Tommy Hackenbruck answered a prospective email from a reality TV show three years ago, tantalized by the idea of a physical competition that might earn him extra money to fund his growing CrossFit business.
“It was just a completely random thing,” he said.
Well, sometimes random inquiries can pay huge dividends.
Hackenbruck, a former University of Utah linebacker, turned out to be the exact kind of guy wanted by the producers of the “Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Challenge.”
He recently participated in his 10th episode on the series, which is set to air Dec. 19 on CMT. (Check local listings for time.)
While Hackenbruck can’t give details about the upcoming episode, he can talk about his past experiences, which have made him one of the show’s most successful participants.
So far he has won $70,000, $50,000 of which he netted in Season 2 when he became the champion.
“I usually don’t believe in fate and luck and all that,” Hackenbruck said. “But the way this has worked out for me, it has fit me perfectly. It was a stroke of luck and my gyms are doing well and my family is doing well because of it. I owe Steve Austin a huge thanks.”
Designed by Austin, a former pro wrestler, the show normally pits eight contestants in a series of head-to-head competitions that feature physically demanding challenges with the loser being eliminated.
The final two contestants battle one another in “the Pit,” which is a dirt wrestling ring in which the two battle until one is forced out of the ring.
The winner of the Pit then tries his or her luck at the Skullbuster, a half-mile obstacle course in which the goal is to beat the previous champion’s time.
Hackenbruck said the style of competition fit him because he grew up a wrestling fan. He went on to star for Utah’s 2004-05 undefeated, Fiesta Bowl-winning team.
Being on a football team helped him with not only the physical demands, but the mental ones as well, he said.
“Having to compete every day to overcome some adversity though college gave me a lot of confidence,” he said. “I was lucky enough to play for Urban Meyer on a really good team and that helped me a lot. I know to be successful you have to keep grinding and working.”
Still, Hackenbruck admits he wasn’t sure what he was getting into during the initial interview process. He recalled a Skype interview in which he had to pretend he was talking trash as well as take off his shirt and flex.
“It was hilarious,” he said. “But it was for reality TV.”
Now 36 years old, Hackenbruck has two gyms under his Ute CrossFit name and still competes in CrossFit events as well as Ragnar trail series events.
He hasn’t changed his workouts much to prepare for his appearances on the “Broken Skull Challenge,” other than adding more running.
“You have to be prepared for anything on the course, but I am good at adapting to unknown variables playing at linebacker,” he said. “I’m just not natural in the run. I’m fast in the sprint, but not a great mile runner.”
While Hackenbruck enjoys the competition and certainly the prize money that goes with it, he said he is also enjoying his other job, too, that of a gym owner.
“I’ve found a passion working with unconditioned, unfit people,” he said. “There is something about helping people change their lifestyle that is awesome. They get a whole new outlook on life and that is really cool.”