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Recognition for a life in the ring

Delta Dawn getting spot in B.C. Sports Hall of Fame

The Lioness Asuka was a legendary figure on the women's pro wresting scene in Japan, but she was no match for Delta Dawn and her 12-foot Burmese python Destiny.

The snake was her pet, a prop the Prince George wrestler used to give her and her tag-team partner an unfair advantage - one more reason for the crowd to dislike the heels of the match. But on this night, in front of a full arena of thousands of screaming Japanese fans, Dawn pushed it a bit too far. While her partner Medusa held her opponent helpless from behind, Destiny wrapped herself around the neck of a terrified Asuka. It didn't last long but the snake held its scaly grip long enough to bring tears to the eyes of the Japanese hero and scare everybody in the ring.

"Asuka was deathly afraid of snakes and we held her in the corner and I went to put the snake up towards her and the snake sensed she was scared and constricted her neck," said Delta Dawn, who now answers to her married name, Dawn Murphy. "I was trying to softly pet it, 'please let go,' but we were afraid."

Asuka and her partner Chigusa Nagayo - The Crush Girls - went on to lose the match, following the script. Wrestling with the Crush Girls meant training with them and many hours spent in the gym working out their moves to determine how the match would unfold. Delta Dawn's finishing move was the Ferris wheel. She'd slam her opponent into the ropes, pick her up and spin her over her head, then finish with a back-first drop onto her knee.

"Chigusa trained phenomenally and I just admired her abilities and the work ethic she had - she was just focused and I did learn a lot wrestling with her," said Murphy. "Their wrestling system was so much different than ours in terms of respect and authority. The girls lower than Chigusa and Asuka had to really be on their toes. For us to get into the ring with them, we really needed to respect that."

Murphy was just 16, heading into her Grade 12 year at Duchess Park Secondary School, when she found out about a summer pro wrestling camp in Surrey put on by wrestling promoter Jonathan "Fuzzy" Sayers. She'd been a big wrestling fan ever since her grandfather, Joshua Joseph, and her father, Peter Prichuk, started taking her to the matches at the Prince George Coliseum. She'd just retired after 12 years with the Prince George Speed Skating Club and her powerful legs, muscular body and well-conditioned aerobic capacity served her well in the wrestling ring. Murphy took up speed skating when she was four and competed until she was 16 and she was a frequent podium finisher in regional races, qualifying for B.C. Games and Western Canadian regional championships. Her coaches at the time were John and Sheila Thobo-Carlsen and Ann and Alan Marshall, whose sons Neal and Kevin both went on to compete in the Olympics in long track. Sayers saw Murphy as an athlete with a future in the pro game and convinced All Star Wrestling promoter Al Tomko to sign her to a contract.

That was 32 years ago.

On Sept. 25 in Vancouver, Murphy will be inducted into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame, and will have her headdress displayed in the aboriginal gallery. The prestigious accolade comes a year after she was recognized for her career at an All Star Wresting reunion in Surrey.

"I retired from speed skating and jumped right into wrestling," Murphy said. "My parents were not impressed, but because it was summer break they allowed me to do (the camp). I did so well in summer school (Sayers) wanted to put me on the road. My parents weren't too thrilled I wasn't coming back."

That began a two-year commitment that had Murphy touring the province and a few U.S. states and she was featured on weekly All Star Wrestling TV broadcasts that made her a household name in living rooms all over Western Canada. She wrestled in Prince George about 10 times in her career and built her fanbase in some of the smaller communities in the region which make up her family heritage with the Lake Babine First Nation. Murphy's mother Hilda is part of the Carrier nation from Babine Lake.

One of Delta Dawn's worst moments in the ring came in the old Prince George Civic Centre in a tag-team match. One of the wrestlers had a razor blade underneath a wrapped finger and was supposed to use it to put a small nick in her forehead but just as the cut was being made one of the other wrestlers grabbed Dawn and yanked her, leaving her with a gash that required six stitches to close.

Murphy got her wrestling name from the Helen Reddy song and was living in Delta at the time she signed with All Star. Needing a wrestling schtick that would leave a lasting impact on the fans, she tapped into her native roots. Dressed in spandex, she came out for her matches wearing a body-length eagle feather headdress given to her by a B.C. First Nation chief and entered the ring to the thumping beat of Indian Reservation, an early '70s hit for Paul Revere and his band The Raiders.

Her striking features, boisterous personality and considerable wrestling ability raised her popularity with the crowds and that led her to a job in Calgary with Stampede Wrestling. Murphy spent a couple years on the Stampede circuit training in the legendary dungeon at the Hart house, where she got to know the Hart Foundation (Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart), Dynamite Kid and Davey Boy Smith - who were already well into their careers with the World Wrestling Federation. Before the WWF, Japan was the dominant player on the world scene. The country treated wrestlers like rock stars and the money was good.

In 1989, after a short stint with the Winnipeg-based International Wrestling Alliance, Murphy signed with All-Japan Women's Pro Wrestling to take the place of Luna Vachon. She proved she belonged at that level, which led to an affiliation with New Japan Pro Wrestling.

"I went to Japan with the Harts and they held me under their wing and guided me around, and Dynamite and Davey Boy watched over me because I was the only Canadian female over there," she said.

Murphy had grown up working in Prince George restaurants and was once a carhop at A&W. Before wrestling, her idea of road trips was visits to speed skating rinks in Fort St. John, Dawson Creek and Fort St. James. Japan was like a different planet. After the matches she'd go out with the other wrestlers to nightclubs, where she met the likes of Prince and Bon Jovi.

"We had fans camped outside of our hotels waiting for us to come down - the minute we walked out to go for breakfast there were cameras snapping at us," Murphy said. "Then I'd come home and have to go back to work as a waitress. I worked at the Oriental Inn and had a crew of Japanese come in and the minute I came to their table they recognized me and they wouldn't let me serve them."

Murphy returned to Prince George and married Chris Murphy, a member of the Lheidli T'enneh First Nation. She began a new career working with Child and Family Services in program development, human resources and administration and now works as a project officer for the B.C. Homelessness Partnering Strategy.

Wrestling caused internal injuries which left Murphy unable to conceive and in 2000 she and Chris adopted a baby daughter, Ashley. Now 18, she just graduated from Duchess Park.

"The mom chose us because we were the same nationalities," Murphy said. "It turns out our daughter is half-Ukrainian and half-aboriginal, same as we are. For all three of us, the mom is native and the father is Ukrainian."

Murphy did five tours of Japan and had her last match there in 1992 against Megumi Kudo.

Twenty-six years later, Murphy admits she misses the thrill of stepping through the ropes to take another bounce in the ring and the fan adoration that came with it.

"It's out of this world, it's so addictive," she said. "I was in depression for quite some time after that because I wasn't ready to give it up.

"The B.C. Sports Hall of Fame (nomination) is another highlight for me - that once-in-a-lifetime rush. It gives me the opportunity to kind of feel that again."