When I was invited to train at the WWE Performance Center alongside Tough Enough competitors, I jumped at it. I mean, it's a chance of a lifetime, right? How many people get the opportunity to train in the ring with WWE legends Billy Gunn, Booker T and Lita? But upon arrival, what I quickly realized was that while this was a chance of a lifetime for me, it was the chance of a lifetime for the 40 competitors, many of whom had been working toward just this moment for years.
There were people from all walks of life and experience level - former NFL players, bikini models, indie wrestlers, MMA fighters, grad school students - all of whom wanted this so badly I almost felt guilty for infringing on their experience. But it was too late to go back, so as I walked around introducing myself, I took the opportunity to gather as much advice from the competition as I could get.
"Be playful!" "Loosen up!" "Know when your body needs to stop and listen."
One of the photographers told me to be careful what I ate in case I later threw it up. "Watch out for carrots," he warned. (I later forgot this advice and immediately kicked myself. Though thankfully, we never got to see firsthand just how sage this wisdom really was.)
Eventually, we were brought before the coaches. As if I wasn't already nervous before, hearing Billy Gunn, Booker T and Lita lecture the competitors about just how intense the experience was going to be had me seriously questioning my decision. Because if this mini-camp was going to be a challenge for the 40 athletes the WWE selected, what hope did I have? I sit around and watch TV for a living and then sit around and write about it. I exercise so little that I didn't even own a pair of sneakers before this trip. Basically, what had I gotten myself into?
Little did I realize that the hardest part of the day wasn't going to be the physical challenges. Instead, it was what came next: the interview with the coaches. One-by-one, we were brought in front of a panel consisting of Billy, Lita, Booker and representatives from USA and the WWE. Everyone was asked a series of basic questions: "Why do you think you're Tough Enough?" "What makes a good WWE Superstar?" etc. Or at least the questions seemed basic. The coaches weren't interested in hearing people recite pre-packaged answers. They were there to get to the core of you, to push you and question you and see what you're really made of, not what you think they want to see. And boy, did they push.
I'm a writer, not a public speaker, and I will be the first one to admit my interview was terrible. My mind turned to mush, I stumbled over all my words and at one point, I probably stood there silently for a good six seconds because I couldn't think of anything to say. With my face flushed with shame, I left the ring and was met with slight redemption when some of the crew said I wasn't the worst they had seen all day. So even if I was second to worst, at least I wasn't the worst. And in this case, I'm counting that as a victory.
Next up, the dreaded workout. Running even longer than the grueling three hours it was scheduled for, the workout was one of the most impressive and terrifying things I have ever witnessed. I saw professional athletes look as though they were about to faint. I saw injuries eliminate a few of the standout competitors. ZZ, the alligator wrestler, even begged my camera guy for a gator-skin coffin because the exercises were going to kill him. But what I also saw was an inspiring camaraderie between 40 strangers who should, in all honesty, be enemies.
"I'm not here to make friends" is the unofficial catchphrase for all reality shows. But despite the fact that they were each other's competition, everyone rallied together to cheer one another on, particularly if someone was struggling. And though the coaches could be hard on the competitors, they were as quick with words of encouragement as they were calling out someone's B.S., and I needed all the encouragement I could get.
It didn't take long into the workout before I realized that basic tumbling is far more difficult than it seems. A forward roll is easy enough, but make that a left shoulder roll or a backward roll and I quickly turn into baby Bambi on ice. And just when I would start to get the hang of something, trainer Matt Bloom would switch up the challenge, forcing me to discover a whole new set of muscles I didn't know I had.
Eventually, it was nearing midnight and my body had finally hit its limit. I slid off the apron, went into a crowd of cheering faces and received a few final words from the coaches before I was allowed to go back to the hotel and take a much-needed shower. And you know what? I felt pretty damn great. Physically, part of me wanted to die, but I had done it. I had accomplished what I set out to do and gained a newfound appreciation for Superstars and Divas. Because scripted or not, it takes a nearly inconceivable amount of talent and dedication to do what they do every day.
So am I Tough Enough to be a WWE Diva? God no. But I did learn that I'm tougher than I thought and that's good enough for me.
Tough Enough airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on USA. Check out a video of my Tough Enough experience below.