Pro wrestling boomed around the turn of the millennium, when Trish Adora was in elementary school. Her memories of the era are of a smoky ring and a team of female dancers; screams, curses and fans throwing chairs; and women tearing off each others’ evening gowns.

“It was interesting trying to process that as a kid,” she recalls.

Despite the chaos and controversy, the young Adora was drawn to wrestling by the larger-than-life pageantry, the characters and the showmanship. Specifically, she remembers things clicking when she saw female wrestlers including Jacqueline, a WWE Hall of Famer who was the company’s first African American women’s champion.

“She was very strong, and just seeing a Black woman being taken seriously and being strong and still beautiful — and not being stripped of that femininity — was so important for me to see. I couldn’t even believe it,” says Adora, who was born Patrice McNair, raised in Southeast D.C. and still lives in Anacostia.

“When everybody was picking their favorites, you gravitate to somebody that looks like you, and I finally had somebody that looked like me,” she says. “I had my superhero.”

These days, Adora, 32, is becoming a superhero for a new generation of wrestling fans, making waves in the independent wrestling scene and quickly becoming a performer to watch. Perhaps most impressively, she’s done it as a Black woman in an industry that has often been tough on women and talent of color, during a pandemic that threatened the industry’s very existence.

“There is a reason for everything,” Adora says. “I just don’t view much as an accident as far as my wrestling career.”

Adora’s career began in 2015, after six years of active duty in the Army, which she joined at 19 after struggling to find herself during a brief time at college. With a two-year inactive duty period ahead of her, she didn’t know what to do next.

“I felt myself running out of options, which is a really weird feeling,” she says. “Everybody’s got options, no matter how old you are, what you do — I just didn’t see it that way.”

A friend with whom she had been deployed was considering starting a wrestling promotion, and wrestling — which she had continued to watch since her youth — looked like a way forward. So with a couple thousand dollars to her name, she drove to central Florida with a vague idea of how and where to train. Coincidentally, a co-worker at a retail gig also wrestled, connected her with a wrestling school, and her journey began in earnest.

As she learned how to wrestle, she also began developing the character of Trish Adora, a self-described “Afro Punk” who comes to the ring to a song that mashes up the iconic Zulu chants of The Lion King’s “Circle of Life” and Kendrick Lamar’s “m.A.A.d city.” Conventional wisdom is that a wrestler’s character is their personality cranked to 11, an approach well-suited for the theatricality of the ring, but Adora views it differently.

“Trish Adora is who Patrice McNair could be if nobody ever hurt her, if she was just nurtured from the beginning … if she had never gotten neglected,” she says. “I see Trish Adora as me, plus love.”

The character of Trish Adora is stronger, smarter and quicker on her feet than the woman who portrays her is in real life. As a wrestler, she’s not shy, and she thrives in social situations. But the best parts of wrestling are where the line between the real world and the kayfabe reality of the ring begins to blur. Becoming a wrestler becomes a form of self-actualization.

“It starts the minute I turn my key to head to the venue — I’m already there,” she says. “It’s like I’m already so much more confident. I feel like a completely different person. I’m seeing a fifth dimension of how wrestling can change me.”

After a couple of years on the Florida independent circuit, Adora came back to Washington to explore a different part of the wrestling world. She started training with Baltimore-based promotion Ring of Honor, won a scholarship to train in Japan and wrestled matches across the United States. By 2019, that friend from the army had started a promotion in D.C. — F1ght Club Pro Wrestling — and Adora won a tournament to become its inaugural Pan-Afrikan World Diaspora champion on Feb. 15, 2020.

Everyone knows what happened a month later: the gears of the world ground to a halt as the coronavirus pandemic took hold. Pro wrestling is particularly ill-suited for social distancing, and most of the industry hit pause while wrestlers and promoters figured a way forward.

“I was bummed out for a really long time because I had all these ambitious ideas and I just didn’t think that I had a way to do them,” Adora remembers, “but I think I was just looking at it wrong.”

Adora accepted the things she could not change and worked to change the things she could. For her career, she worked on her social media presence, branding and gear. For her well-being, she went to therapy, prioritized mental and physical health, and started to talk to her family more. She bonded with her younger brother, who taught her to play chess.

“I played somewhat as my personality — shy, reserved, defensive — and it wasn’t until I started to lose those pieces that anxiety set in, and I start catastrophizing, not remembering that we can play another game,” she says. “It helped me think about life differently, think about decisions that I make differently.”

Adora’s investments in herself felt like a “huge life bonus” that soon began to pay off as the independent wrestling world began to restart, if not without trepidation. Testing for covid-19 and trying to avoid illness was “nerve wracking,” with cleanliness and sanitation a preexisting issue in the industry (“In wrestling, if people wash their gear, it’d be a miracle,” she jokes). And as some promotions resorted to tapings without fans in the stands, wrestlers were presented with a new challenge for an art form that thrives on audience participation.

“I got to see how things drastically change when there’s no one in the room,” Adora says. “I go look for that little kid [and] there’s nobody to high five!”

Despite the challenges, Adora’s profile began to rise as she showcased her technical skill in matches — including a grueling 60-minute one — for new audiences. In August, Pro Wrestling Illustrated recognized her Pan-Afrikan World Diaspora title as a world championship, and in September, she placed 44th on the publication’s top 500 wrestlers list — the highest place for a woman.

And despite signing with Ring of Honor in September, she will continue to work on the indies, where she has more control over her career than allowed by the traditional gatekeepers of a White male-dominated industry that perhaps couldn’t empathize or sympathize with her. Instead, she’s measuring success by the work she does and not where she ends up.

“If it’s my life’s goal to work [somewhere] — and if I spend 15 years working in a gymnasium and making a bunch of little kids smile and happy — then I still wouldn’t feel fulfilled,” she explains. “What’s most important to me is not that I got there, it’s that I was able to do some cool stuff.”

Adora and her peers are showing the wrestling world what talent of color can do in the ring, but she’s also making time for fun outside of it. In September, she went to Atlanta for the festival that inspired her nickname, Afropunk. She even got into a mosh pit for the first time, during a set by DMV rapper Rico Nasty. But it wasn’t her wrestling training that made her feel safe.

“I was around people that looked like me. People that look cool and thought I look cool — I wasn’t weird to them,” she says. “I never felt like that before: ‘Okay, this is our place. This is our thing now.’ ”

Trish Adora will compete at Flying V Fights Back, Saturday at 8 p.m. at Silver Spring Black Box Theatre, 8641 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring. $25. Proof of vaccination is required for entry.