Princess of Harts
Imagine growing up with a ring in your grandfather's backyard and with more than half of your family members being wrestlers at some level. Natalya doesn't have to try very hard to picture that childhood. As the daughter of Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart and a member of the Hart family, the first ever third generation Diva has been given the opportunity to be the best. Still, just because she's a Neidhart, it doesn't mean her road to becoming a WWE Diva was remotely easy.
"I had a fairly normal childhood, but in some ways, it was like growing up without a dad," Natalya admitted. "But the time we had at home with him and my mom really made it count."
The Diva said she had a great childhood, but it was a sheltered one.
"My father was very protective of his three daughters. He really tried to protect us from wrestling."
With where Natalya has ended up, it's easy to see how well that worked. When her father was traveling for 300 days each year, she and her sister Muffy would watch him on TV. They particularly enjoyed watching the Hart Foundation when they would face the Rockers, so Natalya could watch her crush -- Shawn Michaels -- and Muffy could watch hers -- Marty Jannetty.
"It was not a business for his little girls," Natalya explained.
Despite Jim's take on wrestling, every Sunday, Natalya and the rest of the Hart family would gather at her grandfather Stu's house for food and fighting.
"At Sunday Dinner, my grandfather would cook for 40 or 50 people, sometimes even 75," she said. "Then after dinner, we'd have our matches. My grandfather designed and built the ring himself."
In their after-dinner contests, Natalya and her cousins would participate in anything from one-on-one matches to Battle Royals. She and her cousins all grew up near each other in the Tampa, Fla. area, and would take turns wrestling, managing and ringing the bell.
"We had our own wrestling promotion called the KWA -- the Kids Wrestling Association," she explained. "And we had a belt that we designed and made out of Styrofoam."
Natalya specifically mentioned her cousin Matthew, who passed away at the age of 13 from a flesh-eating virus. He was only a year younger than the future Diva, which helped make them as close as they were.
Nicknamed the Canadian Cougar, Matthew has inspired Natalya and her cousins to pursue the dream of being in the squared circle -- the dream he grew with.
While wrestling was always there, it wasn't the only thing Natalya wanted to be. She initially hoped for either a veterinary career or a life in journalism. But with her experience with theater in school and with the business always surrounding her, WWE has turned out to be what she calls a natural fit.
"It's always been a huge part of my life," she said. "I can't remember a day in my life we haven't talked about wrestling. My uncle was big on saying we're not going to talk about wrestling, and then five minutes later, we'll talk about wrestling."
After Natalya realized her dream of becoming a member of the professional wrestling business, she toured the independent circuit and found herself in Japan in 2005. It was there that she had an experience that would change her life.
While working overseas, Natalya tore her meniscus and severed her ACL.
"I was so scared," she admitted. "I'd never been injured before that."
She told her uncle Bret she planned on going back to school and giving up wrestling.
"I was too scared to go back to wrestling. I was finished with it. I was so traumatized by this injury. It was like a gun going off."
Natalya had to wrestle 12 matches on a blown out knee, but she considers those the 12 contests that made her who she is today as it helped her to show her guts and warrior mentality.
"The doctors gave me a death sentence," she said. "Nine months with no wrestling."
She took it as a sign that it was time to step away from sports-entertainment.
"It traumatized me so much that I wanted to quit wrestling."
Then, in 2006, Bret Hart was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. He invited Natalya and her cousins as his guests. There, the future Diva met people there like Superstar Billy Graham, who had near death experiences, and Matt Hardy, who had the same knee surgery that she had.
"I met people who had been to hell and back," Natalya said. "I realized I had so much unfinished business. I realized this is my dream. And that knee surgery is what took me to the next level. It was meant to happen."
More driven than ever before, Natalya came back strong and got hired by WWE.
"Everything is mental. My grandfather used to say that. And without that knee injury, I don't think I'd be the person I am today. And it's funny how I almost gave up my dream because of fear."
Fortunately for Natalya and for the WWE Universe, she overcame that fear and has an entirely new attitude -- not only a scar -- to show for it.
"I'm still very new to WWE," she admitted. "A lot of the other Divas think I'm arrogant or cocky, but I'm the first ever third generation Diva in the entire world. There's not another one, and it's groundbreaking. For me to get here was a very long road. But I'm really history in the making."