Imagery provided by National Geographic/ATX Television Festival.
Recently in honor of Veteran’s Day, I attended a screening in Texas for a National Geographic Channel military series on TV called The Long Road Home. Nat Geo and the Texas Film Commission delivered a sneak peek into this Texas-filmed series based on Martha Raddatz’s bestselling novel The Long Road Home: A Story of War and Family. The first episode premiered on November 7, 2017, and the show is now featured worldwide in over 171 locations and 45 languages each week on Tuesdays via National Geographic Channel. The Long Road Home is presently the biggest active set in the U.S., built on Fort Hood Army Base. The creator and showrunner of this TV show is screenwriter and documentary filmmaker Mikko Alanne.
“On April 4, 2004, the First Cavalry Division from Fort Hood was ferociously ambushed in Sadr City, Baghdad—a day that later came to be known as Black Sunday. Based on Martha Raddatz’s best-selling book, The Long Road Home chronicles their heroic fight for survival, as well as their families’ agonizing wait on the home front back in Texas. The cast includes two-time Emmy-nominated actor Michael Kelly as Lt. Col. Gary Volesky; Emmy-nominated actor Jason Ritter as Capt. Troy Denomy; Kate Bosworth as Capt. Denomy’s wife, Gina; Sarah Wayne Callies as LeAnn Volesky, wife of Lt. Col. Volesky; Noel Fisher as Pfc. Tomas Young; and Jeremy Sisto as Staff Sgt. Robert Miltenberger.”
The Long Road Home tells a story of the ultimate sacrifice made at war. The series gives a voice and a proper acknowledgment to the Veterans that have served and their families that supported them. I loved the episode they showcased. I sat there watching the screening of The Long Road Home on a Sunday evening, and I felt a wild and extensive mixture of emotions. Mikko Alanne does a fantastic job of intertwining beauty and humor into a darker story. Right when you want to look away from Baghdad, the series keeps you hooked with light-hearted moments back in Texas. Alanne is also a master of flashbacks and retrospective storytelling. Viewers are watching the episodes with ease, without confusions as to the different times with different characters, past and present. I was also impressed by how the set is so accurate in detail that even the military personnel that helped advise Mikko Alanne on set described it to be almost a mirror reflection of Baghdad. One of the Veterans of the U.S. Army that helped Alanne in the production process, as well as attend the Q&A in Austin, isEric Bourquin.
“While on the set he and other 1st Cavalry Division Soldiers endured in Iraq, Eric Bourquin managed to get the emotional healing he had sought for years. ‘There’s no way I could just take a stroll through memory lane [in Iraq] if i wanted to,” he said after a panel discussion about the show at the Defense Information School. “But I was so fortunate that I was able to do that and walk through it’. The Army assisted the film crew at Fort Hood, where producers claimed they built the largest working film set in North America on a 12-acre site. More than 80 buildings were erected at the Elijah urban training site at Fort Hood, Texas, where the division is headquartered, to resemble homes and streets in Sadr City. For Bourquin, who worked as a production consultant for the show, the fabricated town gave him tangible closure”.
At the end of the screening, I was able to ask Eric Bourquin a question and it was definitely an intense moment for me. I respected his honesty and bravery to retell this story and to heal from it. [A recording of the Q&A can be found on YouTube.] For me, even though I never served in the military, it was hard to ignore my personal feelings at a Press event like this being a military brat myself that grew up with nearly all Veterans and men of the military: Air Force, Army, Marines, Green Berets and so on. As a member of the military family, this was an intense but heartfelt episode for me because I’ve experienced and seen what the military and wartimes can do to a person, good and bad. I’ve seen the affects of PTSD and trauma. It hurts the Veterans and their families to see loved ones struggling. Even if the Veterans are most affected of all. Thus, any safe place of healing is highly commendable and needed. Ultimately I respect the vision of what The Long Road Home is hoping to accomplish because that is what Veterans and their families really need: to be heard, seen and to heal so that they may readjust back to everyday life and recover from the past.
