Milwaukie's Monica Carlson earns spot in final eight of 'American Gladiator'
by: courtesy of NBC, Monica Carlson, left, takes part in the joust during a recent taping of NBC’s revamped American Gladiator series.

Monica Carlson grew up watching 'American Gladiators,' and now the 32-year-old Milwaukie resident is realizing a dream - she not only earned the chance to appear on the show, she won on Monday night.

'It was my number one favorite show ever and when I heard I was going to be on it, I was ecstatic,' she said.

'American Gladiators' originally ran from 1989 to 1996, and is now back on Monday nights at 8 p.m. on NBC. The current version, which is hosted by Hulk Hogan and Laila Ali, pits amateur athletes against each other and against the show's own 'gladiators,' in contests of strength and agility.

Carlson is an Aloha High School graduate, a sports model for Nike and Athleta and a former Blazer Dancer.

'Hulk Hogan was one of my childhood idols, and to meet him was absolutely amazing. He's a spectacular guy - he's kind and warm. The performance part of him does not overtake his personality.

'It is obvious that he loves what he does. I met his son and daughter and they are so supportive - I was in awe,' Carlson said.

'And Laila is drop-dead gorgeous; in real life she is even more beautiful. She is humble and gracious and so real.'

Not that Carlson spent too much time in awe of the celebrity talent. She put in one of the most impressive performances of the show's young season as the first competitor to make it to the top of the pyramid challenge. She also notched the fastest time on the 'Eliminator' obstacle course, besting all of the women and men on the show thus far, and insuring herself a spot among the final eight competitors who face off at the end of the season.

Agent recommendation

Carlson knew that casting for the show was going on in major cities, but she wasn't able to go to any of the open auditions.

Then Karen Osborn, her agent, sent Carlson's name to the producers.

'We were approached by the casting department for NBC/American Gladiators, and originally they were looking for big muscle men and women with big personalities for the gladiator roles,' said Osborn, a senior booking agent for Sports Unlimited LA.

'And then they decided to open it up to a little smaller physiques. When they asked for any of our talent who were extremely athletic, had upper-body strength and a great personality that would shine on camera, the first person I thought of was Monica.

'She definitely has always had that 'IT' factor and I knew she was an incredible athlete, so I sent her pictures in. She was the one they narrowed in on.'

First Carlson did a phone interview, and then she was given 45 minutes to produce a five-minute video that would showcase her talents.

'I had to come up with three different outfits so I could do dance, yoga and back handsprings. The video had to sum me up in a nutshell,' Carlson said.

The week before Thanksgiving, Carlson found out that she made the cut.

Her husband, Chad Carlson, was 'super supportive,' she said, when she told him she was going to be on 'American Gladiators.'

'I could tell she really wanted to be a part of it, so we started watching reruns,' he said. 'She had to learn a few basic moves and then use them to her advantage. I just wanted to make sure she would have a good showing.'

Chad, who is the football coach at Portland's Lincoln High School, said that he knew his wife could 'take care of herself' physically, but he added, 'My concern was the contestant uniforms - that's a lot of spandex!'

Boot camp

Carlson essentially had one day to organize an entire week's worth of babysitting for her daughters, 8-year-old twins Ellie Jo and Emma Ray, and then she left for L.A.

'It was one week of full boot camp, so they could familiarize us with some of the things we'd be doing [on the show]. We were not doing any of the actual tasks, but they just wanted to make sure we could swim and do the other things that were required,' she said.

Her first day at boot camp, she was 'so intimidated,' Carlson said.

'There were professional football players, an eight-time world champion log roller, a jujitsu trainer and fighter - they were phenomenal athletes and amazing people.

'They were the cream of the crop - I was feeling very special and very overwhelmed,' she added.

Experience a challenge

Carlson is not allowed to talk about what actually transpired during the shooting of the 'American Gladiators,' but she did say that the experience was 'so much harder' than she thought it would be.

'Everybody felt the same way - it was a challenge, so far beyond what I thought it would be. It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do - it was harder than childbirth and I had twins,' she said.

The best thing about it, she said, was 'to find out what you can accomplish. I didn't know I had this in me.'

She added, 'You throw a bunch of athletes out there, and they are not on their regular regimes. They have no control over what is going on - it is really difficult.

'This was the most amazing experience I've ever had - I'll never ever forget it. I'm so happy to be a part of it.'

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