Gladiator is a warrior for fitnessRich Heldenfels
By Rich Heldenfels
When you look at Siren on "American Gladiators," besides the costume and the intimidating look, you're sure to notice the sculpted muscles.
Valerie Waugaman sees fat.
"The camera really does add 10 pounds," says Waugaman, the 29-year-old Cleveland, Ohio, resident who plays Siren on the NBC series. But she is not some timid little birdie who thinks of anorexia as a means to a better career. In fact, she is very fitness-conscious.
Her personal eating habits include lots of vegetable and protein supplements. So much so that when confronted with the catering table while "American Gladiators" was taping in November and December, she knew she was going to put on weight.
In her professional life, the graduate of Ohio University admits that even the slight bulking up that occurred with "Gladiators" can be a problem. "I have sort of a skewed perspective," she said in a recent interview.
After all, Waugaman also is a professional bodybuilder with IFBB, or International Federation of Body Building and Fitness. Competing in the figure category, she has won several events and is in training for Columbus' Arnold Sports Festival.
Waugaman came to bodybuilding as a way to promote Octane Cafe, a health-conscious restaurant in Cleveland where she is co-owner and marketing director. Her fiance, Sam Eells, founded the restaurant and hopes to turn it into a franchise.
So Waugaman constantly preaches the gospel of physical fitness and healthy habits. In addition to boosting the restaurant, she hopes her appearances on "American Gladiators" will be a springboard to a larger role promoting her ideas, especially to young people.
As a young person, Waugaman was athletic, she said, and "I was lucky to have good genetics. ... I was healthier than most, but I ate a lot of frozen dinners, cheese and bologna and things that were really not healthy."
These days, she said, "I wouldn't say I'm a vegetarian, but most of my diet consists of vegetables. ... Lots of spinach. ... And lots of fish, tofu, natural protein powder in shakes."
That, and a lot of training, not only helped her in bodybuilding but in feeling good overall. "My skin is better," she said. "My hair is better." And when "American Gladiators" was starting, she was already known well enough in the bodybuilding world that - thanks to a referral from Flex magazine - the show came to her.
Not that it's all been easy. Even in training camp, she said, there was a lot of competition. "You want to stand out," she said. "That's the nature of who we are. We want to give 100 percent effort. But at the end, we're shaking hands."
And people really do get hurt on the show. One of the nonprofessional contenders was eliminated by an injury on the first telecast. Waugaman has been sandwiching interviews in between visits for physical therapy. While she is glad to have a chance to compete in athletic events beyond the posing of bodybuilding, she said it has been "emotionally and physically exhausting."