Grace Lightning – Wrestling with Endo

Grace Lightning calls herself ‘the embodiment of a little sister’ who is usually up to no good.  The 25-year-old Auckland-based wrestler can be seen flipping around the ring, employing mischievous tactics and having a ball.

Grace lives with endometriosis, an inflammatory disease where the lining the inside of your uterus — the endometrium — grows outside of the uterus. It can be a painful and debilitating illness, that is said to “affect 1 in 10 women worldwide“, and many other people with uteruses. She also lives with myalgic encephalomyelitis (or chronic fatigue syndrome).

Despite this, the reigning PWE (Professional Wrestling Entertainment) New Zealand Women’s Champion has an important message about her condition that she wants the world to hear.FB_IMG_1585438076276

Q: Do you remember the moment that made you decide to start wrestling?
A: Unlike most, i got into wrestling later [in life].  I have a gymnastics background – Growing up, I loved to preform and be on stage. WrestleMania 30 (2014) was my introduction into the wrestling world. It just looked like something fun that I could actually do. Finally, I found a ‘platform’ where I felt at home.

Q: When and where did you start your wrestling training? 
A: I started training with Impact Pro Wrestling (New Zealand) at the start of 2016, after a year and a bit of being the company photographer. I adored training when I started. It was a wee bit of an escape from reality for a couple of nights each week, a chance to see my mates and to work on myself. I did get quite frustrated trying to convert my gymnastics-trained brain over to wrestling. [This] was quite the challenge with certain things.

Q: Are you still photographing wrestling? If not, is this something you’d want to do again in future?
A: No I’m not, I miss it! I taught myself photography through wrestling – I got chucked a camera one day and just ran with it. It’s one of the things I’m most proud of learning to do.

Q: When and where did you make your debut? How did you feel, before and after?
A: I Debuted on April 8th 2017 for Professional Wrestling Entertainment in a Battle Royal  [match]. It was one of the coolest feelings: Getting into the ring with, not one, but three of my best mates [watching] is one of my favourite memories looking back. It was terrifying, but I’m still here!

My energy bank is like a match: I can light it whenever I want, but it quickly goes out and I end up burnt out.

Q: When were you diagnosed with endometriosis?
A: I was officially diagnosed via excision surgery on December 4th 2019, after having chronic pelvic pain and suspecting it for 10 years. [I had been] fighting our health system to get to that point.

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📸: @ImpactprowrestlingNZ

Q: How has chronic illness impacted your wrestling career?
A: It’s hard. Endometriosis is an inflammatory disease, so it can flare up at any given moment for any length of time. I’m always in pain, even though for the most part I don’t show it. Wrestling with any kind of ailment is exhausting. My energy bank is like a match: I can light it whenever I want, but it quickly goes out and I end up burnt out.

Learning how to wrestle with stuff like this has been a big learning experience; a lot of mental gymnastics, calculations, pre-planning and pre-resting have to go on in order for me to be at an energy level I’m comfortable with to get in the ring. I’m slowly getting it down to a fine art. I have to work and think three times as hard as normal, but it’s what I need to do to be in the ring.

Q: Is the wrestling community a supportive space for someone with chronic illness? What has been your experience of this?
A: For the most part, yes. Endometriosis, even though it’s a common disease and affects 1 in 10 women – in my opinion – it’s still a taboo to talk about.  So, when something like [endometriosis] is brought into a male-dominated world, it’s uncomfortable [to talk about], especially with the lack of knowledge [or awareness] around it.

The ones who get it or try to understand do accommodate for me and try to be accepting of it, [which is] great. The ones who don’t, I don’t really waste my energy on. I’m still me and I’m still capable. I just need people to understand that i’m a wee bit different.

Q: Have you encountered any low points in wrestling that have made it difficult to keep going? What gets you through these low points?
A: Honestly, I didn’t think I would be able to get back in the ring after my last [excision] surgery. It has been a hard road recovering from it, because although my surgery diagnosed my condition, it didn’t really ‘fix’ the problem. That surgery has really caused more issues than it has resolved them.

I think a low point for me was watching the people I train with excelling while my energy dwindled. When your fatigued body can’t keep up with your mind, it completely messes with your mental [and emotional] state.

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📸: ericawillisphotography

Q: What has been your wrestling career highlight to date?
A: Wrestling Candy Lee for the PWE Women’s Championship.

Q: Do you have any wrestling bucket-list items you’d like to tick off soon?
A: That’s a tough one. I did have bucket list of stuff I wanted to do before my health got in the way. Most of those things don’t seem achievable for me anymore, so I’m really just out here doing what I can to help grow our little scene in NZ.

Q. Where do you see Grace Lightning in 5 years?
A: Who knows! I’ve learned to live my life moment to moment, but hopefully we’re still killing it.🤞

Q: What’s the main thing you would like people to know about endometriosis?
A: It’s so tough to live with, but that doesn’t mean that we need to be defined by our condition, and it doesn’t mean that we’re not capable. People with endometriosis have a lot to say about their health online, because it’s an underfunded disease. I’m screaming as loud as I can about it so younger people don’t need to shout to be heard and can get the care they need, without having to fight so hard to get it.

Q: Finally, who are your female and/or queer wrestling idols – past, present or emerging?
A: I have a soft spot for Dakota Kai, from watching her kill it at home and inspire me to get it in the ring, to watching her on NXT.

I’m still me and I’m still capable. I just need people to understand that i’m a wee bit different.

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📸: ericawillisphotography

You can follow Grace Lightning on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. You can also follow her journey with endometriosis on her personal Instagram and her blog, “Wrestling with Endometriosis“. 

Find out more about endometriosis via the Endometriosis Australia website, or knowyourendo.com/endometriosis.