When restaurant owner Alexander Nicholas, of New York, NY, was invited to compete in Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Challenge, the seasoned athlete didn’t hesitate to sign on. A Reebok-sponsored, champion Spartan Race competitor, obstacle racing is Nicholas’s specialty.
He finished first out of 5,000 at Spartan Hawaii and has competed in numerous additional Spartan Races, as well as a Mexican Death Race. The Broken Skull Challenge was a natural next step, Nicholas said in a recent interview.
“I didn’t really have to change my training regimen for this,” said Nicholas, owner of EPIC, a hybrid gym that specializes in Spartan-inspired functional fitness workouts, which feature the running, jumping and climbing of obstacle course training techniques. EPIC also varies workouts between HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) and endurance style training. Nicholas’s dynamic core workouts also consist of full-body, explosive movements.
It’s no surprise that Nicholas had confidence about his preparation going into the Broken Skull Challenge. “[The competition is] taxing on your endurance and requires quick bursts of high intensity,” he said. “You have to be prepared for anything. You have no clue of what’s next and have no time to prep on challenges.”
Fortunately, Nicholas is versed in multiple athletic disciplines. A former college football player, he has also studied martial arts for more than eight years, including Muay Thai kickboxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) and mixed martial arts (MMA). Nicholas was the victor of a Beach Grappling Tournament in Atlantic City.
He also has the advantage of GRYND training, a total body endurance-based workout at EPIC that challenges both physical and mental stamina.
“You have to keep your mind much stronger than you expect to,” he said of the Broken Skull Challenge. “You only get one chance—if you screw up, you’re going home.”
Fellow competitor Tom Deroma, a 47-year-old bridge operator from Wappingers Falls, NY, agrees that mental stamina was as important as physicality to the challenge.
“You have to reach inside yourself and pull out everything you’ve got,” the distance runner said. “Your mental attitude can take you a long way. Your mind can’t get too emotionally attached to things. You go in, do your thing and forget about it.”
Deroma credits his experience in acting for helping in the competition. “As an actor, you have to have a thick skin,” he said. It’s a very competitive business.”
Deroma said that, to keep the competitiveness strong in the Broken Skull challenge, participants are prevented from socializing outside of competition. “You can’t get too friendly with someone else because that could affect you going one-on-one with them. You get people playing mind games with each other,” he said.
“It isn’t like any other competition reality show out there,” he said. “You’re going one-to-one against the opponent, not a clock.”
In addition to Broken Skull’s distinctive obstacles, Nicholas also believes this competition is unique any show or challenge out because of its structure of the athletes competing against each other instead of against a field of competitors, as well as of the distinctive obstacles, “A Spartan Race can be a race of 10,000. In Broken Skull, it’s a race of 2,” he said.
While Deroma calls the competition grueling and intense, the former corrections officer said it was a great experience. “I knew I was an underdog going in because of my age. I was going against guys 20, even 27 years younger than me,” he said. “But I pushed myself to the limit. I represented the 40-somethings very well.”
A highlight of Nicholas’s experience also was meeting the brains behind the Broken Skull Challenge, Hall of Fame pro wrestler Steve Austin. “I was extremely excited to meet him as a pro wrestling fan as a kid,” Nichoals said. “[He] is an extremely nice guy. He has great character and is a very real person.”
Click here for a preview of Sunday night’s show, which includes Tom Deroma and Alexander Nicholas, on CMT at 8 p.m. EST.