9/11 Remembered: Brooklyn girl honors Dad with WWE Career
Thea Trinidad Lives Out WWE Dream They Shared
As America approaches the unhappiest of anniversaries on Thursday, Sept. 11, the pain felt by so many from the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center in 2001 remains extremely fresh to former Brooklyn resident Thea Trinidad.
Trinidad, a professional wrestler, fitness model and aspiring actress who has performed to sold-out crowds in Brooklyn, was just 10 years old on that sunny September morning when she learned that her father Michael, a telecommunications analyst at Cantor Fitzgerald, would be among the nearly 3,000 Americans to lose their lives that day.
“It really does feel like yesterday,” she told the Brooklyn Eagle, her voice echoing disbelief that, in fact, 13 years had passed since her father died a hero on the 103rd floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower.
Trinidad said she remembers her father for his incredible work ethic and devotion to his family – especially to her and her younger brother Tim.
“His hustle was amazing,” she said. “At one point he worked three jobs and still made time for the family.”
Much of the time Michael spent with his young daughter involved their mutual love of professional wrestling, an athletic art form to which she was drawn instantly, even at a very young age. As a young father, Michael had dreamed of pursuing a career with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) himself, but knew his priority was to provide for his children.
“My dad was a wrestler in high school,” Trinidad said. “He was really good and had a great amateur background, but it was always his dream to be in the WWE.”
Father and daughter would sit in the crowd at venues like Madison Square Garden and enjoy WWE events whenever they rolled into the New York City area. At each event, Michael would teach his daughter about the nuances of pro wrestling until she became completely enamored of it.
“That was our thing, definitely,” Trinidad said. “I was always a tomboy growing up. I would cry whenever my mom tried to put makeup on me, so I looked forward to wrestling events with my dad.”
As their bond grew stronger, so did Trinidad’s belief that she might one day be able to step inside the ring herself and make her father proud.
“Even as just a fan, watching these events, I knew I wanted to be in the ring,” she said. “Nobody believed me as a 5-year-old kid, but I knew it was for me.”
Indeed, her father’s dream eventually became her own. The older Thea got, the more matches she saw, the more she grew to respect and admire the performers inside the ring that she and her dad cheered or booed.
But all dreams were put on hold following the nightmare that was 9/11.
Thea’s family relocated to Long Island. She attended high school, studied dance and acting, worked with a vocal coach and sang in her school’s chorus group. She attended Camp Haze – a refuge for children who had lost a parent on 9/11 – in the summers, first as a child and then as a counselor. As she slowly built up the strength to face her unimaginable loss, she turned her attention to honoring the man who had sacrificed his dream for her and her brother.
“I got to thinking, ‘How can I celebrate his life?’” Trinidad said. The answer, she already knew, was through professional wrestling.
“I told myself, ‘I’m going to do this for me, but also for him,’” she said.
At 17, Trinidad began training in earnest with pro wrestler Amazing Red. Her father’s hustle inspired her to expand her training and she later worked with Sarita as well as Mexican veterans Hijo del Gladiador and Tony Salazar.
She wrestled her first professional match in February 2009 on the independent circuit and kept working to refine her craft at small shows. From the very first match, Trinidad saw that she had made the right choice.
“I remembered being a kid, cheering for [WWE Divas] Lita or Trish Stratus and then, suddenly, I was in the ring being cheered, or even booed,” she said. “To know that I had brought out that emotion in the fans was amazing.”
The following year, during an event in Coney Island, she caught the eye of hardcore wrestling legend Tommy Dreamer, who liked what he saw and offered to take the young star under his wing.
“Tommy was an amazing mentor,” Trinidad said. “I owe so much to him.”
Dreamer’s aid and interest helped Trinidad achieve greater success in wrestling and she developed a loyal fan base across the country. In October 2013, she returned to Bay Ridge, where her family once lived, performing in front of a capacity crowd at St. Patrick’s gymnasium.
After taking some time to pursue her love of acting – Trinidad has starred in several films, including the horror flicks “Chilling Visions: 5 Senses of Fear” and “Army of the Damned” – she set her sights on achieving her father’s ultimate goal of making it to the WWE.
Following a strict regimen of cardiovascular exercise in the mornings, weight training in the evenings, a balanced diet and, of course, constant in-ring training, Trinidad made sure she was ready when her big break came.
Her hard work paid off this summer when Trinidad, now 23, was invited to make several appearances as part of up-and-coming WWE Superstar Adam Rose’s entourage, known as the “Rosebuds.” During the stint, she appeared on the WWE’s globally televised “Monday Night Raw” and “Friday Night Smackdown” programs as well as the company’s annual “Money in the Bank” pay-per-view event.
“It went amazing,” she said. “To be part of the pay-per-view was so exciting. I felt so blessed just to be there.”
The international exposure was incredible, but for Trinidad, there were two specific stops on her tour with the WWE that put her entire life’s journey into perspective. On July 12, she appeared at Madison Square Garden – the place where she had learned to love the business with the man she had loved so much. The next night, she performed in Wildwood, N.J. That was the last place she spent time with her father on the weekend before 9/11.
“When I got to MSG, I had to look around and just take it in. I looked at the crowd and couldn’t believe it,” she said. “Instead of butterflies in my stomach, I had hawks!”
The performance went well and, backstage, she took a moment to pray to her father and thank him for watching over her as she lived a part of their dream.
“I talked to him in the locker room and, of course, I cried,” Trinidad said. “I really felt like it was not a coincidence that I was performing at these two venues. I was like, ‘He’s up to something.’”
Now Trinidad, who appeared once again as one of the “Rosebuds” on the Sept. 8 edition of WWE’s “Monday Night Raw,” is hoping that her hard work will finally lead to a full-time talent contract at WWE.
She maintains a demanding workout schedule and continues to perform at independent shows to hone her skills. It’s exhausting work, for sure, but she never loses the motivation to achieve her late father’s dream.
“I have my dad’s wrestling trophies at my house,” she said. “I look at them and reflect all the time. Whenever I’m tired, or sore, or complaining, I look at his trophies and say, ‘Come on…you’ve got work to do.’”