‘I didn’t know if anyone would give a s**t’ – Katey Harvey reflects on her road to recovery

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Sat in an office in the Westwood Club, on Ashton Quay, I listen intently to professional wrestler Katey Harvey retelling the story of her recovery from her dehabilitating injuries. She starts by demonstrating the contrasting mobility in her arms, with her left being damaged to the point of being unable to extend completely.

“My right elbow is pretty much back to normal. As you can see, it’s nice and straight. My left elbow is not, it will probably never straighten,” she says.

“I dislocated both of them, I broke the radial head in both of them. In this arm, I tore all the muscles off the bone, as well,” she explains as she points to her left elbow, marked by a scar that is darker than those on her right-hand side.

“This one was completely loose, so even that night in hospital, they relocated both of them and put them in a cast, but this one immediately dislocated again. There was literally nothing holding it together; no muscle, no bone, no ligaments. Nothing.”

The injury in question occurred on the 20th of January, at Over The Top Wrestling’s Contenders 13 event. Teaming with Raven Creed against Debbie Keitel, Valkyrie, and Veda Scott, Harvey went for a stunt that she had completed, without incident, hundreds of times before; a basic dive from the top turnbuckle to the floor.

On this occasion, however, disaster struck.

“What happened was I jumped, and I just wasn’t caught enough. What would happen usually, is that one person would aim to catch your chest. I don’t really know what happened in that situation, but I ended up going through the middle of the four of them, just straight down on my forearms, onto the hardwood floor,” the Kilmacanogue-born wrestler explains.

“It was the impact on the floor. This sounds weird, but I actually landed it as safely as I could. That’s the way we were trained to land, and that’s what kept my collarbones safe, my neck, and my shoulders. My elbows took the brunt, but it kept everything else safe.

“I didn’t feel pain straight away. I was lying on the floor and I tried to get up. I put my right arm down first, as I always do, and it just flopped, and I was like ‘f**k’. I went with the left hand, and the same thing happened. I couldn’t get off the floor.

“I actually had to whisper to a fan, who was sitting in the front row, that I wasn’t okay, and could they get someone over here right now. I hadn’t gotten up, and I was supposed to be the first person to get up, so they realised something was wrong and carried me backstage.”

Up to that night, Harvey (29) had been wrestling for close to 10 years, having made her singles debut in 2011, against Lucy Crawford at an NLW show in Bray. Since that night, she has enjoyed a successful tenure; winning the OTT Women’s Championship, Pro Wrestling Ulster’s Women’s Championship and 2018 Celtic Cup, Global Wrestling Federation’s Women’s Championship, among many others.

Before this, she started making a name in karate, where she competed at National and European level. It was in this discipline, too, that she first suffered serious injury, when her knee blew out in the build-up to the World Karate Championships.

If you were to ask Katey how the two afflictions compare, as I did, she’d tell you that it would be like comparing apples with oranges.

“I thought that blowing out my knee was upsetting, until this happened. Realistically, that was small change compared to this. I had been doing karate for 13 years, I was competing at a fairly high level, but I had just started wrestling, and I knew that that was what I wanted to do.

“I was winding down karate anyway, so when I hurt my knee, it wasn’t like, ‘oh no, I can’t do karate’, it was more, ‘oh no, how is this going to affect my wrestling?'”

She goes on to recall her experiences over the subsequent hours following the incident at Contenders. She talks about how she was taken to the Mater Hospital and, due to the then-unknown extent of the damage to her arms, was made to wait for hours in A&E before she could get X-rays done. When no conclusive answers were found in the resulting tests, the attending physicians were forced to sedate her in order to investigate further, which presented its own difficulties.

“Usually, for sedating people, they put it in through your arms, but they couldn’t do that on me. They were two hours trying to find a vein in my feet.

“They couldn’t do it, so in the end, they had to put a port through my neck so that they could put sedatives into me. They were fantastic in the hospital, it is just that they didn’t know what to do. They couldn’t check my blood pressure, because they take that on the arms. They couldn’t sedate me. They couldn’t do anything, really, because it is all done through your arms, and apparently I don’t have veiny feet.”

She delivers that last line with a laugh, demonstrating the infectious optimism in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds that best sums up the recovery that would follow. Even when she hit rock-bottom with the doctor informing her that her wrestling career was over, and that he did not feel himself capable of operating on damage so complex, she showed the fighting spirit that would see her make her return to the squared circle just eight months later.

