Pain is an educator.
That's what Sarah Forliano believes. Her devotion to the creed is evident in the adage tattooed on her ribcage: "With pain comes strength."
Forliano, 37, of Irvine will be featured at 7 p.m. Tuesday in an episode of Steve Austin's "Broken Skull Challenge" on Country Music Television. The show pits athletes against each other in a series of obstacle course challenges. The winner claims $10,000.
The grueling contest attracts world-renowned competitors in fitness regimen CrossFit, and power lifting and mixed-martial arts, but Forliano was chosen by showrunners because of her participation in Spartan races — obstacle course races that can span more than 20 miles long.
She's taken part in 15 races at the elite level, including competing against top-rated contenders in the Spartan World Championships.
To prepare for the races, Forliano keeps a rigorous fitness schedule, training at an obstacle course at the YMCA of Newport-Mesa and a makeshift workout area in her backyard with a 400-pound tire and spears that are thrown into bales of hay.
But fitness is just an aspect of Forliano's life. She's a nurse at Orange County Global Medical Center, and more importantly, a mother of three boys, she said.
Twelve-hour shifts and caring for Christian, 12, Luca, 9, and Kaeden, 5, take precedence over athletics. But Forliano said these three parts of her life each symbiotically benefit one another.
"I don't think I could be the mom or nurse I am without the fitness and I don't think I could be doing the fitness without having my kids and their support and encouragement," she said.
Forliano said she initially didn't want to take part in the show because being on television didn't appeal to her, but her boys convinced her to enter the competition.
"My boys helped me get out of my comfort zone and anytime you do that it's a huge opportunity to grow as a person," she said.
Forliano seriously started working out about two years ago. Years earlier, she'd been wrestling with a variety of health conditions that left her nauseated and tired, but she's learned that the body can remedy itself with adequate fitness.
In particular, she's embraced pain as a friend.
"When something's painful, your natural instinct is to turn and run away," Forliano said. "I am learning that pain is always there for a reason and it teaches something — you get something from it."
During a Spartan championship last year, Forliano bordered on hypothermia after swimming in Lake Tahoe as part of one of the obstacles. With every cell of her body pleading for resignation, she endured the rest of the 14.7-mile trek and crossed the finish line.
Each physical challenge that she's overcome over the last few years has given her confidence in other parts of her life, she said. As a nurse, she's ready to take the reins whenever an emergency breaks out.
Now she's hoping to instill a love of fitness in her children by bringing them to her races and training with them in the backyard, though only Christian, the oldest, is allowed to throw the spears. But sledgehammer tire smacks are not off limits. Each of them has competed in youth Spartan races.
"It's amazing to look at my boys and see what they can accomplish at such a young age," Forliano said. "Hopefully it will be a lifetime passion for them as well."
They'll be watching together on Tuesday as Forliano competes against elite athletes on television.