I highly recommend this TV series for all Veterans and members of the military family. Even if you’re not a Veteran, on active duty or part of the military family. All civilians can appreciate this show because it’s essential for those uninvolved or unrelated to the military to gain enlightenment and second-hand exposure to what military personnel must endure overseas at war while away from home. We all need to see and to empathize with the difficulty Veterans face (and their families) when returning back to home. We need to see their long road home to recovery and healing. I valued this series as an artist and a member of the military family because when a military member is deployed and goes to war, it affects the families, too.
Bikini bodybuilder Lisa Traugott. Photography provided by ‘American Grit’ on FOX.
Local Austinite, author and bikini bodybuilder, Lisa Traugott, was cast on FOX’s military-inspired show “American Grit”. The show made its grand debut two weeks ago and the third episode, “Moving Camp”, will air this Thursday on April 28, 2016 at 8 PM CST.
Prior to being cast for “American Grit” on FOX—Lisa Traugott wrote a book titled “She’s Losing it!”—a memoir about how she lost 50 pounds at the age of 38 by entering a bodybuilding competition. Over the course of two to three years, Traugott ascended from coming in dead last to the top three placings at bikini bodybuilding and sports model competitions. Sometimes competing against women half her age. (Traugott’s in her early 40’s.) Just last year Lisa won first place in the bikini contest at Texas State Naturals in 2015. And this weekend she will be competing at The Physique Showdown in Houston, TX on April 30, 2016 hosted by The Naturally Fit Federation.
Last year Lisa Traugott was selected as a cast member for “American Grit” and it was a new experience for most of the crew, a different kind of fitness-inspired TV show with a unique edge. Stated on the show’s official website, “FOX has ordered ‘American Grit’—a 10-episode competition series starring WWE Superstar John Cena. Produced by Leftfield Pictures—sixteen of the country’s toughest men and women are split into four teams as they work together to face a variety of military-grade and survival-themed challenges. Cena and an elite group of mentors from the nation’s most exclusive military units will push these civilians beyond their limits. The mentors, known as “The Cadre,” include Rorke Denver, Noah Galloway, Tawanda “Tee” Hanible and Nick “The Reaper” Irving. These real-life heroes who represent diverse backgrounds and top branches of the U.S. Armed Forces will impart their first-hand knowledge and experience to help the competitors work together as teams to surmount near impossible mental and physical challenges. ‘American Grit’ embodies the military ethos ‘no man left behind’ because only the first team to complete the challenges together is safe from elimination. Each episode will culminate in “The Circus,” a punishing, endurance-based obstacle course designed to break the weakest competitors. With up to a million dollars of prize money at stake, this is the ultimate test of strength, grit, the human spirit and most importantly, teamwork.”
The day that FOX released “American Grit” onto television—Lisa Traugott spoke with Arts & Entertainment writer for Examiner, Nicolette Mallow, at Mozart’s Coffee Roasters waterfront to Lake Austin. The interview below includes anecdotes about Traugott’s journey to TV and the story that lead her to become a bikini bodybuilder.
Nicolette Mallow: Will you tell me about your background in bodybuilding and how you came to be on the show “American Grit”? What was the screening process to become a cast member was like? I’m curious to know how you discovered this show and what it required to make the cut.
