Valerie Solomon, a Severn resident and the creator of the fitness website Busy Mom Gets Fit, will test her strength and make her television debut tonight's on CMT's "Steve Austin's Broken Skull Challenge," hosted by former WWE wrestler Steve Austin.
The episode features Solomon and seven other women going head-to-head in a series of physical contests to test their strength and endurance. The contestants vie to be the last woman standing in the final challenge, the "Skullbuster" obstacle course, for a chance to win $10,000.
A 35-year-old mother of four boys, Solomon first auditioned to be a contestant early last year. She said she thought it would be fun to do the show after watching episodes from its second season. She applied and did a series of Skype and phone auditions before her spot on the show's third season was confirmed in June. Solomon said she had only a month to prepare before she headed to Los Angeles for a full day of shooting.
Luckily for Solomon, she felt she already had the upper hand.
"I have been strength training for years," said Solomon, who goes to the gym five days a week and has placed in the top five in multiple international fitness competitions, including the Ultimate Fitness Events Championship in Toronto in November. "Another woman who hadn't been doing that — I knew that she couldn't gain that strength in a month."
Solomon, who had been an athlete in high school, rededicated herself to fitness after the birth of her fourth son.
"I let myself go, so to speak, in my 20s," Solomon said. She dieted and worked out after her pregnancies, eventually weighing less than she did in high school, but she was still unhappy with her loss of muscle mass.
Solomon took up strength training and fell in love with it, taking her successes and tips to Facebook in 2011 and creating the Busy Mom Gets Fit site for mothers looking to get into shape. Five years later, the brand has over 500,000 likes on Facebook and more than 30,000 followers on its Instagram account.
"In the first three or four years, it was just a steady growth," Solomon said. "I just kind of figured out that when things are shareable, when other women relate to it and they share it, then there's massive growth."
Rather than try to compete with other women jockeying for the same customer base, Solomon reached out. She created the Mom Power Team and filled its roster with other fitness personalities. They promoted one another's content on social media, worked together and "just linked arms."
"I found that there was a lot of power in not being on my own, doing it solo, but really doing it as a team," Solomon said. "Even though we all had our own business, we all have seen great growth."
She has developed workout plans that are available on her website, and she offers fitness tips and inspiration through her digital fitness magazine, Gorgo, which she co-founded with Erica Willick, another Mom Power Team member.
But Solomon, who works out at Gold's Gym in Crofton, said she still had to prepare for "Broken Skull Challenge."
"I really wanted to show up feeling super-confident," she said.
She studied previous episodes, tailoring her preparation to obstacles she thought she might face. She climbed ropes and steep hills, ran with heavy weights to build endurance and did high-intensity training. She even hired Baltimore mixed martial arts fighter Tenyeh "SkinnyMan" Dixon to help her with combat training so she could be prepared for whatever came her way, she said.
Solomon, who has built a business that has women's encouragement and camaraderie as its cornerstone, said she was most worried about sportsmanship on the show.
"I thought, 'How am I going to answer these interview questions with this tough talk about how I want to beat these other girls?'" said Solomon. To her relief, she said, the producers allowed her to be herself.
"I was really happy that I was allowed to stay true to my brand, because I'm not really the girl who wanted to be like, 'I want to crush these other girls and win $10,000!'" she said. Instead, she focused on the competition as a personal challenge, and even made some "buddies" along the way.
Solomon acknowledged that she felt out of her comfort zone on television. "I'm a little worried about how I'm going to come across, but it was an awesome experience," she said. "I'm glad I did it."
Solomon said she hadn't made plans for watching her TV debut, but the evening likely will involve the company of her friends and her sons, ages 5, 8, 10 and 16.
"They're excited," she said. "They think it's cool."