Three area athletes to compete on Dwayne Johnson’s ‘The Titan Games’

December 30, 2018

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson doesn’t sugarcoat it.

“This is the most insane athletic competition ever devised,” the actor/professional wrestler said in the trailer for “The Titan Games.” “We’re going to be pushing everyday men and women both physically and mentally.”

“The Titan Games,” which premieres Thursday on NBC, is a competition only someone like Johnson could conceive.

Each week, four men and four women from across the country will meet in the “Titan Games” arena to face off in challenges inspired by Johnson’s own workouts.

In one challenge, athletes smash a concrete ball with a sledgehammer. In another, athletes participate in an event that is perhaps best described as tug of war with a massive log.

The winner of each competition will move on to Mount Olympus, the crowning glory of the arena, where they will face off against another challenger in tests of speed, agility, endurance and strength.

Those who conquer Mount Olympus will be crowned a titan and move onto the semi-finals.

The semi-finals will feature sudden death-style battles between the titans. If they win their battle, the titan will move on to the finals where the remaining athletes will participate in yet another test of strength before competing on Mount Olympus for the last time.

One man and one woman will then be crowned the overall titans.

“Titans aren’t born. They’re made right here,” Johnson said in a preview, referring to Mount Olympus.

But it turns out, titans are made in Eastern Washington, too.

Three area athletes – Bridger Buckley, of Pullman, and Spokane’s Erin LaVoie and Julian Stewart – will compete on the first season of “The Titan Games.”

Get to know these three competitors, then cheer them on when “The Titan Games” premieres on Thursday.

Bridger Buckley

If the Bridger Buckley from just a couple years ago could see himself now, he might not believe how far he’s come.

As a sophomore at Washington State University, Buckley, who was hoping to walk on to the football team, was hit by a car while riding his bike.

Buckley suffered a cracked skull and several fractured vertebrae and had to withdraw from school for a semester to recuperate.

Buckley, 22, was bedridden in a neck brace for several months before he could begin physical therapy, which included a series of exercises to strengthen his neck and back muscles plus some medical massages.

That work, plus the support of his family, helped Buckley get back on his feet.

“Without them, this would have been way, way harder,” the Snohomish native said. “It could be a lot worse so I’m grateful that it wasn’t. People have it so much worse than me. Why am I being a little baby about it?”

Buckley, now a senior majoring in business finance, still feels aches and pains, but he said he’s pretty much back to 100 percent.

Which is why, after seeing Johnson talk about “The Titan Games” on Instagram, Buckley decided to apply.

He’s a fan of Johnson, but he also liked that the show gave everyday people who have overcome a lot and still work hard an opportunity to shine.

The application process involved essay questions about his history in athletics and whether he’s overcome adversity.

Buckley, who was bullied because of his weight as a child, had no problem answering that question.

“I talked about the accident and my childhood,” he said. “Thinking back, it was a blessing in disguise. Everything happens for a reason. Looking back you’re like ‘I never would have thought it would have brought me to where I am now.’ ”

Arriving in Los Angeles for the combine, where the field of applicants would be whittled down to the 64 who made the show, Buckley remembered feeling nervous the entire time, like he was moments away from a big game.

He was excited to meet the other contestants, but he also expected a lot from himself and wanted to do well.

After returning home, a lack of news about how he did made Buckley even more nervous.

But one day while at the gym, he got the call he’d been waiting for.

“I didn’t really believe from the get-go because when I applied, it was like a joke,” he said. “Then when it actually happened, it was like ‘Whoa, that’s crazy.’ Even when I was down there the whole time, I was like ‘This does not feel real.’ ”

Before leaving for Los Angeles to film the show, Buckley had to get things in order at WSU, switching to online courses so he could study and do homework in between shoots.

Juggling school and the show’s late afternoon to early morning filming schedule was difficult at first, but Buckley said it was all worth it in the end.

Buckley said he was shell shocked the first time he stepped foot into the “Titan Games” arena and enjoyed the opportunity, as one of the youngest athletes, to prove himself against athletes who had years of training on him.

Since returning from filming “The Titan Games,” Buckley has begun to think about pursuing a career in the entertainment business and hopes to use fitness to help others.

As clichéd as it sounds, Buckley wants viewers to know that hard work really does pay off.

“I think one of the biggest parts for me is how much you can accomplish if you put your head down and work for it,” he said. “You know what you have to do to accomplish something and you don’t take the easy way out and just do it. Anything can really happen.”

Erin LaVoie

If Erin LaVoie’s name sounds familiar, it’s likely because of her skills wielding an ax.

In August, LaVoie won the 2018 Stihl Timbersports Women’s Division Championship.

She’s been participating in timbersports for 16 years, since her time at Spokane Community College, and that training, plus her work as owner of Spokane’s Predation CrossFit, meant “The Titan Games” was right up her alley.

“I’m competitive and I’m into sports and moving my body and keeping it fit and if something arises where I can see where I’m at and my potential, I think it’s super fun,” she said.