Lisa Traugott: Going back to the start, last year in 2015 was a really tough time for me. My mother had advanced stage lung cancer and it was the same time my book was being released. Good and bad events happening at once; I was so stressed that I started gaining some of the weight back that I’d worked hard to lose. To keep myself grounded, I started with a new coach and entered The Arnold Classic, the second largest bodybuilding competition in the world. You have to be selected just to get in. At the time I was 41 and I was competing against women literally half my age. Plus, back then I had never won a competition, and not only had I never won, but I would always come in dead last. So even though I did not have an award-winning body, because I could write a really good cover letter. I was accepted… It was just such a weird time because my mother was in the hospital with pneumonia. And then the same day that her fever broke: I got a text saying that I was accepted into The Arnold. Right then I started jumping around the hospital room in excitement about the future competition. I recall my mother said to me in happiness, “That’s great! But what’s The Arnold?” It was so funny when she said that… But yeah, all the while she’s going through chemo and I am practicing my poses and lifting weights with my trainer, Robin Johnson Jr.. At the time I went to him and said, “The only thing I don’t want is that I just don’t want to come in dead last. I’ve set the bar really low for you as a trainer.” And Robin said to me, “No. That’s the bar that you’ve set for yourself. I have higher standards for you.”
NM: Wow. How did you feel when he said that?
LT: At that moment I realized that I was just afraid. Without meeting a single person, I had already decided that they were all better than me. So I had to kind of throw that mentality out the window. I ended up coming in 20th out of 38 contestants. Which was huge improvement compared to the rest. Plus, as I said before, this was an international competition against women half my age.
NM: Congratulations! That is huge improvement in regards to placement.
LT: Thank you. It was huge improvement. Five weeks later I did another bikini bodybuilding competition, a local show called the Texas Shredder. My mom said to me one day before the show that she had a dream, and in the dream I came in 3rd place at the competition. And it turned out that I did. I won 3rd place. It was nice because my mom got to see me win the award and hold the sword. Three weeks later she ended up passing away… It was just so intense because she died on May 4th and I gave her eulogy on Mother’s Day (May 10th). And then a week later I ran a Spartan Race with my kids. I used fitness to work through my grief and I kept competing and bodybuilding.
NM: That’s admirable you did something so healthy and empowering to get well and heal when it can be so easy for us to slip off into the deep and the dark during tough times. What happened next?
LT: Well thank you… During these competitions, I was blogging about all this and I started getting more readers. It started as something I did for fun. But then at the next show I placed third—and the show after that I placed second. Finally I had one month left. One month between the show I’d placed second and my last show to compete for the year 2015— I went hardcore and did 730 squats a day. How I was exercising and how hard I was training was a reflection of my focus and that I wanted to win.
NM: That is hardcore. So how did the final competition span out?
LT: It was down to me and one other girl, and I thought she had it. But when they declared my number it was so funny because the announcer said onto the mic, “Well, she might write ‘She’s Losing It!’ but she’s winning it tonight”.
NM: That was very clever of him. It’s also really impressive and inspiring how you won first place after coming in dead last with only a few years of experience.
LT: I was so happy! Soon after I placed first at Texas State Naturals, that’s when somebody from FOX called me.
NM: I see. So FOX sought you out for the show ‘American Grit’ and you didn’t initially apply? Obviously a lot of people were watching that competition.
LT: Yes. They told me they had been reading my blog and thought I was interesting and wanted me to audition for the show. When they told me it entailed military style endeavors I thought, “I’m not really qualified for this” and I wrote them saying I was not sure I was right for the role. But they encouraged me to apply and after speaking to a Producer. I sent in a video of my workout routine and my fitness story. Soon after I was flown out to LA and I realized that while I was there: 6,500 other people had auditioned. It blew my mind! In the end, I was one of sixteen cast members chosen for “American Grit”. From start-to-finish, it was an overwhelming, amazing experience that I will treasure for life.
NM: Which team were you cast for within the show? I read it was divided into four teams with four mentors (all Veterans), and it seems John Cena is sort of the head honcho of the reality show and directs all four teams? By the way, John Cena is a beast and I mean that as a compliment. I’ll bet it was fun to meet him and all the military personnel. I grew up with men in the military and the energy has become quite familiar to me over the decades.
