On a steamy summer day, Ann Lake hauls two heavy buckets of firewood out of her shed in Harpswell without breaking a sweat. She still chops her own wood and shovels snow. Not bad for an 82-year-old. And not surprising, given her former career.

In the 1950s, Lake was a star in what was then called “lady wrestling.”

“I can still take care of myself,” says the trim and fit Lake. “I just can’t throw 100 pounds over my head anymore.”

Lake got into the wrestling business by chance.

She grew up with six siblings on a farm in North Reading, Massachusetts. It was a life steeped in hard work.

“Any spare time we had,” she says, “it was always out in the woods chopping trees down or bringing wood in for the winter.”

Former professional wrestler Ann Lake, 82, is still going strong, carrying buckets of firewood at her Harpswell home. Growing up on a farm and splitting wood helped give Lake a rugged build that helped her excel in a wrestling career.

Former professional wrestler Ann Lake, 82, is still going strong, carrying buckets of firewood at her Harpswell home. Growing up on a farm and splitting wood helped give Lake a rugged build that helped her excel in a wrestling career. Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

She dreamed of becoming a veterinarian, but her parents couldn’t afford to send her to college. So the self-described tomboy decided to pursue a career in sports.

Shortly after graduating from high school, she saw a sign announcing tryouts for a national women’s softball team. She drove to the stadium in Chelsea, baseball glove in hand, but was a day late.

“So I said, ‘Well, maybe I’ll catch them next year.’ In the meantime, I went to a wrestling match, and they had lady wrestlers. I said, ‘Maybe I can qualify for that.’ ”

Boston wrestling promoter Tony Santos had the same thought when he laid eyes on her in the crowd.

“He came over to me and said, ‘I think you’d make a good wrestler. Are you interested?’ ”

She sure was.

Lake trained for six months, and early in her career won the New England championship.

“I had a fantastic build for a wrestler. Very muscular. I guess choppin’ wood paid off,” she says.

Ann Lake, right, and her sister Ruth were inducted into the New England Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2011.

Ann Lake, right, and her sister Ruth were inducted into the New England Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2011. Photo courtesy of Ann Lake

One newspaper described her as “one of the strongest girls in the business.” Another dubbed her “the gallant gal from North Reading.”

Lake’s kid sister Ruth soon followed in her footsteps. They became, as far as Ruth knows, the first sister tag team in the business.

“It was fun,” says Ruth, 79, who lives in Colebrook, New Hampshire. “Ann and I had always been very athletic and that was the part I enjoyed.”

Their mother was their biggest fan. But the sisters couldn’t convince her that much of what happened during the match was staged.

“I used to tell (my mother), ‘We don’t mean to hurt each other,’ but she wouldn’t believe it,” Lake says. “One night she got so angry that she threw what she was drinking at the other wrestler in the ring, and it was raspberry soda.”

Ruth wrestled for about two years and then left to get married and raise a family.

Ann stayed in the game, traveling throughout the United States and Canada with the other women wrestlers managed by Santos.

Her goal was to put on a good show each night without getting hurt – which is why she still sees red at the mention of a wrestler who went by the name of Slave Girl Moolah.

Moolah, whose real name was Mary Ellison, was her nemesis. “She thought wrestling was about beating the daylights out of you,” Lake says. “One night I said to her, ‘I’ve had enough of this. You hit me one more time the way you hit me last time and you better make sure the first (punch) counts, because otherwise you won’t get up.’ She never hit me again.”

Tom Burke, a former contributor to the now defunct Ring Wrestling magazine who’s writing a book on the history of the wrestling circuit in western Massachusetts, says it took a woman with a lot of drive and a sense of adventure to pursue a career in the ring in the 1950s.

“They stood outside of the boundaries of the image of what a woman should be (back then),” Burke says. “They had to have a lot of gumption.”

In 1960, Lake’s wrestling career came to an abrupt end when she tripped on a rug and broke her ankle.

“Oh, did I miss it,” she says. “I sure did.”

Ann Lake, 82, shows she still remembers some of the moves from her successful career as a pro wrestler. Lake and her sister Ruth may have been the first female tag team. “I can still take care of myself,” Lake says. “I just can’t throw 100 pounds over my head anymore.”

Ann Lake, 82, shows she still remembers some of the moves from her successful career as a pro wrestler. Lake and her sister Ruth may have been the first female tag team. “I can still take care of myself,” Lake says. “I just can’t throw 100 pounds over my head anymore.” Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

She went to work for a veterinarian, and moved to Maine when she retired in 2002.

In 2011, Ann and Ruth Lake were inducted into the New England Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Ann has the hall of fame plaque safely tucked away, along with a scrapbook filled with old photos and faded newspaper clippings from a time in her life she treasures.

“I remember every bit of it,” she says. “And I loved every bit of it.”