Tampa Bay athlete Thong La is ready to shine in The Titan Games reality competition

The Tampa native is one of 64 contestants chosen for Dwayne Johnson’s new fitness competition challenge, which debuts January 3 on NBC.

click to enlarge Thong La, 25, has been a competitive athlete since 2017 with the United States Powerlifting Association. He hopes that training will help him compete in The Titan Games. - THONG LA
Thong La
Thong La, 25, has been a competitive athlete since 2017 with the United States Powerlifting Association. He hopes that training will help him compete in The Titan Games.

It all started with a quote — “Be the hardest worker in the room.”

Thong La would use those words to motivate himself. He even put the quote on his computer screen so he would see it every day.

La, 25, whose parents immigrated to Tampa from Vietnam more than two decades ago, also looked up to the man who said the words: Dwayne Johnson. The Rock. The former WWE professional wrestler turned Hollywood A-list actor who always preached about never losing focus. The man who is La's role model.

On January 3, 2019, the world will get to see La’s dedication to being the hardest worker first-hand when he appears as a contestant on Johnson’s latest venture, The Titan Games, a weekly sports competition airing on NBC, which is promoting the show as Johnson’s way of inspiring “everyday people to push themselves to achieve the impossible.”

The 10-episode series places contestants in a series of head-to-head challenges while competing for a $100,000 grand prize.

“There are crazy obstacles. (It’s) taxing on the body, taxing on the mind,” La said. “It’s you versus someone else in the Titan arena and one person comes out winning. It’s not like American Ninja Warrior. You’re actually on the spot with a competitor, and you guys are battling.”

La, who graduated from the University of South Florida in 2015 with an engineering degree, and who works in St. Petersburg for Space Machine & Engineering Corp., knew he had the dedication to compete when he first saw an ad on social media soliciting applications for The Titan Games.

“We had to audition and tell them what we do for a living. They’re looking for everyday people,” he said. “I just told them I was a mechanical engineer. I love fitness. I’m into power-lifting, I compete competitively and I would be a good fit for the show.”

Based on his interview, La was invited to a combine [group tryout], along with about 100 other applicants. By the end, just over half remained.

“I was one of the lucky 64 who made it out,” La said. “That’s what The Rock calls us, the DJ64.”

click to enlarge La can't say much about The Titan Games other than it's a head-to-head competition, unlike American Ninja Warrior, where two athletes vie for victory. - THONG LA
Thong La
La can't say much about The Titan Games other than it's a head-to-head competition, unlike American Ninja Warrior, where two athletes vie for victory.

La said he started working out while attending USF as a way to clear his head. After graduation, he advanced into competitive power-lifting, which focuses on three areas, the squat, bench press and deadlift. On his 23rd birthday, La entered his first competition and won first place.

“During the interview with The Titan Games, I had the medal hanging behind me, and they asked me about it,” he said.

Did we mention La is 5-foot-7 “on a good day,” or that he had to bulk up from 130 pounds in college to compete in the 165-pound power-lifting division? Or that the people chosen for The Titan Games represent a wide cross-section of bodybuilders, power-lifters, cross-fitters and more.

“I felt like I fit in with the group,” he said, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t still work to be done.

La set about practicing in earnest. “I did more running with weighted vests, running up the bridge by the Courtney Campbell. I did a lot of running over there, lot of high jumps, long jumps,” he said. “Preparing for The Titan Games, I had to get out of my comfort zone and train on a lot of my weaknesses, like cardio and agility.”

click to enlarge La, shown on the right, said he's excited for people to see the huge obstacles designed by The Titan Games, which the athletes must conquer in order to win. - NBC
NBC
La, shown on the right, said he's excited for people to see the huge obstacles designed by The Titan Games, which the athletes must conquer in order to win.

Now that he’s back from Los Angeles, where the show is filmed, La is anxious for his parents, his siblings and his fiancé, Shanny Lee, to see the results.

While he can’t share any details from the show, such as how well he did or how far he advanced, La can still savor meeting Johnson in person, which left a lasting impression.

“I feel like it happened so quick,” he said. “It’s pretty cool to be in his presence. It’s amazing to be in the same room with that guy.”

John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films that often get overlooked and interviews with cult cinema favorites like George A. Romero, Bruce Campbell and Dee Wallace. Contact him at bloodviolenceandbabes.com, on  Facebook or on Twitter. And don't miss a party, concert or festival — subscribe to Creative Loafing's weekly Do This newsletter!

About The Author

John W. Allman

John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films...

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