LT: Yes, John Cena is such a wonderful person and I really enjoyed speaking with him. And yes, he is a beast! The teams were divided into four: two men and two women on each team. All teams lead by a military hero. My team leader was Noah Galloway, a retired Sergeant for the United States Army. Noah dropped out of college after 9/11 to join the military. During his second deployment, Sergeant Galloway was hit bit a roadside bomb and part of his left arm and most of his left leg were blown off and removed. Yet he still runs and stays fit and was even on the reality show “Dancing With The Stars”. Noah’s story is so inspiring and he really helped my crew and I throughout the process. He really focused on using fitness to deal with any personal problems. Noah was such a good, strong leader and he reminded us to stay humble. So that was sort of the mantra: stay humble… Noah also kept telling us to not focus on anybody or anything else, to keep our mind clear. He really knew that a lot of the struggle is mental, not physical. Noah helped us be the best we could be. He also told us not to pretend, to just be ourselves, and don’t change ourselves to be what we think someone else might want just cause we’re on TV. That helped me relax more given that I’d never been on a reality show before and didn’t know what to expect.
NM: Yes, being around such strong men and women, especially Veterans, would assist in keeping everyone mentally focused and determined… On a different note, let’s talk about the trailer of the show. When I saw it, I noticed that one moment when a woman collapses. Are you allowed to talk about that yet? Is she all right? What happened? I assume doctors were on the scene?
LT: Yes, she is O.K. and we were actually texting earlier. And yes, medical crew and an ambulance were always on site. Doctors were readily available. In the footage she’s taken to the hospital on the spot. What happened is they were jumping in-and-out of buckets of ice, dousing themselves in icewater during winter in the NW.
NM: Sounds almost as if the ice put her body in a state of shock. I can imagine that might happen due to intense and rapid changes in body temperature. I’m glad to hear all is well… Will you please tell me a bit about “She’s Losing It!” and what inspired you to make the blog and write the book?
LT: Aside from using fitness to heal my own life, part of the reason why I wanted to do this show and write a book and a blog. I kind of want to be like the “Rocky” for moms. I turn on the TV and it feels like nobody is fighting for middle-aged women or mothers. So I just wanted to let women know that I’m fighting for them. And that it’s O.K. to be scared and its O.K. to cry. It’s O.K. to feel like you’re not good enough. But to never give up and just take charge of your body and your life. Keep doing it, keep moving in the right direction and keep working. “She’s Losing It!” is like “Pumping Iron” only if Tina Fey played Arnold Schwarzenegger. Ultimately it’s like a “Rocky” story for moms who find the inherent humor in combining strength training with potty training.
NM: That’s very sweet and I know women have thanked you and will continue to thank you for sharing your empowering story. Any plans for the future? Will you write more books and continue to compete?
LT: Oh yes I have so much going on. I’ve got back-to-back competitions. I’m also going to be doing stand-up comedy. I have a thing where every year for my birthday: I scare myself. For my 38th birthday I entered a bodybuilding competition. For my 39th I jumped out of a plane. For my 40th I did pole dancing. And for my 41st I did a reality TV show. This year at 42 years, I am going to do stand up comedy for my birthday. In the end, it’s all so much fun. Also, after I wrote the book I suddenly had women writing me. The women expressed that they loved the memoir, but they were seeking more insights about diet, training rips, my routine and if I had a package for distribution or for sale. Recently I put all that together and it’s now on my website. I just finished filming it and basically it’s different from other programs because I go through the meal plans, exercise routines, a fitness library of exercies and then I have motivational videos. Talking about some of the things I was dealing with like self-sabotage, feeling vulnerable. Staying on track and what happens when you get off track, also I talk about how to deal with time management and having kids while getting fit. I write about how to deal with ‘mommy guilt’ and so I kind of cover all these different topics.
NM: Thank you for taking the time, today, to share your story. I look forward to learning from you.
For more information regarding bikini bodybuilder Lisa Traugott please visit her website at www.sheslosingit.com.
To watch previous episodes of “American Grit” on FOX, and to preview the cast or crew, please refer to www.fox.com/american-grit.
Note: This article was originally published on Examiner.com in April 2016.