please no.' That's exactly what went through my head: 'Please, no,'" Thereasa remembered.
Thereasa sat Sam down for a mother/daughter heart-to-heart about the grim realities of pro wrestling. She didn't want to see her daughter wreck her body, and urged and pleaded with Sam to further her education in pursuit of a more stable and lucrative line of work. But Sam showed no signs of wavering after getting her first taste of what lay ahead at the tryout.
"I thought it's better for me to be there with her training, and luckily she was able to train with Starr, who trained me 19, 20 years ago," Thereasa said.
"It felt like somebody was trying to stomp on my dreams and take them away," said Thereasa. "And I guess because I've been in that predicament, I didn't want to crush Sam's dreams, so I thought if this is what you really want to do, let's go for it."
Thereasa has since become Sam's biggest booster and a major influence as well.
"She's a person who when she gets hurt, it doesn't matter, she'll keep pushing through it. She doesn't let anything stop her or get in her way. And just seeing how much she loved it -- she puts so much into what she does in the ring. When she goes to practices, she goes full out," said Sam.
"They're both determined, they're both hard working, they both never quit, even if they're hurt," said 25-year vet Michelle Starr. "They're always there at practice and try to give 100% even if their bodies aren't 100%. They both have a lot of heart and determination, and that's definitely one of the best qualities about them."
Sam's first match came against her mom and it was probably more nerve-wracking for mother than for daughter.
"I was a little nervous. What happens if we get out there and I give her a potato? But once we got out there, it was just like being with anybody else you work with," said Thereasa. "After the match, we went to the back and everybody was congratulating us and telling us, 'You guys did great out there.' I just grabbed Sam and gave her the biggest hug and shed a couple mommy tears. I don't know if it was from everybody congratulating us, or more the feeling of knowing that I just shared probably one of the most important things in my life with my daughter.
"There's not many people that can actually say they share their life's passion with their child. We've got an opportunity to travel and work together. It's pretty amazing, actually."
Last summer, Sam got the chance of a lifetime on her 19th birthday. Only a couple months under a year into her training, Nevada put in a good word that got her picked to appear on the second season of the wrestling documentary series, World of Hurt.
"I got a call from the producer of the show asking me if I knew of any girls that might be a good fit for the show. I suggested Sam because I had been keeping track of her training and she seemed to really be passionate about the business," said Nevada.
Sam didn't even know Nevada got her on the show, and at first seemed unsure about what her next move should be.
"She was really stuck on whether to go -- she had just started a new job and she didn't know what to do and they didn't want to give her the time off -- and I told her these opportunities don't come around very often," said Thereasa. "If I was 19 years old, living at home with my mom, had no kids, knew there was a bedroom to come back to and somebody who was going to support me through the process, I would have gone."
Thereasa's encouragement made Sam's decision an easier one to make. She was off, leaving behind her family and friends in Vancouver for Calgary and the three-week taping of the program.
The first season of World of Hurt revealed the experiences of wrestlers from around the world training under Lance Storm. The second season, set to air in February 2012 on The Cave specialty channel, managed to snag WWE Hall of Famer "Rowdy" Roddy Piper as head trainer.
"Working with Piper was crazy! At first I was pretty nervous because it was my first time away from home really," said Sam.
Piper took instant notice of the relative novice, and came up with her nickname: "When I went in there, I didn't really know what kind of gimmick I wanted to portray, I didn't know if I wanted to be a face or a heel ... when Piper started calling me Bambi I was kind of confused because I didn't understand why he would be calling me Bambi.
"He said it's just because this didn't seem like the business or world I should be in because I was so sweet and innocent and cute, and it just didn't make sense."
When Piper learned Sam's mother was in the wrestling business too, a light went on in his head, and Thereasa would soon join her daughter on the show.
"Apparently it was Piper's idea. He wanted to meet the mom behind Sammy Hall, so I went out there. They surprised her, she had no idea I was coming and it was really, really cool," said Thereasa, who admitted marking out a bit at the sight of Piper. "When I walked into that dressing room I almost peed my pants. I didn't even know what to say."
The show got down to business too, as Piper had Sam and the other trainees take notes while critiquing each others' matches, building their own matches, and working on promos. He also wanted them to remember his words about potential pitfalls.
"He told us to look out for number one because no one else is going to truly have our back," said Sam. "He said to always get paid -- if you don't get paid, you shouldn't be doing the show. He said there's a lot of bad people in the business and you've just got to know who to trust and stay close to just a few people. You don't want to put your personal business out to the wrestling world because you'll get bugged for it."
With World of Hurt behind her, Sam's goals are to get on tours and build as much experience as possible.
"When I first came in, I didn't realize how hard it was going to be. My goal was WWE -- I'm sure that's everybody's goal when they first come into the business, make it to the very top. But once I started training, I realized how hard it was and how much time and responsibility it is. Now I just want to be known as a good wrestler, as good as I possibly can."
Sam is set to go on one of the ultimate trials of mind and body, Tony Condello's annual February tour of northern Manitoba aboriginal communities.
"The 'Northern Hell Tour' is definitely a trip that separates the contenders from the pretenders," said Nevada. "There are a lot of wrestlers that come home from that trip and realize that they're not serious about the business -- they just go back to their hometown and still wrestle, but never leave again. It's a rough trip, but if she can survive the chaos of 'reality TV,' the elements of northern Manitoba will be much more inviting."
Longer-term, Sam would eventually like a shot at SHIMMER.
Starr believed Sam will be able to gain the experience she'll need to get to SHIMMER given there are more opportunities for female wrestlers than male ones simply because of supply and demand. Also in her favour is her own determination as she's always striving to get better.
"She doesn't have any kind of ego, saying 'I've already trained with Roddy Piper, I don't have to listen to you guys.' She's very open to any criticism, very attentive and she works hard on her craft to try and become a better wrestler," said Starr.
Nevada found Sam to be a tremendous talent with a great attitude and a world of potential.
"I think for her to move to the next level in the business, she needs to get more aggressive to pursue opportunities. There are a ton of opportunities for female wrestlers who are professional and easy to deal with. So far, her opportunities have been close to home or coincidental. If she's aiming for SHIMMER, she needs to take a more hands-on approach to her career path."
When he first found out she was training, Nevada took Sam aside and, bluntly explaining the business she was endeavouring to enter, said, "You know that all wrestlers are dirt bags, right?" So far, he's been pleased by how maturely she's carried herself.
"It is a different world once you're inside the ranks: People deal with you as an individual and aren't necessarily polite or respectful because you are related to a wrestler," Nevada said. "I think on various shows and tours, she's been challenged with some adverse characters and conditions, and has come through it just fine."
Winnipeg's Richard Kamchen is writing a book with Greg Oliver titled Don't Call Me Goon: A Tribute to Hockey's Greatest Gunslingers, Bad Boys and Enforcers. Become a fan at Don't Call Me Goon: A Hockey Enforcer Tribute Book.