It is tradition within professional wrestling that wrestlers have their ring gear with them at virtually all times, as they truly never know when they will be called upon to perform.
Being unprepared to do so is not an option.
Gabby Ortiz, 22, is no different. What's different about her is where her bag sits — underneath her desk inside Mayor Kenney's second-floor office in City Hall.
By day, Ortiz is Gabriella Belpre, Kenney's receptionist. By night, she's an independent professional wrestler. She's just getting her start — she doesn't have a character yet, she's a good guy, or a babyface, as it's called in wrestling — but she's already done something few of her peers have been able to: traveled to Japan to wrestle throughout the country. In fact, she's had more matches in Japan than in her native Philadelphia.
Three or four nights a week, she leaves Kenney's office and heads to the Monster Factory in Paulsboro or the Ring of Honor Dojo in Bristol, where she takes out the bag she keeps under her desk and transforms from her City Hall life to her wrestling life.
"I have to balance it because I love both of these things so much and I am 100 percent committed to having it all, and I will," Ortiz said.
Ortiz's colleagues in City Hall, including Kenney, know about her burgeoning career as a wrestler, and Kenney endorsed her Japanese excursion this summer.
"The mayor asks me about it occasionally when he gets a second," Ortiz said while sitting in one of the meeting rooms that connects to Kenney's office. "They're all aware of it and I'm sure they're reluctantly supportive, because I don't think they want me to get hurt. I wouldn't want them to get hurt."
But getting hurt comes with the territory in professional wrestling, and Ortiz has had her share of bumps and bruises on her petite frame while performing her duties in the Mayor's Office.
Her job funds her wrestling habit. She was working at Woody's, on hiatus from training because she couldn't afford it, when she ran into Kenney, who offered her a job in his administration. He had worked with her mother, Sharon Ortiz-Belpre, City Council director of administrative services, who died from substance abuse in 2014 at 43. "She was the strongest woman I've ever known, I ever will know," Ortiz said. "She just had an amazing reputation here — despite whatever issue she had, she always worked hard."
"Gabby's mom was a smart, dedicated public servant, and her daughter is just the same. It's been my privilege to work with them both," Kenney said.
But Gabby's true calling is in the ring. Ortiz said it's what her mother would have wanted her to do. "She worked hard and she sacrificed her dreams to make sure I was OK, to make sure my dad was OK, my brother and my sister," Ortiz said. "I would think she'd want me to go for what I love to do."
Watching wrestling was a family activity when Ortiz was growing up in Fairmount, but she always figured her small frame — she's only 5 feet tall — would make entering the pro wresting arena difficult. "She's a tiny little thing," said Luis "Punishment" Martinez, one of her trainers at the Monster Factory. So she focused her efforts on acting and music.
But it was wrestling that incorporated all her artistic pursuits. "I always did all of these things separate and I was watching very objectively as an adult and not as a kid, just enjoying what was happening, and I was like, 'Wow! This is like an amalgamation of everything,' " she said.
As expected, Ortiz struggled with the physical aspect of professional wrestling, but her trainers were surprised by how well she could showcase her personality. In wrestling, you can teach the moves, but you can't teach charisma. "That was actually the easiest part for her, where she was able to portray different characters, so it wasn't just her speaking as herself," Martinez said. "She was able to portray something that wasn't her, which can be very challenging. I, for instance, cannot be something that I'm not. You can tell it's fake. With her, it was actually really natural. That was impressive."
She's been wrestling regularly since December, but when tryouts for the Japan trip came around this year, she still didn't think she was ready. "I wasn't going to do it," Ortiz said. "I was sick, I was ring-rusty because I hadn't been doing too many drills in the ring because I didn't want to get anyone else sick."
But another wrestler dropped out at the last minute.
As always, Ortiz's bag of wrestling gear was close by.
Ortiz was chosen, in part, because of her inexperience. The company she toured with, Stardom, wanted someone it could train from the ground up.
Martinez, who ran into his share of issues during the early days of his wrestling career, made sure Ortiz remained humble throughout the process.
"This business … it can get into people's heads really fast and the business will chew you up and spit you out," Martinez said. "I just wanted to make sure she stayed level-headed, and she did. She came back just as humble, and as soon as she came back, she was back at training."
After two months in Japan, Ortiz was back on the second floor of City Hall with her wrestling gear under her desk and yet another bruise.
This time, it was ring burn on her right knee.
With time, Ortiz will improve and her name and reputation will grow. That will come with a downside, however, as it will mean less and less time to commit to her day job at City Hall. "I really want to make it all work, and sometimes, I don't know if that's totally possible, but it's been possible so far, so I'm going to just keep going with it and see where everything takes me," she said.