By WENDI RICHTER
At Wednesday’s Cauliflower Alley Club banquet, women’s wrestling great Wendi Richter accepted the 2012 Art Abrams Lifetime Achievement award. In her speech, Richter talked about the good times, and the bad, the inequity between women’s and men’s wrestling, and her happiness post-wrestling. Here’s what she had to say:
“I really don’t know what to say about the [Lifetime] Achievement Award,” Richter began, revealing that she had four pages of notes drawn up.
“Wrestling was my ultimate dream. From the first time I ever watched a match, I knew that was what I wanted to do. Being nominated for this award is extra special for me. It means so very much to be nominated by my peers, and I feel so flattered and humbled to have been chosen. Thank you for recognizing me.
“I couldn’t have done it alone, and I have to thank the outstanding wrestlers that I worked with, like Judy Martin — I mean that from the bottom of my heart. Her, Joyce Grable, Leilani Kai, Velvet McIntyre, Princess Victoria. They were excellent wrestlers and I learned so much from them. And from [Fabulous] Moolah, I learned what not to do.
“These wrestlers taught me the fundamentals, basically Wrestling 101. The psychology, or core curriculum, so to speak. It was my foundation, upon which everything was built upon, and I thank you so much.
“But I have to thank Cyndi Lauper, also, for her contributions, because it was her influence that skyrocketed my career, as well as Roddy Piper and the late Lou Albano. I thank them so much.
“I’m so proud to have gone to wrestling school to learn the fundamentals, because, without that foundation, you have no concept of psychology or, possibly, respect for this great sport.
“I’m so proud to have trained on the mat for hours, day after day, smearing my blood the hard way on the mat, not wearing elbow pads and knee pads to make me tough.
“Also, I’m proud of sacrificing my personal life, year after year, to be on the road, driving hundreds of miles a day, and getting paid next to nothing because I loved this sport.
“I’m so proud to sacrifice my body in so-called old-school wrestling for approximately 25 years, and winning five world championships, as well as tag team champions with Joyce Grable.
“And I’m so proud, winning this award and the championships, based on my wrestling talent and hard work, and not on acting and T&A.;
“I’m also very proud that I protected this sport, and continue to protect it, and give it the respect that it deserves.
“I’m also very proud and grateful that I was inducted into the World Wrestling Hall of Fame, winning this award tonight, and next month, the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame, because it’s all I’ve got from wrestling and that part of my life.
“You see, the girls didn’t make much money in wrestling. We were treated basically like the midgets, a special attraction going territory to territory. It wasn’t easy. I’m sure it’s still not easy.
“I’ve always said that the girls had to work twice as hard to receive half the recognition and pay that the men do. Probably still do.
“But we did it and we do it because we love this sport. Just as I’m here all this week in Las Vegas working for nothing, because I still love wrestling.”
“But there comes a time in one’s life, or it did in mine, when you had to regroup and move on. And that’s what I did when I started college. I started first with one class per semester, then two classes, then three classes, then four, and the weekends. Before long, I had a burning desire to excel in academics. And I did. I don’t think I would have been prepared to do that straight out of high school, like I was when I started wrestling at 18.
“I made the President’s list, the honor roll, and I graduated with honors, and I have a Masters Degree in Occupational Therapy, the highest level of education in my family. I was very proud of that.
“It wasn’t easy, but the same concepts that I applied in wrestling to succeed I applied in college, like everyone here could if they wanted to.
“It’s perseverance and hard work. I don’t think I was the most talented or the smartest person, but I worked really hard and I gave it my best. There’s no substitution for hard work, or applying yourself and experience to become the best at whatever you’re doing.
“I’m so happy and grateful that I have an education, something I can count on, and a job that I love. I’m making a difference in people’s lives.
“I tease people and tell people at the hospital, I tell them, ‘Get out and stay out’ — and it’s a really good feeling. Because I help the physically impaired, the handicapped and the disabled to reach whatever goals they need, whatever their deficits are, whether it’s strength, range of motion, endurance, balance, which helps their self-worth and dignity, and that remain in the community and lead a productive life.
“Not to mention that I’m making far more as an occupational therapist than I EVER did in wrestling, about five times more, with full benefits.
“But we can’t all be work and no play, so for fun, I applied to, tested, and my horse and I were accepted into the Citrus County Florence Sheriff’s Posse — and that’s a wild group of people who rode, just like me. I fit right in. We’re doing what we love, which is horseback riding and protecting the community, be it crowd control at events like rodeos and the Civil War reenactment, to patrolling parks … and trails and the Barge Canal, and parades, of course.
“I feel like my life has come full circle.
“I started in wrestling as a cowgirl, not cowboy, and I feel that I am one now as well.
“And I would like to leave you with a message: There is life after wrestling, and life is what you make it.
“These memories and this honor I will cherish the rest of my life. Thank you.”
— transcription by Greg Oliver