'It saved my life': Kenosha woman survives stroke, hopes to inspire others as professional wrestler

’It saved my life’: Kenosha woman survives stroke, hopes to inspire others as professional wrestler

WAUKESHA, Wis. (CBS 58) -- It's not often you'll find 24-year-old Sophia Gedgaudas without a smile on her face. In fact, it's one of her mom's favorite features.

"We call the Julia Roberts smile," Lilly Gedgaudas said about her daughter, her fifth of fourteen children. "She has the most beautiful smile and she was like known for that; her smile."

It's a smile the world almost lost four years ago.

Having just moved with her family from Kenosha to California in 2019, Gedgaudas was studying to become a pilot with hopes of also joining an NFL team as a cheerleader. Those plans were grounded when one day she collapsed.

"We got a phone call," Lilly Gedgaudas said, recalling the fateful day. "We walked in the door. She was in the kitchen, laying on the ground. I have a nursing background and I walked in, her mouth was drooped, she couldn't move, she was completely paralyzed. She looked over at me and I knew instantly she was having a stroke."

The Gedgaudas' watched their 19-year-old daughter be rushed away to the hospital where, for the next two hours, doctors operated for over two hours with little chance of success.

"She only had a 15-percent chance of surviving the stroke," Lilly Gedgaudas said. "We were told that just her surviving wasn't likely and an outcome after that of walking, talking; we didn't know. For the two hours I just, we prayed, you call up your friends, but you get prepared to say goodbye."

Fortunately, for Lilly and her husband, Rick, they raised a fighter, and those prayers were answered.

"I had to learn how to walk, talk, eat, everything again," Sophia Gedgaudas explained. "When you go through something like that, you get depressed."

During her difficult journey to recovery, which included speech and physical therapy, occupational therapy and more, Sophia turned to something familiar; something that has brought her joy from a young age.

"Wrestling was the one thing that kept me going," Sophia said, that smile beaming. "After physical therapy and having a hard day, I would turn on wrestling. It saved my life."

Watching wrestling with her brothers since she was five years old, it gave the recovering Gedgaudas the chance to escape from her physical condition and experience joy. It brought back her smile that her mother loves so much.

"The first time she watched (wrestling) with (her brothers) after her stroke is the first time she smiled," Lilly Gedgaudas recalled. "She went and watched wrestling and she came back in the room and it was the first time I saw her smile since the stroke. They took her out of her world, they brought her into that ring, they showed her that you can be strong."

It was so impactful to the Sophia that she decided to take it to the next level; she wanted to wrestle herself.

"Two years after (the stroke), I went to my first live event in Chicago for All Elite Wrestling (AEW)," Sophia Gedgaudas said. "I remember being in the audience and seeing other people with disabilities and saw how happy wrestling made them. I just saw them flipping and doing moves and I told my mom and dad, 'Hey, I can do it. Why not me?' I knew from that moment."

That realization led to Gedgaudas applying to learn from legendary wrestler Dustin Rhodes in Texas. After three months of training, young woman who once dreamed of flying airplanes began flying off the top rope in professional wrestling matches under the name Harley Jane.

"It's been amazing, you know, travelling, it's always fun. Seeing new people, meeting new people, and hopefully inspiring other people to join wrestling, or, just help them if they're having a bad day," Sophia said. "I want to inspire everyone, it doesn't matter who. Just want to inspire people to keep going."

Watching Gedgaudas warm up and throw some moves inside the House of Headlowcks Pro Wrestling Training School in Milwaukee, you'd never be able to tell that just four years ago she was fighting for her life. Now, living and working in the Wisconsin Dells, she takes that fight to the ring, competing with the AEW twice, Ohio Valley Wrestling and on Saturday, December 2, Great Lakes Wrestling Championship to compete for the women's title at Blizzard Brawl in Waukesha.

Her goal is to join the AEW or WWE tour as a regular.

"You feel powerful. It's when you're in the ring, you feel like you can do anything," Sophia Gedgaudas said. "I used to be really shy, like, 'Oh, I don't want to go out and be in front of everyone.' As soon as the music hits and you enter and you see everyone, you just feel powerful You feel like yourself. You feel like you can do anything."

An inspiring woman with a can-do attitude, and a family supporting her every step of the way.

"She's unstoppable. She's kind, she's sweet and compassionate, but she's a fighter," Lilly Gedgaudas said. "She's never going to stop fighting and if you tell Sophie you can or you won't she's going to do it twice and take pictures."

As for her daughter, she's just grateful to share her story with the world.

"I know, sometimes, it's hard with daily things and I know lot of people who also have felt like giving up," Sophia Gedgaudas said. "You got to keep going."

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