Growing up with three older brothers, Eva Marie was no stranger to wrestling. But the 30-year-old rising WWE Diva never imagined she’d be the one throwing down body slams in the ring.

“All my brothers watched wrestling on TV when we were kids,” says Eva Marie, whose given name is Eva Marie Nelson. “I was a tomboy, so naturally I would join whatever they did.”

After graduating from college, where she played soccer for California State University-Fullerton, she moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting and modeling. In 2013 she was spotted by WWE for Total Divas, a new reality show focusing on the lives of female wrestlers.

“This is my dream job—it showcases my athleticism, and at the same time I get to entertain and help do work that gives back to the community,” she says.

Learning the ins and outs of wrestling can be a challenge, but Eva Marie’s natural athletic ability and high level of conditioning made her a quick study. “I’m always discovering something new. In many ways, everything I’ve ever known about fitness goes out the door because I am putting my body into positions I’ve never been in before,” she says.

But she’s progressed quickly and has been moving up through the ranks. “I love going to my job every day.” And while performing for WWE is vastly different from her background as a team sport athlete, the routine of living, working, and training with like-minded women is a familiar one. “We all have a strong sense of dedication and teamwork that comes through every day.”

Eva Marie has also gotten a big assist from her husband, Jonathan Coyle, a CrossFit trainer who has helped her achieve her own peak conditioning. “When I train with Jonathan, he definitely gives me that extra push. He keeps me on my toes with every workout we do. It can get pretty grueling!”

Because Eva Marie is frequently on the road with WWE events, she’s learned to train hard even outside the gym. “Jonathan will write up workouts for me to do in the hotel, like 100 situps, 100 jump squats, 100 burpees, and a few minutes of planks. I can definitely work up a good sweat without having to leave my room.””

While she comes across as being a nice girl at heart, Eva Marie plays the bad guy (or “heel,”in wrestling parlance) in the ring, which suits her just fine. “I’m pretty cocky and I like to bring the heat. Everybody loves a bad girl!”

Her attention-getting flaming-red hair came about unexpectedly, but fits her fiery personality. “WWE already had some brunettes, so to avoid confusion I changed my hair. I didn’t want to go blond, so I brought out the red, figuring I’d go big or go home.”

The blazing color has helped to define her, and brought her widespread recognition. “I love that I can see these little girls in airports or at arenas and get across to them how important it is to embrace who you are and feel comfortable in your own skin,” says Eva Marie. “That confidence is a big part of what it takes to be a Diva.”

She’s also found recognition among the high-profile WWE legends. “I met Hulk Hogan, who was one of my childhood idols, and he told me that he is a huge fan of Total Divas—which was surreal and very rewarding!”

Outside the ring, Eva Marie says that working with WWE’s community-outreach programs, which include visiting troops in Afghanistan, helping with the Special Olympics, and teaming up to raise awareness of breast cancer with Susan G. Komen, is one of the most satisfying aspects of her career. “I can help reach so many people and make a difference, which is really important to me.”

With her drive, determination, and perseverance, don’t expect the red-hot Diva to disappear anytime soon. “I hit the ground running and I don’t see myself slowing down,” she says. “I really want that Diva title! I’m just getting started.”