Featured Image by Pix Photography
Lena Kross has grown up around sport. An athlete in her own right, her position on empowering women shines through in her work as a pro wrestler.
‘As a kid, I thought, “Imagine growing up and being able to wrestle.” That’s all I wanted to be,’ Lena looks back on her formative years in Perth, Western Australia, when she first discovered wrestling in the early 2000s. ‘I reckon I was about six or seven when I first started watching WWE on TV with my brothers. Then, probably when I was about 12, I started playing basketball.’
Lena’s wrestling dreams took a backseat to her basketball, which she went on to play professionally at state level. It wasn’t until roughly 2015 that she fell in love all over again. She recalls, ‘With the increasing popularity [of wrestling] on social media, I started seeing a lot of Charlotte Flair and Nikki Bella, all of those girls taking over my feed.’
‘I just remember thinking how tank these women were, and how athletically they were being portrayed.’
Strong female figures haven’t had the same platforms that they currently have access to in the world of entertainment and sport. In WWE, women’s wrestling’s history of “bras and panties” matches have held it back from showcasing what has always been capable of. A social media movement (#GiveDivasAChance) spurred on the exposure of athletic women, who could rival their male counterparts as the main event. Lena Kross is one of many women in Australian wrestling leading the way for innovation and social change.
Lena jumped in the ring in February 2017 and has picked up the tricks of the trade quicker than most. However, her short journey so far has not come without its challenges, including the geographical isolation of living in Western Australia , where she wrestles for New Horizons Pro Wrestling (NHPW). ‘I am the only female on shows within my company. Now, we have a couple of women that are in training and I know there’s other females within other companies in WA. But, there’s just not many of us around here,’ says Lena.
Wrestling’s roots mean that it speaks majorly to a male demographic. The same can be said for most popular sports, including basketball. Lena says, ‘You’ll have your women’s team and your men’s team within the one club. It is noticeable that the men get more money and opportunities, for the most part.’ As cliché as she says it might sound, we are witnessing a lot of change in sport, where women are being regarded for their ability over their image.
That was probably the first challenge: finding my place in a man’s world.
Locally, Lena has been fortunate enough to wrestle some of Australia’s best in Madison Eagles, Avary, FaceBrooke, Casey Johns and Azalea. Her home promotion, NHPW, hold an annual female-focused show called Global Conflict. Lena says, ‘I debuted on the 2017 Global Conflict show in an eight-man tag. I got to share the stage with so many other awesome women. A year later, I ended up making it to the main event [in a match] with Madison Eagles which was just an unbelievable moment. Working with Madison, and then being able to represent women at my company was really a proud moment.’
There is still much to be done. The recent establishment of the AFL Women’s League has created paid opportunities for women in sport, but each positive move forward has come with its setbacks. Lena explains, ‘There’s actually a lot of basketball girls that have made that transition over to women’s footy for the opportunities. One girl I played with is playing in the Fremantle team. The whole saga about their team not getting footy boots provided for them, that’s ridiculous.’ Making a career in sport as a woman is far from a one-way street. That’s why Lena wanted to try her hand at wrestling. ‘I was seeking something else that was going to give me that sense of drive and passion and fire and wanting to work toward something, that I was starting to lose in basketball.’
Lena welcomed new challenges when she decided to kick start her career as a wrestler. She says, ‘Going from being a part of a team sport for so long, you are really thinking about everyone else instead of yourself. As a wrestler, you are training with everyone. But, you are building yourself up into who you want to be seen as and the so-called “brand” that you want to create for yourself.’ Lena enjoys the range in which she can express herself and personalise her persona. ‘She’s slowly developing, definitely not there yet but getting there,’ she laughs.
When Lena lost her auntie in early 2017, any self-doubt or concerns about making the jump disappeared. With her auntie inspiring her namesake and her German heritage tying in with that, it all started to fall into place. ‘What did I have to lose? I didn’t really care what people wanted to think about what I chose to do… I’ve tried to portray Lena based on my auntie and the challenges that I’ve had to face.’
‘Lena is going to fight no matter the circumstance. But on the outside, she’s gentle and kind and compassionate. Like my auntie.’
Family is everything to Lena. Her older brother has been battling cancer on-and-off for eight years, and she has been determined to stand behind him and show gratitude for what she has. She is working in occupational therapy, driven by a desire to help people live their lives to the best of their ability. She hopes that her younger family members who come and watch her wrestle feel inspired in some way, an ambition that speaks volumes about her potential as a role model.
‘Bringing it back to the lack of females in WA’s wrestling scene… I look up to the women that have been here for so long, like Michelle and Allyson. But that’s only a few girls. So, that’s something I feel strongly about, just representing females in WA,’ she says.
For young people, witnessing women in grass roots competition can be life-altering: ‘Being the only female on NHPW shows, I get girls and boys come up to me and go, “Wow, there’s a girl is up there with the guys”. I want to give them something to look up to and realise it doesn’t matter if you’re a girl or a boy or anyone, you can go out and just do it.’
‘If I can be that person, then that’s awesome. I’ll do everything I can to help the scene now.’
Lena’s Wrestling Idols
‘A female role model of mine would be Charlotte Flair. I’m a lot taller than a lot of the girls I work with. So, Charlotte gives me someone to look up, in her build and athleticism.’
‘Being tucked away in WA, I don’t really have that many other female or LGBTQ+ peers that I’m quite close to. However, I do look up to many local Australian women wrestlers. Personally, my biggest idols – they may not be female or queer – but my trainers and my peers within my company are making me better. They are the ones who are helping me improve and working towards something bigger and better.’