Nikki Loftin wants the ring.
The wrestling ring.
The 16-year-old wants to be a professional wrestler, and she's already training for that goal.
"You want to have a career you enjoy," said the John S. Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School student, dramatically made up with dark eye-liner emphasizing her eyes and glitter dusted across her cheeks like iridescent freckles.
"I've watched it on TV, and it looks like something that would be fun to do. You get the attention from the crowd - whether they like you or they hate you, you get that attention."
It's the craving of any performer, and Nikki already knows it's not all fun and games. There's a lot of training involved. Nikki lifts weights regularly and practices the moves and falls necessary in professional wrestling.
"A couple of years ago, she just one day said she wanted to be a wrestler," said her father, Jim Loftin. "She's very responsible; she pays for it with her own money. I think it's kind of neat for her."
She's the only girl - and the youngest person - training with an Augusta-area group of self-described "weekend warriors" who wrestle in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina when they can get bookings from independent promoters.
"I usually don't train teen-agers like that," said Mike Ellison, who has been wrestling for 12 years and oversees Nikki's training. "But she's been coming down to the gym; she's been power lifting; she's been putting time into this. She can't actually wrestle until she comes of age - she won't be considered a wrestler until she's 18 - but she is training - she is getting thrown around like the rest of us do."
That's why the weight-training is so important, Nikki said. She's shorter than most of the other wrestlers, so she has to have power behind her moves. She has had to learn to adjust the usual choreography to look natural for her height.
"I have to do a lot of reaching up to do the moves," she said, demonstrating as she stood in the doorway of her room, which is wallpapered with magazine photos of rock stars and professional wrestlers, including her two favorites: the mute, red- and black-masked Kane (Glen Jacobs) and Chyna (Joan Lee), one of the first women to work her way into the spotlight of the World Wrestling Federation.
"She's like one of the guys," Nikki said. "She wrestles the guys, and that's what I want to do."
Her friends think the training and the idea of being a professional wrestler is "pretty cool," she said.
"They said they'll be there to support me at shows that I'm in."
Reach Alisa DeMao at (706) 823-3223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.