A new athletic competition show meant to push people to their physical limits via obstacles and challenges may have met someone practically born for the event.
Shannon Decker, a Santa Monica-based fitness model and personal trainer, recently participated in NBC and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Titan Games, which will begin to air January 3.
“It tests you to the fullest, mind, body and spirit,” Decker said, of the challenges in the show. “It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen or had to do before. Every challenge encompasses your maximum physical effort … Then throw in the mental aspect. It’s filmed in front of a live audience in front of an arena. You have to be on your game.
Before she was on TV fighting for a chance at a grand prize of $100,000, Decker was fighting for a better life.
Born in a small fishing town close to Aberdeen, Washington, the athletic Decker grew up with her brother and their indifferent parents.
“They weren’t good people,” Decker recalled. “Dad was a derelict surfer, mom just didn’t care. They couldn’t and didn’t provide for us and we deserved more. I just wanted to stay where I was, ideally in a loving home and play basketball, but it wasn’t plausible. they weren’t crazy, not physical or on drugs, just not good people.”
She’d find temporary surrogate families through fitness and sports at school. These activities helped provide a sense of community and escape from her absent parents.
Decker eventually legally emancipated herself from her parents at the age of 15. She bounced around 3 different high schools in Washington, living with friends and in homeless shelters until she eventually moved in with her aunt and uncle in Santa Barbara at the age of 17.
Decker lauds them for being what she considers as — and who she introduces people to as — her real parents.
“I need to keep repaying them for giving me such a loving home,” Decker said. “They’re a great example of unconditional love. I’ll email my uncle like, ‘I need to invest. Any tips?’ and he’ll send me an email, pages long, on tips and information … They’re what parents are supposed to be. They have given me what I didn’t have as a child and continue to do so.”
With her newfound stability, Decker graduated from college with a Bachelors and credentials in teaching. She soon realized she’d rather be in a different field, nursing.
While she adjusted to attempting a career change, another career was being born.
She’d routinely run the trails and surf in Santa Barabara to clear her mind of daily stresses, the rush of endorphins providing comfort for Decker. For some extra income, she’d occasionally make trips to Los Angeles for fitness modeling gigs.
As her life began to change its tide, tragedy struck.
In 2005, her brother fell 350 feet in a rock climbing accident. He’d suffer from head trauma-induced seizures for the remainder of his life. In 2014, he had a fatal seizure.
“It was the lowest point of my life,” Decker said. “I felt lost after he was gone.”
Decker returned to the one constant source of comfort throughout her life to help process her grief– fitness.
“All I knew was working out,” Decker said. It’s all I had time for.”
She worked out religiously, multiple times per day, every day. Gym goers would see her so much that they’d ask her familiar face for training.
“I found myself in that hard time,” she said. “My brother has been my inspiration. He’s what led me to this path.”
Her path led her to LA where she became a personal trainer. One day, a fellow fitness enthusiast — and eventual Titan Games competitor — sent Decker the Titans Game application.
“I’m so busy with modeling and personal training, I sat on that application forever,” she recalls. “One night, I did the application, half-ass. I’m not super into being on TV as it’s not my end-goal. I got an email back saying they loved my story. I looked into it more and had to be a part of it. I hired a kid to film my story and edit it, and two weeks later, we got the big call.”
Decker says the competitive nature of the show is what excited her the most about Titan Games. Even among Olympic lifters and ex-professional athletes, Decker says due to her fighting nature –fighting to survive and to fight for her brother’s memory — she knows she has a shot at the $100,000 grand prize.
“Growing up the way I did, I try harder than everyone,” she said. “I was the kid that flipped the Monopoly board, that climbs that ladder at the carnival truly believing I can make it to the top … Forget the cash prize, this is finally a stage for me to compete. A platform to compete at a high level that most people don’t get…there’s not a stage to put it all out on the line like this.”
To prepare, she lived through a punishing schedule. She hired a lifting coach, working out at 4 a.m. before she trained her fitness clients and trained after.
While a well-rounded athlete, she admits the competition was staggering.
“My thing is, I’m athletic all-around. I run, surf, do Pilates, HIIT, yoga… But none of us knew what the competition would entail. When you watch this, you won’t know who has the advantage.”
Win or lose, Decker isn’t just doing the competition for herself. She hopes to honor her brother’s memory through the competition and inspire others who may have had rough beginnings, too.
“Your circumstances don’t dictate your life,” she said. “I’m proof of that.”