When you are as accomplished of an athlete as Anna Keefer is, it's not often that you make a career change from your chosen sport to do something completely new, but that is exactly what the former University of North Carolina and Saint Michael-Albertville star has done.
She's joined World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).
This was an unexpected turn of events for Keefer, a '17 graduate of STMA who was a prolific track star in high school and accounted for four individual state outdoor titles over her time as a prep. At North Carolina, Keefer earned first-team All-America honors in the indoor long jump over the 2022 season and was second-team All-America in the 200m.
After her collegiate track and field career ended, Keefer had hoped to continue her career as a professional. But on a whim, she went to Nashville for a WWE SummerSlam Tryout and was offered a contract as part of the WWE Performance Center Fall 2022 Rookie Class, where she will train to become a WWE star.
We at MileSplit Minnesota recently caught up with Keefer to talk about her budding WWE career and her new life outside of track and field.
In a turn of events that seems even shocking to you, you have been recruited by the WWE and have joined their 2022 Rookie Class. What does that mean for you and why was it shocking?
This was something that I had not anticipated. After graduating from UNC this past May, I had plans to continue my track and field career professionally and to start coaching. I was recruited for a WWE tryout and decided to give it a go. This was not something I had experience in, or had even considered doing beforehand. And it was a wild turn of events that ended up being a new career pass for me. I had a lot of success at the tryout and was offered a contract. The opportunities that it allowed for me became something I really had to think about. After a lot of consideration, I decided to take the risk and do something I have never done before. I knew if I could find a passion for it that hopefully one day I would be great and that is what I set out to do.
How has your offer and decision to join the WWE changed your life?
Joining the WWE has forever changed my life. Giving up something I was really good at to start at the bottom of something I know nothing about was very scary. I moved to Orlando and began training at the performance center. Each and every day I am learning more and more about how to become a WWE superstar.
What went into your decision to pursue the WWE path instead of pursuing a career as a professional track and field athlete?
Even though WWE was not something I had considered, I quickly realized what it takes encompasses a lot of the characteristics and passions I already have. Having discipline as a track and field athlete, and a passion for photography and filmmaking oddly combined a lot of qualities necessary in WWE. WWE allows me to be an athlete, and also creatively express myself.
Joining the WWE, what does the path forward for you look like and what does your WWE future look like to you?
The path is unknown coming in with a class of athletes, with no background in this WWE realm. We are the new generation of WWE Superstars, and so our paths will not be traditional. We train day in and day out and hope to inspire and entertain people. This new generation and the impact that we make in the company will hopefully lead to something that WWE has never seen before.
How does your WWE training differ from your track and field training and how has your track and field training helped prepare you for the WWE?
Growing up, I never participated in any contact sports, and primarily focusing on sprinting and jumping. WWE didn't seem to exactly correlate. Training is a lot different, with a lot more physical contact and rather than training my body for optimal efficiency, I am training to become a stronger athlete and learning how to perform for a crowd rather than training to perform for myself.
What have been some of the highlights of joining the WWE thus far?
Having my first match and really figuring out what WWE is all about was a great experience that shifted my perspective and bettered my understanding of what this all entails. A big part of being a WWE superstar is looking the part. This has been a cool way to really look inward and identify who I am and how my style helps others perceive me.
What other kinds of athletes joined you in the WWE Rookie Class?
There were about 60 total athletes at our WWE SummerSlam tryout in Nashville. These athletes came from any sport you could imagine. The WWE 2022 rookie class is made up of track and field athletes, gymnasts, cheerleaders, soccer, players, and football players. There are a vast variety of athletes with different strengths and that is really helpful in creating our own unique styles of fighting.
What advice would you offer to other college graduates that aren't going pro in their college sport?
To be totally honest, I told myself I was going to become a professional track athlete no matter what it takes. I had worked hard and had the marks to potentially continue, but after being offered the WWE contract I had to take a step back. It took a lot of consideration before making the decision to join the WWE, but I honestly didn't know that this wasn't going to be my path until that door opened. I would say to any college athlete that inspires to go pro, but maybe that path ends up not being in the cards, is to find something else you can have potential passion for. To strive to be great at whatever that is and just like how we as athletes do in our sport continue to be self-motivated to push to be better at whatever it is we are doing.