By David Seigel
‘Paging Dr Stratus. Would Dr. Stratus please report to emergency?” This could very easily have been a phrase routinely heard by Trish Stratus if not for a teacher’s strike and a few breaks.
As it turned out, her journey instead led her to superstardom through a storied professional wrestling career, an impressive TV résumé, and now a successful yoga studio which recently celebrated its first anniversary.
Stratus's journey from pre-med student to the most decorated World Wrestling Entertainment women's champion of all time to yoga guru was certainly not a typical one.
Born and raised in Richmond Hill, Trish Stratus grew up believing she’d become a doctor. “When I was young, I was always fascinated with math and science,” she says. “I liked dissecting things in school and taking them apart. I even asked my parents to get me a microscope for Christmas one year!”
She attended York University and studied genetics through biology and kinesiology, volunteering once a week at York Central Hospital. Her path to becoming a doctor seemed completely laid out.
Then in her third year in 1997, the university professors went on strike. Her studies interrupted, she found herself with some time to kill. Stratus had been athletic throughout high school and university, playing soccer, field hockey, volleyball and basketball. So she signed on to work at the front desk of a local gym. One of the members spotted her and introduced her to Bob Kennedy, the publisher of Musclemag and Oxygen magazine. After some further training and sculpting, Stratus appeared on the cover, becoming almost an instant fitness modelling star.
As her fame was growing, Stratus appeared on a wrestling radio show called The LAW, where she showcased her natural charisma, along with immense knowledge of the wrestling industry. Having been a fan since she was a child, she truly loved the business and it showed. Rumours quickly began flying that she had joined Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment, the largest wrestling promotion in the world. Eventually, WWE caught wind of these rumours, learned about Stratus and determined that they should actually pursue her. In 1999, she signed a contract and took the first step on the path to superstardom.
Stratus’s wrestling career has been well documented. She won the WWE women’s championship an unprecedented seven times (and in fact retired in 2006 as the champion, the only WWE performer to do so). Along with a handful of female performers, she helped revolutionize women's roles in the business, combining athleticism with eye candy to create compelling matches and storylines. Before this, for the most part, women were simply valets or “managers”, who were more of a side dish to the main course.
After retiring, many opportunities presented themselves. Stratus featured in a number of TV projects, including a stint on CBS reality series Armed and Famous (in which she trained and became an acting police officer). She also hosted The Second City’s Next Comedy Legend search and was excited to have her own travel show, Travel + Escape Stratusphere.
“I essentially got to travel the world, and instead of just seeing airports and arenas, I really got to experience cultures and native activities which was incredible!”
As part of her global adventures, Stratus got to experience Meke dancing in Fiji, reindeer racing in Norway, Maori fighting in New Zealand and paragliding in North India.
Stratus is recognized and admired in hundreds of countries all over the world. And yet, not only has it not gone to her head – she almost acts as if it never happened. In 2006, just after her retirement, she married her high school sweetheart Ron, who is a successful contractor. Even while she was constantly on the road, the couple maintained and built their relationship.
“Ron and I knew we wanted to be successful separate entities before we became one together,” she said.
How did the difficulty of distance between them affect their relationship? “It didn’t,” says Stratus. “Imagine the average couple. They work all day and see each other for dinner and a few hours each day. We’d spend all of Tuesday through Thursday together every week, and the time apart made our hearts grow fonder. And everything still feels fresh!”
Of course if Ron hadn’t been her true love, the three-time WWE ‘Babe of the Year’ certainly would have had no shortage of eligible bachelors lining up to try to win her heart.
“I never dreamt of being famous,” she says, “and I NEVER thought I’d take the path I did.”
And this path has now led her back to the GTA – to Vaughan specifically – where her Stratusphere Yoga Studio recently celebrated its first anniversary.
Stratus’s journey to yoga. The obvious question for many is why a world famous and multi-talented performer decided to open a local yoga studio. It all began while she was still wrestling. Throughout her career, Stratus experienced a number of injuries – broken bones, pulled muscles, lacerations and more.
Eventually she started getting some bad headaches, so she went to a doctor and learned that her neck was in terrible shape. “To be exact,” she jumps in, “he said ‘you have the neck of a 50-year old’”.
Like all wrestlers, she knew what she’d put her body through, and wasn’t shocked. “During one of my title reigns, when I was on the road, wrestling four times a week, 8-20 minute matches, plus travelling and not getting enough sleep, I’d get out of bed, and it would take 30 minutes to just feel normal.”
