Today’s guest is the first woman to announce the WWE’s WrestleMania event and the first female in-cage announcer in combat sports history. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), professional wrestling, and combat sports in general can be a bastion of toxic masculinity. So what was it like for a woman trying to enter — and excel — in that arena?
Join us as Lilian Garcia shares how smashing the glass ceiling is equal parts exhilarating and mentally taxing. She explains the challenges to her mental health that being a trailblazer entails and how she got through her own trying times.
Lilian Garcia is a woman with a platform, a history maker and barrier ‘breaker. This Spanish beauty has solidified her name into sports, entertainment, wellness, and mainstream media. Lilian is a multi-talented singer/songwriter, television personality & producer, 15-year WWE Host, and the first woman to announce WrestleMania. She’s currently the Professional Fighters League (PFL – ESPN MMA) in-cage announcer, once again making history as the first woman to be an “in-cage” announcer within combat sports. Lilian is an influencer in every sense and has carved the way for others throughout her career. See more at www.LilianGarcia.com.
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.
Gabe makes his home in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. He lives with his supportive wife, Kendall, and a Miniature Schnauzer dog that he never wanted, but now can’t imagine life without.
To book Gabe for your next event or learn more about him, please visit gabehoward.com.
Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast where experts share experiences and the latest thinking on mental health and psychology. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Calling into the show today, we have Lilian Garcia. Ms. Garcia is a multitalented TV personality and producer, fifteen year WWE host and the first woman to announce WrestleMania. She’s currently the Professional Fighters League in-cage announcer, making history as the first woman to be an in-cage announcer within combat sports. She is an influencer in every sense and has carved the way for others throughout her career. Ms. Garcia, welcome to the show!
Lilian Garcia: Thank you so much. Wow, what an intro, even my dog just barked and said, Wow.
Gabe Howard: I love it when the animals get involved. I am so, so happy that you use the term influencer and your bio.
Lilian Garcia: [Laughter]
Gabe Howard: Because way long ago when I told my family that I was an influencer. They sat me down to explain to me that that was not a real job.
Lilian Garcia: [Laughter]
Gabe Howard: The only thing that I have ever done that has disappointed them more was to start a podcast. They were not thrilled
Lilian Garcia: Oh, my God. And look at you now and now they’re like, you’re a podcaster.
Gabe Howard: Exactly
Lilian Garcia: But that’s because society accepted it, right?
Gabe Howard: When other people start doing it, I mean, you’re right about that breaking barriers and you describe yourself as a barrier breaker. Because I watched wrestling in the 80s and to call it male dominated is underselling it. Everything about it was just service to masculinity and you broke those barriers. You got tons of pushback. What was that like from a mental health perspective?
Lilian Garcia: Man, it’s funny you bring me back to that moment, and I just remember going through all of that. You know, there were things that led me to that moment that I think are important. First of all, when I got the agent in New York and he called me for that audition and he said, Hey, the WWF would like to audition some people and I think you should do this. And at first, I’m like, Oh, that’s cool. The world, the World Wildlife Fund. He goes, No, no, no. World Wrestling Federation. I’m like, Wait, what? Me and wrestling? And I used to watch it as a kid, but I couldn’t see myself in it because I thought maybe he was talking about wrestling. And he’s like, No, no, no. Look, I know it’s not a wrestler. I’m not really sure what it’s for, but I think you should do it. And I remember mulling that over and going like, Man, I’m going after my singing career. Like, is this the right move? And I, I sat with it and this is part of the whole mental thing, right? Is to be open, just to be open for opportunities. And so I said, look, I’m just going to go to the audition. It doesn’t cost me anything. It’s a train ride to Stamford. Let me just go and do my best.
Lilian Garcia: And I nailed it and I knew I nailed it. And then I’m like, Gulp, What if they call me? What am I going to do? Because I knew it was a year’s contract. And sure enough, when I got the call, eventually they told me, Look, we’d like to try you out for two to three months and you could quit at any time. And I thought that was pretty obvious, and I said, OK, I’m going to just try this and see what happens. And I did get put in the position of ring announcing my very first day on the job as I’m getting the tour of the place and I didn’t even know what Ring announcing was. I got thrown into the fire and the thing was, is that the superstars, they didn’t know that I had not been trained. So when you have a female in a male dominated industry coming in, she doesn’t sound like she’s put together.
Lilian Garcia: She doesn’t sound like she knows what she’s doing because she doesn’t, but they didn’t know that. And so I think that coming into that atmosphere like that, it didn’t make it easier, let’s put it that way.
Gabe Howard: Now, Ms. Garcia, I know that you have things in your personal life, like everybody has things in their personal life, that impacts your mental health, but of course you still had to go to work on a very public stage. And I’m, I’m reminded of a story that you told me about dealing with your emotions and your mental health in the wake of your divorce, but still having to perform on this very high level. Can you talk about that for our listeners? Because I just think that that’s very relatable this idea that we have to be our best when mentally we’re not feeling our best at all.
