I spoke with Lisa Traugott about being a contestant on American Grit. John Cena hosts the series, which airs Thursday nights on FOX. Lisa has an incredibly inspiring story. She has also written She’s Losing It! and Mind Your Manners Minnie Monster. Be sure to visit her website and check out all that she has to offer, which includes a program to help you achieve your goals. American Grit airs Thursday nights at 9/8c on FOX.
Lena: Your journey is incredibly inspiring. Can you talk about your journey and how it led up to American Grit?
Lisa Traugott: About four years ago, my husband and I were going through a rough time. Our business was failing, our marriage was pretty rocky and I was doing a lot of emotional eating. My doctor told me that I was borderline obese. My husband went and said to me one day, “Lisa, I will always love you but I’m just not attracted to you right now.” It just devastated me. I sat in the parking lot of my daughter’s nursery school and I was just sobbing and praying to God to fix me. That same week, I got an invitation for my 20th high school reunion. A lot of things came in and told me that I needed to get my health figured out. I took my last maternity check—I had $150 left and went to the gym and signed up for personal training sessions. That’s when I found out that the fittest people in the gym were all training for a local bodybuilding competition. I didn’t know that women did that. I thought it was just something that men did because the only bodybuilder that I knew was Arnold Schwarzenegger. [Laughs] I was really shocked to find out that women did it too and there was a bikini division where the point was to just look toned and feminine. I didn’t know if I could do that, but those are the results that I wanted. I just signed up for it and then five months later I had lost fifty pounds. I had confidence and I broke through a whole bunch of mental issues that I was having—like obstacles and fears. I just fell in love with the sport and I continued doing it. The first time I did it I came in dead last, but I had so much fun with it that I just kept up with it.
Last year, my mom was diagnosed with lung cancer, so I had to go out to go to New Jersey and sell her house, get her to move in with us and go through chemo. At the airport, she tripped over my daughter’s suitcase and hurt her hip. She then had to go to physical therapy. With the stress of it all, I started emotional eating again. It was right as my book, She’s Losing It, was being released. I just felt completely embarrassed because I thought I had addressed all of these issues. My trainer had moved, so I found a new trainer through a friend and I just decided to do something crazy. I applied for the Arnold Classic, which is the second largest bodybuilding competition in the world. You have to apply to get in and even though I came in dead last, I write a good cover letter. I wrote this cover letter saying why they should let me in. My mom had a really bad spell after chemo one day. She had pneumonia and was in the hospital. I was with her and right as her fever broke, and the medicine took place, I got a text message saying that I got accepted into The Arnold.
I told my trainer that I was happy that I got in, and the only thing that I didn’t want was to be dead last. Second to last would have been fine with me, so I was setting the bar really low for him as a trainer. He said, “No, that’s the bar that you are setting for yourself, I have higher standards.” It just dawned on me that without even meeting a single person, a single woman who was in this competition, I had already decided that they were already better than me. I realized that I was just really scared because there is no age division in it. I was literally competing against women half my age. Then I just decided to go for it. In that competition, I came in 20th out of 38. That was huge for me. My mom had been watching me train and she told me that she had a dream that I won 3rd place. The very next show that I did, I won 3rd place. It was the first show that I ever placed at. My mom was so proud. Two weeks later, she passed away. I was really happy that she got to go and see me succeed. That was really good for the both of us. I decided to keep competing throughout the year so I wouldn’t slip back to emotional eating. I needed something to focus on. I just kept winning—3rd place and then 2nd place.
I got a call from the casting director of American Grit. They thought I had an interesting story and they wanted me to apply for it. I applied for it and that same week I won the bikini competition. There were 6,500 people that applied for the show and I was one of the 16 who were chosen. I felt really awesome about that. In the very first episode, we were dropped off from the top of the mountain, where it’s snowing, and we have to repel off of this bridge. I just started thinking about my mom. I was thinking that I wish she were still alive, and that she could see me do this now. I just started to cry and of course, you know, it’s a reality TV show so there are cameras everywhere, and they started filming me thinking that I was scared to repel off this bridge. It was the first day and I was embarrassed to go in there and say that I was crying about my mom. I got freaked out and Tony was talking me down. When I got down I realized just how scared and emotional I was. It was so good to be able to push past that. That very next thing, when we got picked for our teams, we won the evolution. It was good and I felt like I redeemed myself.
Lena: Filming a reality show has to be a strange thing. Did it take time to get used to all the cameras?
Lisa Traugott: It’s so bizarre. You are strapped up in microphones and on camera 16 hours a day. Even when the film crew leaves, there are cameras and microphones all over the house. You are in with a group of 16 people that you don’t know. I have 2 small kids, my daughter is 8 and my son is 6, so my husband was taking care of them and I had to figure out all of the child care stuff and of course we have to keep everything top secret, so I couldn’t really tell anybody where I was going or what was going on. I had to just put a cryptic message out there saying that I was working on taxes, or something like that, and I’ll see you in a couple of months. It was really funny. My kids were good with it. I had written letters to them throughout the entire time that I was gone. It had message like, “Open this letter if you are having a bad day at school.” and stuff like that. They had written letters for me and my husband had written a whole bunch of inspiring messages. We were just really trying to support each other. It’s so cool watching the show right now with my family.
