The journey from Hanover County's horse farms to the white-hot spotlight of professional wrestling seems long and improbable. And while Mickie James would agree with that assessment, she isn't one to worry about such things once she has a goal in mind.
At 27, James is one of the queen bees of the World Wrestling Entertainment's flagship brand, Raw. The Montpelier native and Patrick Henry High School graduate grew up on the weekend horse-show circuit but has been on the professional wrestling pile-driver circuit for nine years.
When the WWE's Raw comes to the Richmond Coliseum on Monday, the three-time women's champion will return home a bona fide Diva. (According to the WWE, she has officially reached Diva status.)
James, who now makes her home in Aylett, says she won't need to ride in on a horse because her excitement might just carry all the way to the ring.
She spoke with us last week from Dublin, Ireland, between sold-out Raw shows.
How does a girl with a love of horses go from Patrick Henry High to the pinnacle of professional wrestling?
I was always a huge fan; I watched it with my dad growing up. . . . [After high school] I was looking to get into boxing or karate, just to do something on the side to stay in shape.
I was working at a bar, and a friend knew that I would watch wrestling religiously. He suggested I go to this wrestling school up in the D.C. area. I had no idea there were wrestling schools out there. I went up and checked it out and started that night.
That was nine years ago. You've been with the WWE for almost three years. What was it like before you reached the big time?
I trained for a while, then joined the independent circuits. I'd work in front of crowds of four people outside of a car dealership in North Carolina when it was like 104 degrees outside. I'd do some state fairs. Some of them were just their own [wrestling] promotions.
Once the door was open and I could see how to get there, I started doing anything I could. I would drive like 20 hours for peanuts. I'd pretty much lose money just to get to meet people and make connections.
How did you make the jump from state fairs to WWE Diva?
I sent the WWE a tape every other week and would call them every other week. Just nagging them and nagging them. And then I would drive anywhere if they were close. I just wanted to make connections. I probably did that for two years straight [before getting noticed].
What is it that kept you going on those small-town, independent circuits for years?
The people. The fans. When you walk through the curtain and get in the ring and standing in front of all those fans. Just hearing them cheer you or boo you is such a rush.
It's like a drug. Once you go out there and feel it, it's in your blood. There's nothing like it in the world. It's like an addiction. Being able to go out and get people to feel something. Whether it's to get them to hate you or get them to love you or make them feel sorry for you. Just to make them emotional is kind of powerful.
Now that you've been doing this for a while, do you see yourself making the transition to something else in the entertainment industry? Movies? TV?
If I happen to do something like that [acting], that's cool, but that's not why I got into wrestling. I got into it to be a wrestler.
I don't think of it as a steppingstone to anything else. I went to wrestling school to be a wrestler, and I'm really good at it. If I happen to do a movie, that'd be awesome. That'd be totally fun.
Are you looking forward to wrestling in front of your home crowd?
I'm so excited. My family and friends are all coming. They've all come to the shows before, so they've watched my progress. My mom was at Wrestlemania.
It's going to be really cool to have them come to Richmond because it's my hometown. I'm excited to hear what kind of reaction I'm going to get, if I get any at all.