When Carla Simone was young, she dreamed of playing soccer professionally. She looked to superstar Pele as her role model, and encouragement from her parents and coach drove her to succeed in a sport that has captured the public's attention following America's 1999 Women's World Cup win.
A college injury derailed Simone's journey toward the limelight that professional soccer players like Mia Hamm now enjoy, but she persevered and eventually found another way to display her athletic prowess in the public eye. In 1995, Simone competed successfully against a muscle-bound champion on "American Gladiators" and later on "Knights and Warriors."
Now a personal trainer with a predominantly Jewish clientele, Simone has accomplished more in her youth than some might in a lifetime.
Born in Madison, Wisc., Simone moved with her family to Los Angeles in 1976. She played soccer on the men's team at Santa Monica High School and was influential in getting a women's soccer program started. Recruited to play soccer for UCLA and later UC Berkeley, Simone had always wanted to be an athlete.
"I was always kind of a tomboy," she said.
The pressure of a premed program while playing for UC Berkeley's nationally ranked soccer team eventually became too great for Simone, and she switched her major to sports psychology. Unfortunately, a knee injury in her senior year brought her dream of a professional career in women's soccer to an abrupt end.
After Berkeley, Simone went on to graduate school at California State University, Northridge, to pursue a master's degree in marriage, family and child counseling. She believes school is something even the most advanced athlete should take seriously. "You need something to fall back on," she asserted.
Simone moved on to coaching and training athletes as a way to stay in sports and said that her psychology background has been "an incredible help in working with people in training." She coached women's soccer for Santa Monica College and worked as a sports specialist for Jane Fonda's Laurel Springs Children's Camp, Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills and Beth Shir Sholom in Santa Monica.
In 1995, Simone took a chance and went to a contestant tryout for the competition-driven TV show "American Gladiators" and was among 24 men and women picked from 2,000 hopefuls.
Simone defeated gladiators Sky and Jazz, clearing the way for her to go up against the Eliminator, an obstacle course that would pit her and another contestant against each other.
"I've always liked a good challenge," Simone said.
After her triumph, Simone turned to the camera and said, "This trophy is for my sister in Israel."
When asked how she liked performing in front of millions of viewers, she replied, "I loved it."
After her success on "American Gladiators," Simone answered a call for contestants on a new competition series titled "Knights and Warriors." She was the only woman to qualify for the pilot episode, which she won handily.
Simone's daily regimen starts at 6 a.m. in the Venice Gold's Gym as a personal trainer. She is constantly "encouraging [her clients] to feel fit, energetic, healthy, alive and stress-free." For Simone, it's "really motivating to work out with someone who is already in great shape." Three hours later, she shifts her attention back to herself with 45 minutes of weight training on various machines, 30 minutes of punching and kicking bags, and another 30 minutes of cardiovascular training. Afterward, she may indulge one or more of her other interests: martial arts, scuba diving, volleyball, mountain biking, horseback or motorcycle riding, rock climbing and inline skating.
"To really be in overall shape encompasses strength training and nutrition, with cardiovascular fitness and flexibility," Simone said. "All four are really important." She added that "nutrition is extremely important. People need to learn, unfortunately, that the American diet is very high in fat and carbohydrates. People need to learn how to up their protein intake and decrease their carbohydrate intake."
For anybody looking to get in shape, "patience is a very big part of it," Simone said. "You have to believe in yourself, stay focused, and it's important to have a support system around you."
"It's a process, it takes a lot of hard work, you really have to set realistic goals," she added. It's important to "take small steps until you get to the top."
Carla Simone can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.