Lita sees light at end of tunnel

by Phil Speer
Feb. 27, 2003

Lita's quest to return to the ring hasn't ended yet, but she's feeling increasingly better and optimistic.

The real-life Amy Dumas has been going through perhaps her toughest physical and emotional battle since last May, when she needed neck surgery after being dropped on her head while filming the since-canceled FOX series "Dark Angel."

"Obviously with any injury ... you just don't feel like yourself," she told "I still don't feel like myself, but I see the path."

Even though her physician, Dr. Lloyd Youngblood of San Antonio, had told her the chances were good she'd be able to come back one year after surgery, and even though other Superstars who had a similar procedure have returned, there have never been any guarantees. Dr. Youngblood also told her that after six months, she'd be able to return to a normal workout regimen. But the six-month anniversary of her surgery came and went in January, and Lita was still able to workout only intermittently.

Running was particularly difficult. Lita said she felt good while she was jogging, but her neck would bother her for days afterward, and it wasn't just post-exercise soreness. She was beginning to get concerned that she would never recover sufficiently.

"Now, I'd say about the last month, I've really gotten into a good workout schedule," she said.

Still, as a precaution, she hasn't run for several weeks, sticking to other forms of cardiovascular exercise instead until she visits Dr. Youngblood again. "Because things are going so well and I don't want to agitate it," she said. She's due for an appointment soon.

It's a big step forward for the former Women's Champion since the last time she visited Dr. Youngblood. At that time, she said, "I really wasn't feeling all that good. Obviously better than before surgery, (but) I only felt OK when I was doing absolutely nothing."

Today, Lita just figures that it took her longer than six months to get over the hump because women heal more slowly than men do. All of the other Superstars who have had the "Youngblood surgery" -- Stone Cold Steve Austin, Chris Benoit, Rhyno, Scotty 2 Hotty and Bob "Hardcore" Holly -- have been men. So if it takes longer than a year for Lita to get full medical clearance to return to the ring, that's OK too.

"At this point, I don't want to rush it," she said. "I'd rather make sure I feel 100 percent ready ... than rush coming back early.

That's another comment you probably wouldn't have heard a few months ago. Back then, Lita was unable to do much of anything -- no lifting, no driving. The fiercely independent soul was forced to sit at home as her boyfriend, Matt Hardy, remained on a full WWE schedule. Occasionally, when she was lucky, a friend would take her to Wal-Mart so she could get out for a change of scenery.

But these days, she has more than enough to keep her occupied, working for animal-related causes near her home in North Carolina, and as a commentator on Sunday Night HEAT.

Of working with animals, Lita said, "It's what really kept my mind occupied, because thinking about (WWE) would've driven me insane."

Lita donated her prize money from the "Weakest Link" and "Celebrity Fear Factor" to animal-related charities. As soon as she was able to operate a car, she began volunteering at the San-Lee Humane Society, a private, no-kill shelter near her home in North Carolina.

When the facility was forced to shut down due to lack of funding, Lita's efforts intensified. She organized an autograph session, raising almost $5,000 for the shelter. "It was definitely a success," she said, although the shelter is still taking steps to fully reopen.

More recently, Lita has been helping out at the Moore County Animal Center, which is forced to euthanize 60 percent of its animals.

"It's really opened my eyes to how bad (animal) overpopulation is," Lita said.

She said that working at the center has made her realize that finding homes for pets is not the only answer -- that it's essential to educate the public about the necessity of preventing unwanted animals. That entails having owners spay or neuter their pets, and make sure to keep them on a leash so they don't end up running away.

"I feel very lucky that I have gotten educated to this problem," she said. "It's close to my heart. It's affected me to the point where I want to stay involved."

But she's had less time to do so since the fall, when she started commentating on HEAT, which she admits is not her forte.

"It's definitely a good learning experience," she said. "I just feel very out of my element."

Regarding her HEAT co-host, Jonathan Coachman, she said, "He's got the smooth style. He's got the 'announcer voice.' He's very professional, and I feel very amateur next to him.

Whereas she feels "amped, excited and ready to go" before a match, she's a different kind of nervous before she goes out to announce on a live HEAT. She describes her emotions as, "Cross my fingers and hope I don't mess up too badly."

Fortunately, over the last few weeks, it seems more and more likely that she'll be able to return to the ring as a wrestler. Now that she's at the show every Monday for the HEAT taping, she says, "I'm around it all the time. But I still don't think about where I'll fit into storylines -- not yet."

For information or to make a donation:
Moore County Animal Center
P.O. Box 279
Carthage, NC 28327