Story by Gerry Strauss
Remember when women’s pro wrestling was nothing but a sideshow? For many fans growing up, the females of the “squared circle” provided nothing but cheap, campy fun, just a step or two above mud pits and bikini contests. Luckily, things have changed. Pro wrestling now presents women as strong, capable athletes, some of whom just happen to be gorgeous.
Enter Waterbury native Jamie Szantyr, better known to wrestling fans worldwide as the beautiful Velvet Sky, a name she adopted when she became a roster member of Spike TV’s highly-rated “Impact Wrestling” program. One of the company’s most popular stars since her debut 7 years ago, Szantyr’s road to this worldwide stage was certainly not an easy one. While doing media to promote her return to Waterbury for a huge PAL fundraiser on Friday night, March 29th, Jamie and I chatted about her past, present and future.
What were you like as a child and teenager growing up in Waterbury?
Jamie: I was very athletic and active. Whether it was playing recreational sports in my hometown, playing kickball in the road every night with all the neighbor kids, or playing a sport for every season in middle school and high school, there was never a time in school where I wasn’t involved in a sport. Both my parents were very active so it’s no wonder that those genes rubbed off on me the way they did. I love all sports and I’m happy that I was introduced to baseball and softball at such a young age because other than wrestling, baseball is my favorite sport and it’s a Sport I’ve excelled in my entire childhood and all throughout high school as well.
You’ve mentioned in numerous interviews that you grew up as a wrestling fan, but at what point did you really decide to pursue this as a career?
Jamie: Well I have a lot of guy friends from back home who were huge fans of wrestling, and back around ‘97 through ‘99 was when wrestling was at its all-time highest peak. My buddies and I would all gather in one room in our college dorm rooms and we would never, ever miss an episode of wrestling when it came on. So during that time, I was huge into wrestling but it wasn’t until I watched the debut of (former World Wrestling Entertainment superstar) Lita that I knew that’s what I wanted to do for a living. She’s incredible and so inspiring.
Were you supported in your career pursuit from your friends and family?
Jamie: I sort of blew everyone’s minds, but knowing I was always athletic and the wild crazy one of the group, it was no surprise to a lot of my friends that I chose wrestling as a career path. I’ve always had that support from my parents, my family and my friends. They all think it’s so cool.
It’s often discussed how physically taxing pro wrestling can be, but not everyone immediately realizes the effect that it can have on your social life, what with all the travelling and training.. Did you realize from the beginning that you’d be looking at a major struggle to maintain friends and relationships?
Jamie: What some people really don’t realize in becoming a professional wrestler is that the schedule is so demanding. It takes a lot of dedication and being away from home and your loved ones and missing out on things with your friends and family that you normally wouldn’t miss, but at the same time it’s the career I chose. It’s what I worked so hard for and the payoff is well worth all the hard work put forward. I get to travel the world to different countries and meet all different types of people and cultures. I’m so proud that I was able to make this type of life for myself and I wouldn’t take back any of it for anything in the world.
As an experienced athlete, was wrestling tougher than you expected when you began training?
Jamie: Absolutely!! There really is no sport that can prepare you for professional wrestling. I remember my first day of training with Jason Knight in Connecticut, I was worked so hard in the ring that I had to roll out and throw up because I wasn’t up to speed with my cardio even though I had been an athlete and I was still in great shape. Wrestling is in a league of its own as far as how you have to maintain yourself in the ring and it’s all about breathing and pacing yourself when you’re in there.
In your early days – before the plane tickets and national tours – you gained experience by travelling up and down the east coast. Do you look back on those days with any fondness?
Jamie: Those were the hardest times of my wrestling career but also the best times of my career because they prepared me for what was to come in mainstream wrestling. I thank everybody on the East Coast and just in general that I had worked with and came up with during those times who had helped me gain knowledge and experience in any way. From my trainer Jason Knight to [WWE Hall-of-Famer] Afa “The Wild Samoan” and his family, to all the guys and gals that I’ve stepped in the ring with to prepare me for where I am now. I will never, ever forget where I came from as long as I am in this business and long after I am gone because in wrestling, you have to stay humble.
Was it tough for you to be taken seriously as more than a “pretty face” when you first get in the wrestling business?
Jamie: No I never had any problems as far as that goes because I showed respect and proper etiquette to everyone and in turn respect is shown back. A lot of newcomers in the business this day and age haven’t a clue about etiquette and its really not something that’s taught, you should just know to respect those that were there before you.
If you weren’t a pro wrestler, what would you be doing?
Jamie: Animal care, definitely. I love animals.
As your star power has grown, is it tough to keep up with the demands of having so many fans while holding onto some semblance of a private life?
Jamie: Nope! I love my fans. They are what make me who I am. They’re so special to me.
Impact Wrestling is notable for giving its stars the freedom to branch out into other careers and forms of media. Do you have any aspirations to try something beyond the confines of pro wrestling?
Jamie: I would love to try acting at some point but for now, with the demanding schedule, it’s all wrestling for me.
To any young girls from Waterbury who want to become a pro wrestling superstar, what would your advice to them be?
Jamie: Find a credible school. Do your research. Keep your mouth closed and your ears open. Be humble. Show respect at all times, and always strive to be the best at what you do.
Jamie Szantyr takes Waterbury quiz
(local answer with a brief reason for her response)
a) Favorite place to eat: Nardellis. Best grinder place ever. Food is incredible.
b) Favorite place to relax: the many hidden waterfall spots in CT that my crew of friends and I have discovered.
c) Favorite small business: Beach Combers in Waterbury. Its a tanning and hair place that i frequent often. The owner, Lynn Kelly is an amazing hairdresser and she’s been doing my hair for YEARS now.
d) Favorite place to hang out with friends: Anywhere in CT outdoors in the summertime. We all find these really cool hiking and mountain climbing spots, as well as the amazing breathtaking waterfalls we find. My brother is mostly responsible for finding the waterfalls.