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Mighty Mom

American Gladiators inductee Monica Carlson talks about the fantasy—and the reality—of pummeling burly women.

By Sarah Skidmore May 19, 2009 Published in the June 2008 issue of Portland Monthly

To win a coveted role as one of the defending champions on the new season of American Gladiators, you had to climb walls, fight bodybuilders, and swim under fire during your last season as a contender. What on earth made you want to do this? Growing up, it was my absolute favorite show. Every time it was on, the whole family was glued to the TV. I always thought it was the coolest job—but I never thought they would take me.

When you first auditioned, what did the makers of the show tell you they were looking for? Someone with massive upper-body strength who was good on camera. When I got there, they said, “She’s way too small to be a gladiator.” But they liked my story—being a mom, a [former Blazer] dancer, and a sports model. I didn’t find out until two or three days before they started filming that I was selected. But fortunately, as a sports model, I was sort of ready.

How does being a sports model prepare you for fighting off attacks from female competitors with names like Crush, Fury, and Stealth? In my line of work, I’ve definitely been placed in some very frightening situations. You never know what your employer is going to ask of you—like climbing up a cliff over a ravine or rappelling down a waterfall or sea kayaking in the middle of jellyfish season.

Speaking of improvising on camera, is the show real or staged? It is so real, I cannot tell you. It is the scariest thing I have been through in my entire life. I remember being hit for the first time, by Stealth: I could feel my chest going out the back of my head. I realized, Oh crap. I have to bring everything I have to the table, because this is nuts.

What’s been the most frightening moment? The first time I had to get up on the “joust.” You’re beating each other with padded sticks, and you are standing on a platform 12 feet above the water, so you have no idea where the ground is. You are inches from your competitor; there is nowhere to run.

What’s the story behind your new Gladiator name, Jet? As a contestant I was known for speed, agility, and being methodical in everything I did. We considered Blaze, Sparq, Flame, Arrow—but Jet ended up being perfect: short, simple, sleek, and fast.

Not Soccer Mom, as one blogger suggested? It had to be consistent with the show. It wasn’t going to be Sunbeam or Cupcake.

Your husband is a football coach at Lincoln High School. Did he give you any tips on how to get through all the blows and bruising?
Absolutely. I can’t tell you how supportive he was. We would watch reruns and he would give me pointers—really more about strategy than about using brute strength.

You have 8-year-old twin girls. Is it hard to explain to them why Mommy fights other people for a living? Some of the kids at their school aren’t even allowed to watch the show [due to the violence]. But I think it was good for my kids to see that you can go up against what seem like impossible odds and come out on top.

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