As it turned out, Stratus had degenerative disc damage. After some extremely intense matches, she sat up one day and simply couldn’t move. Doctors said she had a herniated disc and that she would have to rehab it. Although she wrestled less while staying on the program, eventually she needed to take time off for rehab.
During that time, she started doing physiotherapy to start the healing process. A month into physio, WWE asked when she was coming back, but she knew she wasn’t ready. After a second month, she still wasn’t ready. She started to question whether or not she’d be able to come back, as her quality of life was suffering as well.
Finally, she had a life-altering conversation with her friend and co-performer Amy Dumas (Lita), who had broken her neck a couple of years back.
“Amy said that the only thing that allowed her to move was yoga,” Stratus recalls. “She took me to a hot yoga class. The heat makes it easier to stretch and really feel the effects. It was a 90-minute class. For the first time in months, I was able to move without feeling the strain or pain.”
She continued to do yoga, and eventually realized yoga was helping her, while physiotherapy wasn’t. Within two-and-a-half-months, she was not only back, but she was better than ever. In fact, anyone who watched her matches noticed increased flexibility and versatility.
“I invented a move that nobody had ever done, where an opponent would run at me to strike me in the face, and instead of ducking down, I leaned back into a controlled bridge like in the movie The Matrix (which I called the ‘Ma-Trish’). The crowds loved it! And I would never have been able to do that before the injury. Yoga helped me attain new levels of flexibility and control I’d never even imagined.”
Her soreness had disappeared, but even more interesting was that her perspective had changed as well. “I’ve always felt that everything was frantic – I had millions of things running through my head. Yoga made everything so much easier. I could just step into the ring, do my thing and step out. I was able to focus, relax and pretty much tune everything out and have inward time.”
Stratus explains that this allows a person to deal with stress and issues differently.
“While I loved the business, there were aspects I hadn’t liked such as the travel, but I started realizing how lucky I was to be doing it and even looked forward to it!”
On the road, she’d eagerly seek and find yoga studios to attend. “I really love how universal yoga is.”
After a couple of more years in wrestling, she retired and explored other opportunities, but she continued to really enjoy and build a passion for yoga. In 2007, Stratus took it further by becoming Ashtanga (a discipline of yoga) trained and certified through the program at Yoga Plus with instructor Carmela Savoia.
With this new knowledge and passion, only one thing made sense. Working with her favourite contractor Ron, she located a space just outside of Vaughan Mills and designed her own yoga studio.
“I wanted three rooms, including one hot, so people could enjoy different styles and types of yoga,” says Stratus.
The entire studio was built with a “greener stratusphere” in mind.
The cushioned cork floors provide thermal insulation while resisting moisture and decay, and cork manufacturing preserves trees. Fluorescent lighting, low-voltage halogens and dimming switches are used to reduce energy costs.
Many more green-conscious steps were taken during the design phase of the studio (a full list is available at the studio’s website at www.stratusphereyoga.com).
In 2008, she opened the studio and hasn’t looked back since. She feels that while Toronto urbanites have embraced yoga, there’s still a large market in the suburbs that has yet to try it.
“There wasn’t much up here – I always had to go downtown. So I figured why not try in my own neighbourhood,” she says.
“It applies to rehab, it complements a workout, it helps give balance to a busy lifestyle… everyone up here could find it to be useful in their lives.”
And for this blossoming market, Stratus has had the foresight to surround herself with a talented group of yogis. “I found the best teachers in the GTA – most of which were mine – and now they are part of the Stratusphere family.”
So what could possibly come next for this entrepreneurial diva? New studios? Nutritional items? Yoga and fitness videos? Movies? Kids? All of these suggestions are met with a twinkle in her eye and a "Maybe".
“Martha Stewart is known as ‘the domestic diva’”, Stratus notes, “I want to be known for promoting balanced living. Carbs and Proteins, Family and Work, Travel and Home… everything in the right balance can create true harmony in one’s life.”
With her incredible attitude and passion, why should the sky be the limit when she can aim for the Stratusphere?
• Bring your copy of Whatever and get Trish Stratus’ autograph at the Summer Stratusfaction Event Saturday, August 22 at Stratusphere! For more information, visit www.stratusphereyoga.com