Lilian Garcia: That was a really dark time for me because I was so struggling through that, you know, a breakup, whether it’s just between girlfriend, boyfriend marriage is never, ever easy at all. I don’t care who side it just it’s never easy. And I was going through that, but I didn’t want people at work to know that I was going through. I really wanted to keep it to myself, and I tried to do it as much as I could. And then it pretty much blew up in my face because we were overseas one time and I was really trying to keep it together, but I couldn’t stop crying. I was in my hotel room crying every single night. We’d do the show. I’d come back and I go in my room and I’m just bawling my eyes out. And finally, they were a group of people were going out that night. And I decided one of the superstars looked to me goes, he didn’t know what was happening, but he says, Come on, it looks like you need a good night out. And so I was like the thought of going back to my room and just crying. I was like, Now I got to get out of this loop. So I went out that night. And unfortunately, you know, when you’re in a state like that, many times the choice becomes alcohol. And I wanted to numb myself, and so I started doing shots. And next thing you knew, I didn’t wake up that next morning. I finally had gotten to the airport to meet the rest of the people because I missed the bus.
Lilian Garcia: And they thought that I was just being irresponsible, right? Because I didn’t let anyone know what I was going through and I was met with, Oh my god, I can’t believe you’re being irresponsible. If you’ve missed the bus, you’re going to make a flight to the next town. And finally, I broke down and I let everyone in and I told them that I was going through a really sad divorce and that I picked my poison that night to be alcohol, which was not the right choice. But I was so weak at that at that by that time, what I was met with was so much compassion and empathy and understanding. Because I finally let them in, I let them know what was happening. Then all of a sudden it was like, Oh, wait, she’s not being irresponsible. She’s not being. She’s going through really tough time, guys. We got to step up and be here for her. And so I think that’s a big lesson that when you’re going through a tough time, it’s OK to let people know that and set it up. I think if I would have told everybody ahead of time, they would have been able to support me in a way that would have been way better than me going out and just drinking alcohol that night. And it would have been just completely a different outcome. So I want to share that, and I’m OK with sharing that so that hopefully people are going through and trying to hide. Don’t. Don’t hide it. We can’t do this by ourselves. You got to let people in.
Gabe Howard: Thank you for sharing and to anybody who’s going through that, I hope that you will reach out and ask for help because it really makes a big difference.
Lilian Garcia: Absolutely.
Gabe Howard: One of the things that I think about often when I interview barrier breakers like you is that I’ve never had to break a barrier. When I do anything, if I do it poorly, it’s, you know, I’m a white man. Yeah, I don’t have to worry about anybody coming behind me. I simply do not. It is not even remotely on my radar. But one of the things that I think about with you describing yourself as a barrier breaker is one, that means you had to face barriers and two, you had to worry about the people coming behind you. Because, as you said, if you messed it up, maybe somebody’d be like, OK, we can’t hire women anymore. And then you’re known as the person who ruined it for everybody. That has to weigh on a person’s mental health in ways that once again, I frankly cannot even fathom.
Lilian Garcia: It’s wild, because recently I’ve lost both my parents, unfortunately, and my sister and I have been cleaning out the house and I’ve been finding all of these photos and bios of me when I was growing up. And because I was in pageants, you had to write down all your achievements and all this kind of stuff. And I looked at it and I’m like, Holy cow, I didn’t realize I’d done so much like, you’re always going after the next, next, next. And so you don’t really look as to what you’ve already done. And when I looked at the list of a young girl getting all of this done, I was thinking, Man, this really did help me because it was constantly where I was trying to achieve, achieve, achieve. So when it got to this point and I’m representing women in a male dominated industry, I was like, OK, Lil, like, you have done these things before. I really feel like school has helped me. You know, I wanted to make President’s List. I wanted to do really well. So I think all of those things I was able to take into WWE and be like, All right, just go home and study study, study, study, do what you can do, control what you can control. And what I could control was studying the names, studying the towns, rehearsing the inflections, showing up with good attitude. Don’t be late, be dependable. Don’t give them a reason to say we shouldn’t have hired a female.
Gabe Howard: As I’m listening to you, I’m like, Yeah, yeah, have a good attitude and work hard like, yeah, but there’s more to it than that, right? I mean, I wish that all we had to do is, you know, keep our chin up and work hard. But sometimes that’s not even enough. How do you get through those days?
