“I was one of the Rosebuds,” Divya Chand says, as she remembers being an extra standing in front of more than 16,000 screaming fans on a WWE stage. “And it was all on my 20th birthday.”
She was dressed in a fairy costume alongside others as part as a colourful entourage for wrestler Adam Rose. It wasn’t the first time she was in Montreal – in fact, the she has been to the city to see wrestling events in the past – but it was the first time Chand was performing in front of millions watching at home.
Chand’s opportunity to be part of the WWE production for one night was “one of the best experiences” of her life, because for the GTA-native, wrestling full-time in the big league is a childhood dream she will never stop chasing.
According to a study in the academic journal Social Forces, only six per cent of adults achieve their childhood dream career. But for many who have accomplished their goals, the struggles and obstacles were all part of the journey. Through determination and unbridled passion, chasing a dream can lead to personal victories, advantageous relationships, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, and opportunities to inspire others.
In the past 20 years, many notable Ontario-based wrestlers have made a name for themselves worldwide. This list includes the WWE Hall of Famers Trish Stratus and Edge, his longtime tag-team partner Christian, and WWE title holder Anthony Carelli, known at the company as Santino Marella.
It’s under Carelli’s guidance at Battle Arts Academy in Mississauga that Chand – or Aria “Wild” Sapphire in the ring – now currently trains. Her instructor teaches how to take body slams and piledrivers, but also encourages students to find the will within.
“It is up to one’s self to ultimately become successful. You must adopt the ‘I can make it happen’ attitude, believe in yourself, and be willing to work harder than anyone else,” Carelli says.
At only 21-years old, it’s already been a long journey for Chand, who’s love for wrestling began at an early age. Along with her brothers, the young girl from Markham, Ont. became fixated on WWF’s (now WWE) grungy, no-holds-barred Attitude Era. Themes of violence, sex and drugs were fair game in the late 1990s, but Chand doesn’t think it affected her upbringing.
“I loved wrestling, but I still had that girly side to me,” Chand says. “I liked Barbies, and tea parties with Hulk Hogan.”
It was as a child her aspirations of being a wrestler were realized, but her parents were against her entering anything combat related. Instead, they agreed to acting classes. At 12-years old, Chand began to attend seminars about commercials, TV beauty segments, and runway work.
Her adoration for the wrestling industry carried over into her high school years. However, a weight issue took a toll on the teenager not only physically, but mentally.
“I gained a lot of weight and suffered from eating disorders and anemia,” she says. “I hated it because I wanted to wrestle, but I had this outer layer of me that I couldn’t get rid of.”
Chand decided to get a personal trainer in her final year of school.
From there, her wrestling career began when she signed up to train at Squared Circle in Toronto. The school was at Jane St. and Finch Ave. W, a Toronto area with a history of violence. Yet in this building, combat was a way of keeping out of trouble.
In conjunction with her training, Chand also realized her love for helping others. For the then-19-year old, Durham College’s Child and Youth Worker (CYW) program seemed like the perfect fit. But sacrifices needed to be made to achieve her childhood dream. Leaving the program was only the first step.
“CYWs do extraordinary things for youth, are on call 24/7, and are always there for the children that need them. But I couldn’t be there, and I felt that it’s unfair for those kids,” Chand says.
Chand will be returning to the school for something related to youth services in future, but is currently focused on her wrestling career and making it to the WWE.
Deep in the grind at Battle Arts Academy, Chand also learns from a legendary Japanese trainer named Yuki Ishikawa.
Academy owner Carelli was a student of Ishawaka while in Japan, and when an injury forced the wrestler to retire, he opened a training facility in his hometown of Mississauga. A job offer was extended to his former mentor, and was accepted.
Together, the instructors teach two different styles. Carelli has a greater grasp on American style wrestling, while Ishikawa instills traditional Japanese form. For someone like Chand, the lessons she learns from her instructors are immeasurable.
According to Carelli, Chand’s wrestling ability has improved since she arrived at the academy. He says she has a “much better understanding of the psychological aspects of professional wrestling – the storytelling component.”
He also believes that the way she presents herself in and out of the ring is impressive, saying “she’s very confident and not afraid to perform in front of large groups of people.”
Ishikawa mirrors Carelli’s sentiment and believes Chand is a positive role model for others because of her ability to absorb information. “She understands my thinking and has a good personality. She can be a leader at Battle Arts,” Ishikawa declares.
But kinds words don’t create success stories – personal effort does. Chand was sent to acquire new fighting styles in dojos in Japan where she stayed for three months, and when she was finished in Asia, she migrated to England for five months to once again learn new techniques.
Chand left behind most of her family and friends in Canada, all in the name of achieving her dream. She says the sacrifices were hard to make, but well worth it.
In fact, her hard work and determination paid off when Carelli called her less than a month after her tours asking if she was interested in an on-screen extra role on WWE Raw. The answer was a quick yes.
Chand’s moment had arrived. She was standing face-to-face with William Regal, a WWE legend and talent scout. After showing off her mic skills and physical attributes, Regal complimented her on her effort and suggested that if she continues on the path she is currently on, that she may have a future with company.
Chand’s goal of being a professional wrestler in the WWE is twofold; she wants to fulfill a childhood dream, but also wants to inspire others – especially children – to be whatever they want.
The young fighter has already encountered a variety of obstacles in her life, but wants people to know that if she can utilize her passion and achieve her success, so can they.
“I want to help people, and teach kids that everything will be OK. No matter how tough situations feel, you can overcome anything.”