'Nitro' brings Gladiator Rock'n Run to Export's Steel City Raceway

| Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

After pummeling challengers with a pugil stick, running a half-marathon was a bit of a snore for Dan Clark.

Instead, Clark — who starred as Nitro on TV's “American Gladiators” — created an obstacle course that pits challengers against fire, ice and mud.

“I wanted to create something that was for athletes that I would want to do,” Clark said. “I started running, and I did a 5K, I did a 10K, I did a half-marathon, and I just wanted to beat my head in because it was boring. I thought, how can I create an experience that people can train for that is insanely fun?”

And so Gladiator Rock'n Run was born in 2010. A 3.5-mile challenge filled with 17 obstacles, the extreme obstacle challenge will throw ice, mud and fire at competitors Saturday at Steel City Raceway, just outside of Delmont. The event benefits Talk About Curing Autism, a national nonprofit dedicated to educating, empowering and supporting families affected by autism.

Participants in the extreme challenge will wade through a waist-deep pool of ice water, race through fire and dive into steel trash bins.

But, Clark said, the most gleeful experience comes from “Skid Marks,” a challenge that promises to cover competitors with mud from head to toe. Participants fly down a 120-foot water slide into a pool of mud.

The draw of extreme obstacle courses — think Tough Mudder and Color Me Rad — is simple, Clark said. Adults get to an age — he suggested 28 to 35 — when they're stuck in a cubicle every day and begin to wonder whose life they're living.

Extreme-obstacle events such as Clark's give those people an opportunity to take on a challenge and “release the gladiator inside of you,” he said.

“It's simple — we want to be challenged, and we want to have a great freaking time,” Clark said. “We all know there's nothing better than to be baptized by the fire and adrenaline that only conquering a challenge can be.”

“American Gladiators” was ahead of its time, Clark said. The show, which aired from 1989 to 1996, is mirrored in today's amateur competition shows such as “American Ninja Warrior” and “Wipeout” — except those shows don't feature hulking athletes in spandex trying to thwart challengers' efforts. Clark said he thinks “American Gladiators” opened the door for other reality television shows, such as “Survivor.”

“Without a doubt, it was the first reality competition show,” Clark said. “We really showed there was a market for something a little different. It was groundbreaking and fun.”

Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627, or dkurutz@tribweb.com.

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