CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- Pushing herself to the limit while striving to be the best is what fuels Erica Porter every workout.
The 45-year-old athlete stays fit not out of vanity, but simple survival.
“It is my home away from home,” Erica said. “I always take care of myself. My workouts are critical. There is just an energy that becomes infectious for yourself. And then you feel better.”
Her career choice is demanding and downright dangerous. Twenty years ago, the producers of Women of Wrestling spotted the aspiring dancer at an audition. A few weeks later, Erica’s alter ego was born.
“Let me tell you Jungle Grrrl’s motto and you’ll know in a nutshell who she is. ‘Kill or be Killed,’" Erica said.
"Jungle Grrrl" started carving up opponents while carving a reputation.
“I was like perched on the top rope and it's like Jungle Grrrl came to life. I was like, 'this is so cool. This is my job,'” Erica said. “I was pinching myself. This was the most incredible experience I’ve ever had in my entire life.”
Her barefoot skills and signature sky-high jumps led to a championship.
But while standing on the top rope of her career, Erica would face her most difficult opponent. Not in a ring. But a doctor’s office.
“I was having shortness of breath. I was having a cough that was lingering,” Erica recalled.
A doctor diagnosed Erica with Stage 4 Cancer. The breast cancer that spread to her lungs and bones is incurable.
“I understand where people reach a point in their life where they say ‘I’m done. I’m done.' It’s overwhelming,” Erica said. “My son asked me, ‘Mom. Can you promise me you’re not going to die?’ I said there is no human that can promise that to anyone. The equalizer among all people is time. We don’t know what that time is.”
While cancer sidelines many patients, it did not sideline Erica.
The married mother of one has vowed to live fully while inspiring others.
Erica is a familiar face at River City Sportsplex.
Her son Carlo’s lacrosse team is rallying around her.
Each player is dedicating their season to Carlo’s mom while wearing a ribbon in solidarity.
“When we found out about her diagnosis, we wanted to honor her,” Coach Wolf said. “It’s a small token of what we can do. We’re going to stand by her side every day. “We’re going to make sure she gets through this.”
Erica’s husband, also named Carlo, is a Henrico firefighter. He marvels at his wife’s determination.
“It is an atomic gut punch. We’ve been together for 22 years. I’m constantly amazed at her ability to give of herself and make things bigger than herself,” Carlo said.
During her cancer journey, Erica is drawing strength from giving back.
“My challenge to people is do what you love,” Erica said. “I still go back to fitness as a lifesaver.”
On October 1, Erica launched the Endorphasm Foundation which is named after the gym she founded in 2013.
“The mission of the gym is to strip away the B.S. and get you closer to your soul," she said.
Erica is committing herself to others.
“It might not change the outcome of how many years, but wouldn’t you want those years, no matter what they are, to be amazing. I know I do,” Erica said. “There are always going to be circumstances beyond our control, but how you react to those circumstances is well within our control."
Her non-profit offers fitness classes to cancer patients – free of charge.
“I do believe my foundation will be my legacy,” Erica said. “The greatest gift. The greatest gift is giving to others.”
While prepping for the biggest match of her life, Jungle Grrrl is determined not to let an illness pin her or anyone else down without a fight.
“An opportunity came and I made the best of it. No regrets. No regrets. What a life I’ve had. Pretty incredible.”
You can also watch Greg McQuade's "Heroes Among Us" reports Thursdays on CBS 6 News at 6 p.m.
Find unique, award-winning stories every day on CBS 6 News:
Mondays: CBS 6 Gives
Tuesdays: CBS 6 Problem Solvers Investigations
Wednesdays: Wayne's World
🙋♀️ Thursdays: Heroes Among Us
Thursdays: Beyond the Roster
Fridays: I Have a Story