Shannon Decker’s lungs felt like they were on fire.
The 2002 Santa Barbara High School graduate experienced the sensation for a good hour following a performance you’d expect of a superhero. With a rope attached to her, she ran with enough force to raise an anvil through a tower-like structure standing behind her, smashing through its five floors of concrete. That sounds like a lot of aches and pains, but that wasn’t the problem for Ms. Decker, who’s lean and fit at 5 foot 10 and 150 pounds.
“My back wasn’t bad at all,” the 35-year-old personal trainer told the News-Press by phone from Los Angeles, where she lives and was just about to work out with a client at a gym. “You know what didn’t settle down for the longest time? My lungs! Have you ever sprinted or done something and you wanted to clasp your chest with your hands because your lungs feel like they’re on fire?”
Still, Ms. Decker loved the thrill of the grueling challenges as a contestant on “The Titan Games,” the new NBC series hosted and created by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The actor and former professional wrestler, who’s one of the series’ executive producers, designed the tests of strength, endurance, agility and speed.
The series, in which 32 women and 32 men compete, airs at 8 p.m. Thursdays on NBC — KSBY, Channel 6. The episode featuring Ms. Decker will air soon (the date has not been announced).
The series pits each contestant against another of the same gender in a difficult challenge before a studio audience. The loser immediately leaves the show, but the winner goes on in the same episode to face a winner of another challenge. Whoever wins there is declared a “Titan” and will return later in the series for the finals.
The champions of the 10-episode series — one man and one woman — will each win $100,000.
Did Ms. Decker ever think she could pull an anvil through a tower?
“The PC answer would be ‘no,’ but yes, I did,” Ms. Decker said. “I felt like D.J. (Dwayne Johnson) finally made a platform for everyday people to kind of show what they’re made of.
“And I have that athlete’s mentality where I will kill myself to win. I will push myself to the absolute limit,” she said. “This was a chance to show that.”
Ms. Decker, an energetic Aberdeen, Wash., native, has had a lifelong love of athletics.
She found her passion for fitness was a perfect match for Santa Barbara, where she moved at age 17 to live with her aunt and uncle, Kareen and Kevin Hart.
She was the captain of the Santa Barbara High School girls’ basketball team and embraced running, surfing, hiking and skateboarding. In the mid-2000s, she became a fitness model and has appeared since then in everything from national commercials to billboards as well as at trade shows. She has been in campaigns for Nike, Adidas, YMCA, Coors Light, Target, Ford, Mercedes-Benz, Wrangler and others.
For her primary career, Ms. Decker planned to become an elementary school teacher. After attending Santa Barbara City College, she earned a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education at Cal State Channel Islands in Camarillo in 2010.
She changed her career plans and returned to City College for nursing classes but found that really wasn’t her dream profession. Leaving the nursing program, she became an indoor cycling instructor and realized fitness training was her true calling.
That set the stage for Ms. Decker to move to Los Angeles and appear in 2015 on “Hollywood Cycle,” a reality show about indoor cycling on the E! network
“It really established me in this competitive fitness world,” Ms. Decker said. “But as great as it was, I wasn’t keen on doing another reality show. It takes a lot of time, and I was happy with my life and my personal training. But when ‘The Titan Games’ came along, it was so unique and it was such a showcase of my abilities and my strength, I instantly signed up and was on board.”
The long application process involved Ms. Decker writing answers to 10 pages of questions and being interviewed twice on the phone. She was then selected to join almost 200 women and men from across the U.S. and elsewhere last fall at a Glendale training facility, where applicants were tested in the long jump, high jump, monkey bars and weight lifting.
A few weeks later, Ms. Decker learned she would compete on “The Titan Games.”
She said she and other contestants weren’t told what their challenges entailed until a half-hour before they performed them in the episodes.
That’s just 30 minutes to figure out a strategy for stunts such as raising an anvil through a tower. Ms. Decker said the most difficult part was pulling the anvil through the third floor, which, unlike the other floors, had two layers of concrete.
“There was a moment that I didn’t know if I was going to be able to break through these,” she said. “I just kept running back and running forward, and I wasn’t even making a dent. I just kept at it.”
Before she went on the show, Ms. Decker worked out with Los Angeles trainers, but noted there was only so much she could do to prepare.
“How do you train for punching through walls?” Ms. Decker said, laughing. “You can’t train for that. But I did things outside of my comfort zone, which I think is the whole point of why Dwayne even created a series like this.”
She praised The Rock for being genuine, kind and funny and helping contestants keep up their energy.
“I can’t speak highly enough of D.J. as a person and as somebody who was the captain of our ‘Titan Games’ show,” she said.
Ms. Decker, who plans to launch a business in which she posts online videos of her working out, said “The Titan Games” taught her a valuable lesson.
“Sometimes I’m so competitive that I don’t try something because I don’t think I will win. But the experience is the win. Getting a little bit better at something that scares you or intimidates you is the win.”
“The Titan Games” airs at 8 p.m. Thursdays on NBC — KSBY, Channel 6.
The episode featuring Santa Barbara High School graduate Shannon Decker will air soon (the date has not been announced).
For more information, go to www.nbc.com/the-titan-games.