2014-08-27 / Family

Skull buster

Local gym rat gets taste of ‘Stone Cold’ reality TV
By Jim McConnell

Chesterfield resident Amber Shaw competed on an episode of "Broken Skull Challenge" that aired Sunday on CMT. Chesterfield resident Amber Shaw competed on an episode of "Broken Skull Challenge" that aired Sunday on CMT. Amber Shaw does “tough” for a living.

“When you’re a personal trainer, you have to be the boss because you run the show,” said Shaw, a 27-year-old Ohio native who works at American Family Fitness Center’s Midlothian location. “My co-workers would say I have a no-nonsense attitude.”

That made her an ideal fit for “Broken Skull Challenge,” a new televised competition series created and hosted by former professional wrestling superstar “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.

Shaw had never heard of the show before its producers contacted her and asked if she’d be interested in participating. She quickly accepted the opportunity to show off her strength and toughness.

She and seven other female competitors traveled to the Broken Skull Ranch outside of Tilden, Texas, for the filming of their episode, which aired Sunday on the Country Music Television network.

Each episode of “Broken Skull Challenge” pits eight new contestants in a single-elimination bracket, with the winners of each head-to-head challenge advancing to the next round. The final two people standing battle for the right to take on the “Skullbuster” obstacle course and win a $10,000 prize.

For the first challenge of her episode, Shaw faced off against Karis, a 19-year-old CrossFit coach from Savannah, Ga., in an event called “Drag Race.”

The modified tug-of-war contest takes place on a 40-foot course covered in sand. A bell is hung from a post at each end of the course. The competitors wear harnesses connected by a 9-foot length of rope and must pull or drag their opponent to their bell. The first person to ring their bell is declared the winner.

Shaw lost a tough battle against Karis and was eliminated from the show, but said it was a fun experience getting to meet other “likeminded” women.

“They were looking for women who are mentally tough and have overcome challenges in their lives,” Shaw added.

Looking at Shaw, you’d never know that just a few years ago, she carried 270 pounds on her 5-7 frame.

Cursed with a genetic predisposition toward obesity, Shaw was always a little overweight growing up, but kept the problem from spiraling out of control by being active in sports. She played soccer and softball in high school, and continued playing both sports after enrolling in a small college in Ohio.

She dropped out of school after her freshman year, however, and quickly packed on 100 pounds.

Determined to avoid having to take medication for diabetes and high blood pressure, Shaw became a gym rat. She lost the weight she had gained, started working as a personal trainer and even took up competitive bodybuilding.

“It changed my life,” she said. “When you lose a lot of weight, working out becomes a new addiction. It’s no longer food that motivates me.”

Shaw moved to the Richmond area three years ago and began working at American Family Fitness, where she pushes her clients to embrace a healthier lifestyle.

She also walks the walk by entering only all-natural bodybuilding competitions, where all contestants must pass a drug test to participate.

Shaw said that when men see her in the gym doing bicep curls with 45-pound weights, they often incorrectly assume that she’s taking steroids.

She hopes to qualify for the 2014 Ms. Olympia competition and refuses to take shortcuts to get there.

“I want to be able to say I did it the natural way,” she said. “I’ve gotten this big without taking steroids. I absolutely believe I can do it.”

Shaw was hardly the largest individual at Broken Skull Ranch during the filming of the CMT show. She noted that Austin remains “as big as a doorway” more than a decade after multiple injuries forced him to retire from professional wrestling.

“If you think you’re the toughest badass, ‘Stone Cold’ will show you that you just might not be,” she said. “It’s real-life, hard-core stuff he’s putting people through.”

When the cameras were turned off, she was pleasantly surprised to find Austin “very patient, down-to-earth and approachable.”

Likewise, Shaw and her fellow competitors made friendships that have endured since they’ve gone their separate ways.

“I was impressed by the caliber of women they got for the show,” she added. “I’d recommend it for anyone who likes a challenge.

Return to top