“A lot of people, I was told, make the mistake of, after having an operation, they do one of two things: they either rush into it too quickly, or they wait. So, I just wanted to find a middle ground.

“I was doing things like getting up and walking the morning after my surgery, just doing laps of the hospital to get moving. Just moving my shoulders, you know. Moving my neck, moving my head, moving my fingers or trying to lift things with my fingers,” she remembers.

“I’m a big journal person, and I’m a big checklist person. I am the kind of person who carries around four different colour pens to make checklists and tick them off,” she says with another chuckle. “Checklists are what got me through this; I made a wrestling checklist, a gym checklist, a life checklist. It was stuff as simple as lifting my own cup of coffee, but when I did it, I would check it off.”

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The first couple of months were always going to be difficult to adjust to, she goes on to discuss. Not only was she forced to wait a week before she could see a specialist —Dr. Olivia Flannery — who then went ahead with the experimental surgery that would salvage her career, thus leading to a tasty nugget about her being able to feel the internal workings of her left elbow “sloshing about” inside her cast, but she was left with no other option than to move back in with her mother in Kilmacanogue.

“I could not do anything,” she says. “She had to help me shower, she had to help me eat, everything. I do have a boyfriend who I live with, but I couldn’t ask him to take six weeks off work, because I was out of work, so it was really, really tough from that perspective. She looked after me really, really great, and that is why I could put so much of my time into rehab.

“It was kind of nice because my niece had just been born about eight months when it happened, so the silver lining to it all was that I got to spend a lot of time at home with my family. One of my first big training goals was being able to lift my niece again. She’d run up to me and I’d try to lift her, but I just couldn’t. I couldn’t lift a baby, I was that weak.”

Despite all of this, she persevered through her rehabilitation. Six weeks after the extensive and potentially career-ending injury, she was back overseeing spin classes in the Westwood Club, the very gym in which I was speaking with her. Not only that, but she continued with her involvement in Fight Factory Pro Wrestling (FFPW); the training school and promotion that she co-owns, and runs.

“The guys from the wrestling gym were amazing. Every Friday night, they would come up with stuff to watch, food to eat. It felt like I wasn’t missing out on much. I still felt involved.

“The first few weeks, it was tough to watch wrestling. I’ll admit that. I was so uncertain, sad, angry. The thing that got me back into it was obviously running the Fight Factory shows, and then the promo video for Jordan Devlin vs David Starr. I remember texting Jordan and saying, ‘Jordan, I want to come to that show. This is the first time that I have wanted to watch wrestling since it happened'”.

Of course, as Katey would be able to testify to in her position as a co-owner of a professional wrestling promotion, that industry never sits still, for anyone. In June, four months into her recovery, news broke that pro wrestling juggernaut WWE had held their first-ever all-female tryout. Irish wrestling was well represented at the trial, with Emma O’Sullivan (Raven Creed), Aoife Cusack (Valkyrie), Karen Glennon (‘Session Moth’ Martina), and Kaydell Joyce (Debbie Keitel) all present.

Those latter three would enjoy incredibly successful 2019s outside the island of Ireland. Cusack made her debut for Westside Xtreme Wrestling, in Germany, and was immediately thrust into a position to challenge for that promotion’s top women’s belt. Joyce, having seemingly impressed at the aforementioned tryout, debuted for WWE at an NXTUK TV taping a couple of weeks ago, while Glennon has reportedly signed with Ring of Honor, in the United States.

Through all of this, there was Katey Harvey, fighting through rehab to hopefully, one-day be in a position to step back in between the ropes. Reflecting honestly on that time, Harvey said that it was bittersweet to watch her friends and colleagues doing as well as they were.

“I train with those girls, I have worked with those girls for years, so on one hand, I am so happy that WWE are looking at Ireland and they’re plucking people from our training schools, but on the other hand, I was devastated that it was now,” she admits.

“It was four months into my recovery. At this stage, I did not know that I would be coming back in September; I had given myself the full year out to come back in 2020. So, four months in, I was like, ‘this is the worst timing in the world’. That’s not to say that I would have definitely gotten a tryout, but it could have been somthing for me to pursue.

“I was very happy for them, but I was sad for myself.”

