Center Grove alum competes on reality show

Writer / Matt Roberts

As a college sophomore, Center Grove graduate Brooke Van Paris was leading a pretty good life. As she drove through an intersection close to the Indiana University campus on October 29, 2009, her uppermost thought was how good a turkey sandwich would taste when she got home.

Moments later her life changed drastically when she was struck by another car in a head-on collision. Over the next two years, Van Paris wore elbow-to-fingertips casts. The former gymnast and cheerleader couldn’t feed, bathe or dress herself. After graduation, she took a job in Indianapolis and resigned herself to a more sedentary life. Finally, a co-worker’s “pestering” convinced her to enter a 3-mile obstacle course race in Ohio.

“I’d never run a mile without stopping in my life, and I probably failed 75 percent of the obstacles,” she says. “But it changed my life. Nobody judged me. People were all at different fitness levels, and everybody helped me over obstacles. Over the next nine months, I ran 48 races and lost 40 pounds.”

Van Paris was contacted by the Fox Television Network and selected to compete in Season 1 of “American Grit”, a fitness competition and reality show. In the second episode she was chosen to compete in an endurance challenge.

“It was 25 degrees outside, and we had to do 10 burpees, then submerge in an ice bath, get out, do 10 more and get back in the ice. I made it nine rounds, but then passed out with stage three hypothermia.”

Van Paris lost all motor control and remembers hearing the other competitors ask if she was dead.

“I remember thinking, ‘I just did this for some stupid reality show?’” she says.

After she recovered and returned home, Van Paris decided to add body building to her fitness regimen. In April of 2017, she took first place in her first competition. Representatives of another reality show had noticed the obstacle-course-racing bodybuilder, and she signed on to compete in Season 5 of “The Broken Skull Challenge,” hosted by former WWE wrestler Steve Austin. The show began in late September, with Van Paris first appearing in an episode in early October.

“One of my biggest life lessons is to take opportunities as they come up,” she says. “If I’d never done an obstacle course race, I wouldn’t have been on American Grit or lost the weight. If I’d never done bodybuilding, I wouldn’t have gotten invited for Broken Skull. I just want to live every day and wake up with a smile on my face.”    

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