Lilian Garcia: Well, that’s where you can rely on having a good support system. Like align yourself with a good support system around you so that when things do get hard, you have people that you can count on and you can go to and you can vent and you could trust them for that. Trish Stratus and I, we rode together in the WWE for seven years, and I’ve got to say I really feel like she and I were able to achieve what we achieved at WWE, because she achieved a lot as well, because we were able to get in those car rides and vent and help each other out and be like, OK, thank you for letting me get this out and talk about it and figure out what’s the best approach and then wipe off those shoulders and keep moving.
Gabe Howard: I love that. I really subscribe to the idea that it takes a village, no matter what you do. You know, no one is an island. I believe that the best therapy is complaining with your friends wherever you are. Like, just sit around. I hate my boss. I hate my job. I hate my life. I hate, I hate everything. And then, OK, now you’re done and then you get up. You dust yourself off and you go and do your best. So many people see that as counterproductive. It’s like, Don’t complain. Don’t complain. Be humble and don’t complain. What are your thoughts on people who see venting and complaining as identical things?
Lilian Garcia: So I don’t like to use the word complain, I like to use the word challenge, I’m challenged. Like I said, I’m speaking from myself, when there’s something that I’m not liking, I’m like, OK, I’m challenged and understanding what it is that other person is trying to get at. I’m challenged as to the view that they have as to what, why they want me to do it this way when I feel it should be better that way, right? I think if I speak my challenges, then it comes from a point and a position of I’m challenged and I’m trying to figure out the puzzle versus, I’m just complaining. I’m just going to talk about things I don’t like. And now there’s no real where to go. There’s no learnings that you’re willing to accept from what is the challenge? Because if you look at things as a challenge, then you’re looking at things as like you’re problem solving. You could be challenged as in a puzzle. But when you sit there and you figure out that puzzle, man, you’re like, Oh, I figured it out, this feels great. So when you figure out the challenge, then you feel great. If you just sit there and complain, then it’s no growth whatsoever on anyone’s side.
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Gabe Howard: And we’re back with Professional Fighters League in cage announcer and WWE host Lilian Garcia. Now I am a huge combat sports fan, as I already told you that I watched wrestling when I was a kid. Moved on to boxing, went on to MMA. For some reason, I just love it when people beat on each other. And here’s.
Lilian Garcia: [Laughter]
Gabe Howard: Here’s my specific question sincerely. I like all sports, and if somebody would have said to me, Hey, Gabe, do you think that combat sports will lead the way in progress for women in sports and be very progressive and help reduce misogyny that we see in sports? I would have been like the sport where we punch each other in the face? Nah, it’s probably going to be hockey. I mean, they seem polite. Sincerely, MMA, which was once called human cockfighting on the Senate floor, is very progressive in welcoming women into the fold. Now this is an outsider’s opinion. I am just a fan. What’s this like from your perspective?
Lilian Garcia: When I got into MMA and sat there at cage side and watch these fights, I was like, Oh my God, this is amazing. And when the women were involved, like Kayla Harrison has just been killing it in PFL, it’s amazing. But to see the sport itself, Oh no, this isn’t just two people going in and just killing each other. They’re really skillfully trying to decide at which moment do I use boxing? At which moment do I use wrestling? At which moment is it jujitsu? Is it judo? Is it grappling? Is it? I’m like, Whoa. They’ve got to know all of these different techniques and skills and decide, what do I use when? And submission holds? And I’m like, this is not two people beating each other up. This is something that is so skillful and incredible, and I love watching the women. And it was really special. Two years in a row now that I’ve been at the PFL, the main event at the Championship has been a female fight and there I am with two females going after each other and then I’m the presenter of it. And that’s been really incredible to see that. And they’re the highest ratings. That’s why they put them as the main event. So it really has been just a testament to where the sport has come, where the fans have accepted this and they’ve accepted me as a cage announcer, incredibly. And I really, really want to thank the MMA fans for doing that.
Gabe Howard: Now, obviously, I could talk about MMA, I could start a whole podcast talking about just mixed martial arts and combat sports, but this is a mental health show, so I want to sort of sashay over to this question, but keeping the previous question in mind, what
Lilian Garcia: Mm-hmm.
Gabe Howard: Has this done for the collective mental health of females in sports seeing this? Because even if you’re not a combat sports fan, if you’re a woman that wants to play sports, this has to be an empowering thing to see that you’re at the top of the heap. Am I? Am I overstating it, understating it? Have you seen anything from your perspective?
Lilian Garcia: Yeah, no, you’re not overstating it at all, I think it’s really powerful for women to watch other women breaking barriers because it really does take away all of those walls. You just really have to work hard. That’s what it comes down to. You have to work hard. And yes, I do understand that there are times that the opportunities aren’t there, but there are more and more cracks starting to form in a lot of places. And so I always say luck is when preparation meets opportunity. Obviously, it’s not my quote, but I repeat that because you have to be ready. So when the opportunity and that crack shows up, you are prepared to step into that role. And that’s what I think is happening now is that cracks are starting to come in and the women have been prepared, really working on their passion and what they love to do. And so when that crack has showed up, they’re like, Boom, put me in coach. I am there and they’re stepping up and they’re showing that they belong and that they can do this and entertain and fight. And, you know, whatever it is, whether it’s MMA, whether it’s wrestling, when there’s partaking in other organizations, it’s really showing that the women can definitely go out in sports and other areas and dominate.
