The Maroon

Telley: An American Gladiator

Bryan Sak, News Editor

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Not all teachers begin their careers teaching. Chemistry and environmental science teacher Deena Telley was working as a chemist in Norman, Oklahoma when she discovered an opportunity to appear on FOX’s American Gladiators.

“I saw that one of the tryouts was in Phoenix, Arizona, and my husband said ‘Well,you should try out,’ and said he’d pay for my ticket if I wanted to go,” Telley said.

Telley’s motivations for trying out soon became clear. She was determined to try out for the show.

“It was a challenge. I was just turning 30, and I felt like that was a big milestone. I was kinda realizing that my athletic career might be winding down. So I wanted to compete and be successful. Now 30 seems like nothing,” Telley said.

Participants were required to perform a number of different athletic abilities, including a 40-yard dash, tug-of-war, and full chin-ups; 25 for men and 15 for women in 30 seconds.

“And that usually cut 99% of everybody. Nobody could do it,” Telley said. “They eventually dropped the women to 8 chin-ups because so many had trouble.”

Interviews were also mandatory. After the athletic portion of the tryout concluded, remaining contenders sat down with producers to talk.

“They were looking for people that were athletic but not pro athletes. They were looking for the everyday person that was still an athlete,” Telley said.

Telley and her competitors made up a diverse group of people. Many individuals had skill sets gained from certain athletics that were beneficial in tryouts.

“Everyone had their own thing on the show. There was one girl that was a bench press champion, one girl was a karate champion, but they all had other jobs. So you didn’t get a lot of professionals,” Telley said. “There were police officers, fireman. I guess I fit a certain niche, I was from Oklahoma, I played rugby, and I was a microbiologist working as a chemist. So I guess I checked off all the boxes.”

Telley said she was was satisfied with simply making it through the initial stage. Appearing on air wasn’t her goal.

“A lot of people tried to be on that show and they couldn’t make it. My goal was just to make it through the tryouts, the athletic part, and if I got picked I got picked,” she said.

One of Telley’s favorite parts of the whole experience was a surprise from her best friend, who was living in Phoenix at the time.

“My best friend snuck into where they were doing the interviews and she watched me do mine. I don’t know how she got in, she was like that you know? She could sneak in places. And so I was like ‘What are you doing here?’ She told me things like ‘Take your hair out of the ponytail’ and ‘Wear this’,” Telly said.

After her interview, Telley’s friend had a few words of encouragement. She  said she had been watching the interview and could tell that Telley would make the cut.

“I thought she was wrong, and I had accomplished my goal, and so once I found out that I had made it, I just told myself I was going to do the best that I could,” Telley said.

After making the initial cut, Telley spent a month in Hollywood, California participating in tapings.

“We filmed in Universal City, on one of the studio lots. That is where you would go to see the tours. They would film movies there, and I remember one day Arnold Schwarzenegger came by. He was filming Kindergarten Cop right across from us,” Telley said. “He knew a lot of the bodybuilders that starred on the show. So he came over and that was a big day.”

Telley found success on the show and made it deep into the competition.

“I was lucky enough to make it to the semi-finals for that season. I was also an alternate for the woman that made it to the finals in case she got hurt. People got hurt on the show all the time. I was a little disappointed to be second I guess, but it is definitely better than nothing,” Telley said.

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Telley: An American Gladiator