The opportunity to participate in “outrageous, awesome things that you can’t do in your backyard” was also enticing.

After a Skype interview, LaVoie, 36, learned she made the first cut and traveled to Los Angeles for the combine.

It was a week before the Stihl Timbersports Championship, and LaVoie remembers being stressed.

But nevertheless, she joined in and competed in a variety of activities, events like max deadlift, an obstacle course, broad jumps, long jumps, a sprint and a “monkey bar-type thing.”

“I put it together as ‘They’re here to see our reactions to how we perform and what we do if we do good or don’t do good,’ ” she said. “I think during that time when they’re choosing their people, they were partnering us up. ‘These two would be a good match for each other’ and so on.”

LaVoie was eventually told she made the final cut, and she returned to Los Angeles in September to film “The Titan Games.”

It turns out LaVoie’s biggest challenge was letting herself relax.

“I’m not a very good vacation person,” she said. “I need to be working. Lay in bed till noon and sit by the pool, it sounds like every person’s fantasy, but I was dying inside, like ‘I need to go to work.’ ”

After getting called to the arena, LaVoie said competitors got to partially run through their obstacle to get a feel for how it worked.

It was then back to the waiting area until finally, it was time to compete.

Without revealing the obstacle she had to tackle, LaVoie said her CrossFit training especially came in handy when it came time to compete.

LaVoie saw “The Titan Games” as a way to not only challenge her limits but also meet other fit, energetic athletes.

“Most games are (expletive)-talk toward each other and bringing the other person down, but this one wasn’t focused on that,” she said. “So many people cheering each other on. It was amazing.”

As LaVoie puts it, “life is better when you’re fit.”

“Someday you might not be able to do certain things so right now I’m doing everything that I can because I can,” she said.

LaVoie hopes those who watch “The Titan Games” realize that her time on the show wasn’t just handed to her but rather was the result of putting in the time and effort to keep herself in shape, which she said anyone can do.

“I’m happy to coach everybody of every level,” she said. “The lesser athletic levels are the people I love. Get in here, get on track. You have to start somewhere.”

Julian Stewart

Julian Stewart knows a thing or two (or six) about balance.

The sole provider for his family, the father of four works six jobs, ranging from personal trainer to security officer to real estate.

But even still, after Stewart, 32, saw Johnson talk about “The Titan Games” on a late night talk show, he knew it was something he needed to fit into his schedule.

“As soon as that was over, I made a post and I was like ‘Well, I guess I have something to train for now,’ ” he said.

Stewart was partially joking when he made the Facebook post, but he began to seriously consider the idea after a friend reached out and told him he would be great on the show.

Stewart is a big fan of Johnson and his work ethic, and he sees similarities between Johnson’s athletic career and his own.

Stewart was a promising football player at Eastern Washington University when he tore his ACL. He later got an opportunity to play semi-pro football but tore his other ACL during practice, effectively ending his football career.

Stewart said he’s always been competitive and sees “The Titan Games” as a redemption opportunity.

“ ‘Let me see if I can actually compete with some of the great athletes out there throughout the country,’ ” he said.

With his wife’s support, Stewart kicked his workout routine into overdrive and began working on his application.

But nerves, more than self-doubt, eventually led to Stewart missing the application deadline.

“I was like ‘I’ve been training, but what are the odds that some Spokane dad who works multiple jobs making it onto this show?’” he said. “He reopened it, and I took it as a sign. I can’t pass up on this opportunity twice.”

His combine experience got off to a good start, with a strong performance in the obstacle course, but his second event of the day, the 40-yard dash, was almost his last.

The second time he completed the run, Stewart pulled his hamstring.

“My whole through process just went down the tube and I was like ‘I can call it quits because I have a pulled hamstring or I can not say anything and push through this,’ ” Stewart said.

Inspired by a video he’d seen of Johnson talking about finishing a wrestling match after getting injured, Stewart decided to persevere and completed the rest of the combine with a pulled hamstring.

“Pain is going to be temporary, but this opportunity is a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” he said.

Injury aside, Stewart’s combine was strong enough for him to make the final cut.

Once he arrived in Los Angeles for filming, Stewart was in awe of the grand scale of the arena, calling the obstacles crazy. He couldn’t help but size up his competition, but also enjoyed getting to know and cheering on the other athletes.

Stewart hopes “Titan Games” viewers take inspiration from each competitor’s background, the “everyday people that have normal jobs but still kick butt in the weight room and take control of their lives.”

“It doesn’t matter where you come from,” Stewart said. “We can take control of our lives and we can grind and be great athletes.”

Since filming “The Titan Games,” Stewart has turned his focus to creating a more manageable work schedule so he can spend more time with his family.

But he’s still making time for his workouts. If “The Titan Games” is renewed for a second season, he wants to give producers a reason to bring him back.

“There’s always room for improvement,” he said. “Hopefully I can represent for Spokane and Eastern Washington and make everybody proud.”

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