Lena: Is it weird watching the behind-the-scenes stuff now, when they are talking smack and stuff like that?
Lisa Traugott: If you’ve ever seen any reality shows you know that’s what they do. On the last episode, we collectively apologized to each other and shared the full context. They realized the one piece that they would probably pull out of it. We all still talk to each other, and a bunch of us text each other daily. I have my She’s Losing It blog and I’ve been writing articles about the contestants and when somebody gets interviewed we share the interview on social media. We are all very supportive of each other. Even with our differences, and it was 100% a competition, we all respect each other as athletes and people.
Lena: It must have been great working with John Cena.
Lisa Traugott: John Cena is awesome. He really set the tone of how the show should be. The leadership style of our cadres is all very different, but Noah was just fantastic. The very first thing that he said after we won the first evolution was that we had better be humble. That was the mantra. He told us not to get sucked into the house drama and that we were there to help each other, support each other, learn from each other, and work as a team. He made it clear that it was our personal character, our integrity, and we had to be authentic. He told us not to act out because we thought it would get us more camera time. He told us to just be true to ourselves, be honest, and avoid all of the trash talk. That’s pretty much what we all tried to do on the green team.
Lena: Has being involved in other competitions helped you focus?
Lisa Traugott: I have definitely learned from some of my mistakes that I’ve made in other competitions. I, kind of, discuss it in one of the future episodes, so I’m not sure if I’m allowed to discuss it right now, but stuff from bodybuilding definitely translates into this competition.
Lena: That ice water tub challenge was crazy.
Lisa Traugott: That was totally insane. I didn’t get to see it because my team won, so we were back at the house. When everybody came back and they told us about it, I mean, nobody slept that night. Brooke was in the hospital and then she actually came to see us the next day, so we all got a chance to hug her and make sure that she was okay. To their credit, they didn’t film that. It was very intense and I was personally really freaked out. When you do a competition you think that you may twist your ankle, catch a cold, or you may get a typical injury. You’re not thinking hospital, so that absolutely freaked everybody out.
Lena: How would you describe Team Noah?
Lisa Traugott: Team Noah just gels—we really get along together. We are very encouraging and supportive. When other people would be in-house fighting and back stabbing each other, we didn’t do that. You’re human beings, so you are going to have differences of opinion—we just went and talked about it. We just point blank discussed it. We trained together and gave each other tips. We were always planning and thinking ahead. We had this chalkboard in our room and we wrote everyday what we were grateful for. We kept everything positive and encouraging. There was a lot of time where there was craziness in that house, and people would come to our room to calm down. We were the peaceful room.
Lena: Teamwork definitely seems like the way to win the show.
Lisa Traugott: That was our goal going into it—to keep winning as a team. A lot of it was just mental preparation.
Lena: What can you say about what’s coming up on American Grit?
Lisa Traugott: The next episode is a really big one for me, so I’m really excited about it. It’s called “Making Camp” and it’s insane. We had to take tents and break them down. There’s a puzzle underneath each tent and we had to pack it up and drag it across a lake. We had to build a wheelbarrow out of sticks and rope and run across a field with the tent and set it up again. It was the most insane and complicated thing that I’ve ever done in my life. It pushed you in so many different ways—it was heavy, bulky, and awkward. You were cold and wet and you had to do all of these mental challenges. It just tested every aspect of your entire being. Of course, you had to work together as a team and be aware of the other teams around you. This entire process of being on American Grit, even if a million dollars weren’t at stake, I would totally do it again. This has been one of the best experiences that I’ve ever been through. It’s been so challenging and so wonderful. It’s pushed me out of my comfort zone a billion times over and because of that I’ve felt more comfortable to expand in my own private world.
I wrote a book called She’s Losing It! when I lost all the weight. A whole bunch of people said that they really liked it and they were motivated and they wanted to lose weight and get in shape, but they didn’t know how to put it all together. I decided to put something together. I upgraded my website, made a whole bunch of videos and a program that people can sign up for. True to my intent for doing the show, I wanted to be a Rocky for moms. I wanted to go and show people that you can do this—you can be a late bloomer. I didn’t start bodybuilding until I was 38. I’m 42 and I’m running around the snowy forest with logs, so yeah you can do it.
One of the things that I’m doing right now is making an e-book talking about how to push past different mental blocks and stuff like that. I’m trying to share my experiences with women and motivate moms, and anyone that feels like they are in a rut, that they can’t do something. I just want them to say that they can and they don’t have to be afraid, just because they are older, a mom, or whatever—you can do anything that you want to do if you just go for it.
American Grit airs Thursday nights at 9/8c on FOX.
Follow Lisa on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sheslosingitcom
Lisa’s website: http://sheslosingit.com/
American Grit: http://www.fox.com/american-grit