For four years, the “Ravishing” Lana has enamored fans of WWE, first as a manager to “Bulgarian Brute” Rusev (Miroslav Barnyashev)and more recently as a singles competitor tearing it up on the circuit. But it often comes as a surprise that despite the thick Russian accent, the “real” Lana is C.J. Perry, a U.S. citizen who was born in Gainesville, FL, and is also a trained dancer and an actress best known for minor roles in the Pitch Perfect movies. Perry credits her character to her 13 years living in the former U.S.S.R. as a child into her teens—and more specifically, her ballet instructors there. “They’re so intense. When they want you to do better, they scream louder at you.”

While Perry remembers her time in Eastern Europe fondly, she is also open about her struggles with learning disabilities, including dyslexia, which prevented her from reading until she was 9 years old. It wasn’t until she was in college and having trouble with math that her condition was diagnosed, to her relief. “I realized that I am smart, I just learn differently.” As a result, she listens to recordings of her scripts to memorize them instead of reading them. Ultimately, she feels that overcoming her difficulties has made her stronger, since “at a very young age, I had to work much harder to keep up. I’ve known nothing else but to work hard and be resilient.”

When Perry signed to WWE’s developmental NXT brand, Hall of Famer Dusty Rhodes decided that Rusev would be a perfect partner. The two soon bonded over their mutual Eastern European heritage. Perry’s friendship with Rusev turned into a relationship and then marriage, complete with two weddings (one in California, one in Bulgaria), chronicled last season on the WWE reality show Total Divas.

Because Perry didn’t actually start wrestling until she stopped managing Rusev earlier this year, she feels she needs to make up for the time she lost. She has a passion for mixed martial arts, including Krav Maga, Muay Thai, judo, and Greco-Roman wrestling, and incorporates elements of all of these into her training. “I’ll lift and then mix in something like judo or kickboxing,” she says. “When I’m on the road, I go to the arena early as much as possible to practice and train, just learning things.” Her favorite workouts are squats, snatches, and Romanian deadlifts. Perry credits her Olympic lifting regimen (she deadlifts 200 pounds and squats 188 pounds) with improving her performance. “I’ve seen a huge difference in my body and especially my in-ring performance.”

It’s Perry’s ability to keep fighting through her struggles that has helped her achieve her current position in the WWE. “In this industry, you have ups and downs. It’s in waves. So you have to live your life that way. You have to be prepared for when the tide goes out. This isn’t a normal job.”