Gabe Howard: Ms. Garcia, thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much for being here. Before we go, I want to talk about the Tag Me In initiative. Now as I understand it, the goal of Tag Me In is to normalize a conversation about mental health, rid mental health stigma and reiterate that those affected are never alone.
Lilian Garcia: Yes, I love this initiative, and, you know, I’ve been an advocate for speaking about mental health, which is why I even had formed Chasing Glory, my podcast, five years ago. It was all about speaking to big entertainers and sports people and athletes and wellness coaches and talking about the chase for glory. When people started hearing the true, the adversities and the struggles that these superstars had gone through in their lives and knowing that they still made it on the other side and that they’re still going through some things, all of a sudden, the fans were like, Whoa, wait a minute, I’m going through this right now, so you’re telling me it’s OK, I’m going through this and I can get through it and I can still make something of myself. It really created this incredible bond as well, with the fans and the superstars that became so vulnerable to let them in, to go, you know what? Not everything is perfect, and I think that that’s the main thing that’s been able to help with the initiative of mental health. So when I got approached with Tag Me In, to be a part of it, to really speak out about this organization and about mental health, and it’s okay to talk about when things are not going well and it’s OK to share that in public. It’s OK to share that with your friends. It’s OK to help somebody as well, right? Extend that hand when you see someone is struggling and don’t look at them like they’re just crazy. Know they’re going through a really hard time in their lives. The more we do that for each other, the more we can help each other in this world. And that’s what Tag Me In is all about. You’re tagging someone in. Sometimes you’re the one that needs to be tagged in, and sometimes you’re the one to tag someone in. People can get involved by following Tag Me In United on Instagram.
Gabe Howard: Ms. Garcia, where can people find you?
Lilian Garcia: People can follow me at @LilianGarcia. Lilian is with one L in the middle, @LilianGarcia on Instagram, Twitter. Also Lilian Garcia official fan page on Facebook. LilianGarcia.com for all that good stuff. So yeah, I welcome people to follow me to DM me, to share their own journey as to what’s going on in their lives. And like I said, let’s just unite.
Gabe Howard: And I want to ask you just real quick, I notice your logo, of course, the L and G, Lilian Garcia. But it’s in a star. Is there any story behind your logo?
Lilian Garcia: Yeah, my dad was in the military, so Army, Army uses the star, and I’ve always been just really gravitate to stars. I wanted to have that star represent through that because him and my mom, like they’re my roots and that star just sets me in my roots and they always, always told me, You just go for it, you are a star, go for it. And so that’s what it’s encompassing.
Gabe Howard: I love that. I love that reminder, not only for you, but I love that story for all of the people listening. I really do believe that some sort of, whether it’s physical or visual, representation of our goals is very, very helpful. I know a lot of people talk about like carrying pennies or tokens or just reminders that they can touch or people get tattoos to remind them to keep moving forward. I believe it’s a very powerful thing, and I’m glad to hear about yours.
Lilian Garcia: I think it is very powerful, anything that somebody needs to keep going, to really remind themselves of who they are. You know, lately I have a picture that I got from the house where it’s myself as a young girl and I carry it around because I remember making certain promises to her. And now I’m going, Yes, there are some promises that I have not kept, and I will do that now. And so I look at that photo to remind myself to know what I have to do to complete my promise, and I think that’s very important.
Gabe Howard: I could not agree more. Ms. Garcia, thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much for being here. It was a real honor.
Lilian Garcia: Thank you, I appreciate you, and I appreciate the fans, fans that are listening to the show. This is another way. Right? To grow is listening to shows like this. You get the perspective from different people and you get these nuggets that you’re like, Whoa, that was a gem, whatever he or she said. And now I can turn and apply that into my life, and then that helps their life. And then there’s a ripple effect that happens. And that’s what it’s all about is having that ripple effect for good.
Gabe Howard: I love that, and I love all of my listeners. My name is Gabe Howard and of course, I am the author of “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations.” I’m also an award-winning public speaker who is available for your next event. The book is on Amazon because, well, everything is on Amazon, but you can get a signed copy with free show swag or learn more about me over at gabehoward.com. Wherever you downloaded this episode, please follow or subscribe to the show. It’s absolutely free. And hey, can you do me a favor? Recommend the show to your friends and family. Whether it’s via social media, email, a text message or good old word of mouth. I would appreciate it. I will see everyone next Thursday here on Inside Mental Health.
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