by Keith Elliot Greenberg @ WWE.com
"I feel like people don't know how to react when they see me looking like this," said Lita, her neck brace wedged between a colorfully patterned blouse and her celebrated red locks. "I want to walk over and tell them that everything's okay. But it's not okay, not yet. Right now, it really sucks."
Lita was referring to an injury sustained April 6 on the set of the Fox television series, "Dark Angel." The queen of Team X-Treme ended up with her neck broken in three places, and a ruptured disk between her C-6 and C-7 vertebrae. On April 30, she underwent neck-stabilizing surgery in San Antonio, and hadn't been seen by the wrestling public since.
But Monday night, in her first public appearance, she hosted RAW at The World in Times Square. Her motive was two-fold, lifting her own spirits while connecting with fans who have kept her in their hearts since her mishap.
"I've received some pretty cool cards from people who've gone through way worse than I have," she noted, stopping to periodically adjust her hard collar. "It really made me know how good I had it. People sent photos of me with them at the arena, and it really improved my mood. These people have inspired me, and I'm just so glad to be with the fans again."
Her day-to-day routine since the surgery has been "boring." Prohibited from lifting more than ten pounds, and confined in her neck brace for every activity but showering, Lita has spent her time gardening and playing with her red Doberman, Cody. "At home, I realize that my friends are on the road, so it's kind of lonely," she says. "I spend a lot of time waiting for (boyfriend) Matt (Hardy) to come home. I hate thinking that the highlight of my week is waiting for someone else. I've always been independent."
Recently, though, she was heartened to see Chris Benoit return to WWE after his own bout with neck surgery. "When he came down the aisle, it was really motivational. I thought, 'It must be so hard keeping a straight face' because I know how excited he must have been. But he was trying to act tough, and he did a pretty good job of it."
In fact, some of Lita's brightest moments have come from her conversations with Benoit, along with other sidelined WWE superstars, like Scotty 2 Hotty and Rhyno. "They're a little bit further ahead of me in their recoveries," she said. "So I can see the light at the end of the tunnel."
Her targeted return to the ring is April 30, 2003 -- the one-year anniversary of her surgery.
"The doctor will not release me a day earlier," she points out. "I need time for the bones to fuse. The whole year will allow me to progress as a person and as a character. I think you'll see an evolution of Lita. I'm going to come back more bad-ass than ever."