Using that envy and regret as fuel in her recovery, Katey continued to work hard with the goal of making her grand return to the industry that she has loved for so long. It all paid off when, just over six months into her recuperation that included approximately 41 physiotherapy appointments, Harvey was informed of her updated status through four words that had seemed so improbable when she walked out the hospital door in January: ‘you’re cleared to train’.

“The first thing I needed to do was learn how to roll again, so there was weeks of learning how to roll. Then, it was, ‘okay, I’ll try to do a little bit of chain wrestling’. Then, it was, ‘okay, I’m going to try to do moves on the crash mat’, and then the last thing was, ‘now, I am going to start taking moves again’. That was my progression.

Originally, I just wanted to be back for Defiant. That show means a lot to me, an all-female show, and it was killing me that I was going to miss the third one. So, I was like, ‘maybe I could do something at Defiant‘, and [Joe Cabray] came back to me with, ‘September? The Stadium?'”

That stadium show that Joe Cabray, the promoter of Over The Top Wrestling, is referring to is Fifth Year Anniversary, and the venue being the National Stadium. While Harvey’s in-ring OTT return will take place there, in front of over 2,000 people, on October 26th, it would not be the site of her reemergence to Irish wrestling fans.

In fact, that came on September 7th, at the promotion’s Road to Fifth Year Anniversary show, which took place at the KFR Centre. It was on this occasion that Katey stepped through an OTT curtain for the first time since smashing her elbows back in January. It was on this night that she took hold of a microphone for the first time since speaking at FFPW’s Love Graps event in February.

The confidence, conviction, and passion with which she spoke when she confronted, and challenged, OTT Women’s Champions Valkyrie betrayed the anxiety that had been sloshing around her head in much the same way that the bone fragments, ligaments, and muscle had been around her left elbow in the week following her accident.

“The fear was so real,” she recalls. “I know that eight months isn’t that long to be gone, but it felt like a life-time to me. At that stage, the girls had gotten so successful, so I was like, ‘who’s going to give a s**t?’.

“I remember the day that I was told that I would never wrestle again, and some of the guys were in the hospital with me. They were like, ‘yeah, you will’, and they told me, ‘think of the pop’. That became the mantra for the next eight months. Everytime I got upset, they would say, ‘think of the pop’.

“I did have a little bit of a panic on Saturday, and I said to a few of the guys backstage, ‘what if nobody cares?’ More Than Hype (LJ Cleary, Darren Kearney, and Nathan Martin) were like, ‘remember that HHH documentary, where he was afraid, and he got a massive pop? You’re kind of like HHH’.

“The reaction was beyond what I had imagined. It was on another level.

“Naturally, I cried. I burst into tears as soon as I got backstage. I may have felt like a badass out there. I may have been very angry in my promo, but as soon as I went back through the curtain, I fell to pieces.”

As our conversation continues, it is clear that the support that Harvey received from her fellow wrestlers doesn’t escape her. She talks about how, when Contenders 13 came to a close, a host of the wrestlers taking part in the show followed her to the hospital. She discusses how Darren Kearney, Nathan Martin, and LJ Cleary had been valuable training partners when she eventually began preparing for an in-ring return.

“If you have a friend who is injured or sick, a ten-minute phone-call or ten-minute visit makes the world of difference, You find out who your real friends, and who cares about you, by who makes the effort. Even throwing a Facebook message. Loads of people kept in touch with me which was really, really nice.”

As the conversation comes to a close, it finally turns to the visible products of her injury, surgery, and rehabilitation; the four scars on her elbows. Each elbow boasts two scars, on the inner and outer side. Not surprisingly, the inner scar on the left elbow is significantly more pronounced than the other marks on her arms. This is down to both the extent of the damage that had been sustained, as well as a slower healing job that may have gone hand-in-hand with the former.

Having long since come to terms with what she has endured over the past eight months, Katey is not only in a state of acceptance when it comes to the scars, but actually looks to them lovingly, as badges of honour, of sorts. In fact, she informs me that she has named the inner scar on the left elbow, “Slinkey”, due to it being special.

“A lot of people think that I am upset about the scars, or that I should be. I love them. I think they look great.”

“It is a good reminder that you can do anything, and that when you’re upset about the small things, you can know that you have been through worse and came out the other side.”

Katey Harvey will make her official in-ring return, following her eight-month rehabilitation, at Fight Factory Pro Wrestling Episode 10: Fight Factory’s Excellent Adventure on Sunday, September 15th.

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