WOODRIDGE – A former Army Ranger and Woodridge native will have his physical and mental toughness on display Sunday night as he appears in an episode of Country Music Television’s “Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Challenge.”
Joe Donar served two tours in Iraq as an Army Ranger and now runs his own Crossfit gym in Westmont – reasons producers of the show, which “pits elite athletes in the ultimate test of strength, stamina and wit,” recruited him to compete.
“I got an email from an executive producer asking if I wanted to interview for a spot. After that, I was selected and they flew me out in March to film,” said Donar, 31.
Donar said he doesn’t typically like being in the spotlight, but a chance to meet a boyhood idol was too tempting.
“I just wanted to meet Stone Cold Steve Austin,” he said with a laugh, referring to the host of the show who is a former professional wrestler. “He was really cool. He’s huge, and funny. He’s just like the character you see on TV.”
Donar couldn’t reveal how he fared on the show at the request of producers. It will air at 7 p.m. Sunday on CMT.
In the show, eight contestants – one class of men, one of women – compete in head-to-head battles, such as a one-on-one tug-of-war, or wrestling matches. The overall winner then has a chance to complete “the toughest obstacle course in America” created by Austin, called “The Skullbuster.”
When the show first began, whoever completed the course would win $10,000, but Donar explained that a past contestant had completed the course before he filmed, so the $10,000 prize was attainable only upon beating that contestant’s completion time.
Donar, a 31-year-old father of two, said he felt like he didn’t belong among the contestants.
“There were a lot of physical fitness models and they were all kind of fighting for the camera time, and then there’s me. I don’t like being the center of attention,” he said.
Most times, however, he is the center of attention at the Westmont gym he opened in November in a warehouse at 778 Burr Oak Drive in Westmont, just across from Ty Warner Park.
Crossfit Iron Flag takes on the new physical training fad of Crossfit with Donar’s own twist.
“Our niche is bringing the common person in. A lot of Crossfit gyms are getting elitist, almost meat-headish,” he said. “I love our gym because we have members that have been working out for 15 years and members that have really never worked out a day in their life.”
He discovered Crossfit during his first deployment to Iraq in 2006.
“I thought I was in shape then I tried it. It kicked my butt and I stuck with it. I like things that are challenging and challenge my toughness. Plus, it makes you healthier and stronger,” Donar said.
After finishing his duty in the Army in September 2010, Donar eyed a career in physical therapy. But that didn’t last long for him.
“It was too boring for me,” he said.
So he enrolled at California University of Pennsylvania and earned his master’s degree in exercise science, graduating in 2013.
After attaining a job with a health and fitness management and consulting company, Donar still was looking for more.
“I wanted an environment that was more conducive to the training I believed in. A place where I could get people a lot healthier and the company I was with had limitations,” he said.
Donar admitted he’s still learning the business side of his gym “on the fly,” but so far, so good.
“We’re at 95 members now, which is really good. A good indicator is usually having 100 members after a year, and we’re already almost there,” he said.
Donar said he has no plans to host a watch party on Sunday, insisting he doesn’t want the attention. While he couldn’t reveal how he fared, he said if he does end up as a winner on Sunday, the money will go toward college funds for his two daughters.
“It was a really cool experience and I met some guys with the same mindset of challenging your toughness,” he said.