Monday 22 July 2019

Kilmac's likeable queen of wrestling

Reporter David Medcalf ventured to Kilmacanogue for elevenses with wrestler Katey Harvey, who chatted about life in the ring and the injuries suffered along the way to being one of Ireland's leading grapplers

Wrestler Katey Harvey from Kilmacanogue
Wrestler Katey Harvey from Kilmacanogue

Katey Harvey is Kilmacanogue born and bred - and very proud of that fact she is too, though she now spends much of her time in Dublin. Her reputation has spread far beyond her native County Wicklow to wherever wrestling is appreciated and enjoyed. Yes, the daughter of Siobhan and Paddy Harvey has chosen a most unusual career, blazing a trail for women in the world of Hulk Hogan and The Rock.

The 29 year old has not quite abandoned the day job working in in a Dublin gym while training for her appearances in the ring. But her enthusiasm for that most theatrical of sports is relentless and infectious. Her only problem is that she has plenty of time at the moment to talk to anyone who will listen to her about her chosen craft.

She has been on the injured list since the beginning of the year after sustaining a couple of broken elbows in a move which went painfully wrong.

So she sits in the kitchen of the family home back in Kilmac and charts her rise through the wrestling ranks: 'My real name is Catherine but no one has ever called me that,' Katey informs the visiting reporter over a steaming mug of coffee. She confirms the spelling K.A.T.E.Y., which she adapted and adopted somewhere along the way as part of her stage persona.

Brought up with two brothers - Jamie and Patrick - she acknowledges she was a tomboy when growing up. Kilmacanogue provided the perfect setting for her childhood, not least because it boasted a very active karate club. Later on, as a student at St Killian's in Bray, she played Gaelic football, while also being on the school chess and debating teams. But it was the karate which provided her with the best outlet for her considerable energy, as well as putting her into the limelight.

The sport was fostered in the locality by Kevin Smith and young Katey would turn up four times a week for training at the village hall. She felt she was learning to become a Power Ranger, following in the high kicking footsteps of her television super-heroes.

She had little time for some of the more thoughtful elements of the discipline. She simply loved combat.

She clearly had a talent for fighting, winning national championships as a teenager. Her exploits earned qualification for the world championships in Canada - the trip of a young lifetime. Then disaster struck: 'I blew my knee out two weeks before I was due to take part - I went for a move and the knee just crumpled.'

So Katey never went to Canada, staying at home instead to undergo rehab on the damaged leg and pondering her future.

The time off helped to nudge her out of karate as she sat her Leaving Cert and took a place on the television production course at Bray Institute of Further Education. And there the story of Katey the wannabe Power Ranger might have ended but for the fact that the BIFE curriculum required students to make a documentary.

She and classmate Paul Scarfe racked their brains in search of a topic until inspiration struck. Katey, who had been attending wrestling shows as a spectator from the age of ten, recalled that there was a wrestling school on the doorstep in Little Bray. It seemed to have potential as a suitable subject, so they decided to conduct some preliminary research, turning up on a scouting mission at the converted garage where Phil Boyd conducted the lessons.

The visitors decided to take part: 'The two of us found that we loved the wrestling training too much, and we never made the documentary. I was hooked, especially when I found out that they had an all-female class.

'I ended up training four times a week.'

The young film maker, by the way, focused her lens instead on Wicklow Gaol.

Finding herself in the ring at the age of 20, Katey had hit on a pastime which was at the time distinctly uncool- 'wrestling was in its lull,' she recalls. The only way was up as a generation raised on TV shows featuring the likes of now disgraced Hulk Hogan of Steve Aust began to seek live entertainment. Yes, entertainment. The Kilmac grappler makes no apology for describing what happens as a show.

The wrestling she loves is theatre, the moves choreographed, the end product a show presented by people working together. This is not the fierce, grim competition of an Olympic event but a character driven event complete with loud music, lavish make-up, comic-book costumes and simple story lines. Though there are rules and results, she frankly cannot remember afterwards whether it was her arm which was raised in victory at the end of a bout.

While it may be contrived, however, it is every bit as demanding as any sport in terms of strength and skill. The training is hard as Katey notes casually of her early days: 'I was already used to being physical. You need to be fit and you need to be strong.'

The would-be film and TV producer found it difficult to break into the movies after graduating from BIFE, barely making it as far as Hollywood, County Wicklow - and never mind Hollywood in California. She landed some stunt work in the 'Vikings' series, which was great fun: 'They give you a wooden sword and tell you to go fight. The work as a featured extra is very like wrestling. You have to keep safe by falling and rolling.'

'Vikings' never amounted to a regular job and, with bills to pay, she began working at the West Wood gym in Dublin's Temple Bar, while also training and performing as a wrestler. That has never amounted to a full-time job but has provided a useful source of extra income.

She was one of the first young women to make it on to the bill at shows around the country.

Three of her friends turned up for her first appearance when Katey's debut opponent was Lucy Crawley in a fight that was scripted more or less from start to finish. Sitting in the front row, the trio of pals memorably had one of the fighters land in their laps.

Their heroine bought most of her outfit for the occasion in Penneys, an ensemble which included shorts, a black net top and boot covers which she made herself to create an eye-catching persona.

'It is theatre,' she explains. 'It is sport at the same time but I liken it to action movies. It is story telling at its very basic - good guy against bad guy. The most important thing is the audience reaction.'

Katey has spent most of the past nine years being the bad guy but reports happily that the good guy does not always win, while the rules often go out the window.

'If you are good at the storytelling, then you don't always have to be outrageous', she insists - but frankly being outrageous often helps, as does lapping up the boohs or cheers of the crowd. 'The feeling is hard to describe. I imagine it's what being a rock star is like.'

The theatrical side of wrestling - which never eliminates the muscly or acrobatic aspects - came easily to someone who had enjoyed being on stage in 'Cats' and 'Grease' in local productions as a girl. Along the way, her training venue has moved from the converted garage in Bray to become the Fight Factory at Dublin's East Wall and she now resides in Cabra.

As wrestling has grown in popularity, other centres have sprung up north and south of the border, in Ulster and Cork as well as Dublin.

Women wrestlers used to be a novelty but nowadays all-female promotions have become more common, with Katey first appearing at one in Germany.

The business has allowed Katey Harvey to travel, popping up at shows in England, Netherlands, Italy and France. She has appeared in front of 2,200 enthusiasts who packed the National Stadium for an 'OTT' promotion.

And occasionally she has picked up injuries. She broke her shoulder two years ago appearing in London where she was thrown from the 16 feet by 16 feet ring. She recovered from that setback but then came a spectacular cropper in January during a performance at the Ringside Club in Dublin.

She jumped from the height of the top rope and the landing went horribly wrong, leaving her with both arms dislocated and a series of fractures.

She was brought to the Mater Hospital where medics did a double-take when presented with a patient wearing fishnet and Wonder Woman head-piece.

After an operation scheduled to take three hours actually took eight hours, they told Katey she would never wrestle again but she has sought a second opinion.

Recovery continues with an exhausting combination of Pilates, physiotherapy and occupational therapy. She is already back helping to run the Fight Factory and she hopes to be back in costume maybe next January, though at present her left arm is held together by surgical plates and still does not straighten properly.

'Every day, I try to do a little bit more to get back where I was,' says Katey Harvey, one tough Power Ranger.

Wicklow People