What UConn student doesn’t remember those tempting, late-night deliveries of pizza, buffalo wings, or D.P. Dough calzones? Brooke Dragon ’15 (CANR) was one of them, too – until the day MTV arrived at her door with a hard-to-resist offer of their own.
Last year, MTV chose Dragon to star on its Emmy Award-winning television series “Made,” a self-improvement reality show that follows teenagers and young adults as they work to transform themselves into whomever they aspire to be, whether it’s a figure skater, filmmaker, stand-up comedian, or recording artist.
For Dragon, who throughout her youth had enjoyed performing on stage as a competitive cheerleader and dancer, the prospect of being on TV held great appeal. On a whim, she had one day auditioned for the show by sending a video clip to MTV, telling them she wanted to “get made” into a fitness model, never imagining she would hear back.
MTV took her word for it – and even upped the ante, resolving to shape the now 20-year-old UConn junior into a legitimate fitness competitor in a matter of mere weeks.
Although Dragon is a nutritional sciences major who comes from a particularly active family – her mother owns a fitness studio and her father spent his earlier years bodybuilding – Dragon says she had long taken her knowledge about nutrition and health for granted, never really applying it to her day-to-day life.
“I would literally eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted,” says the sunny, outgoing native of Prospect, Conn. “I would kind of take the rebel route and come into the house with McDonald’s and say, ‘Look, Mom.’”
Mind over muscle
That all changed with MTV, which paired Dragon with a professional fitness competitor and model who served as her “Made” coach, cleaning up Dragon’s eating habits and pushing her through grueling strength-and-conditioning workouts at least four hours a day in preparation for Dragon’s first competition. The initial allure of being on television was far from Dragon’s mind as she spent long days at the gym alongside her coach and the MTV production crew, all while juggling her classes.
“Every time I was in front of the camera, I was either puking, sweating, or crying, so it wasn’t a very glamorous time in my life,” laughs Dragon, who several times came close to quitting the show. “I learned that I was not strong mentally as I thought I was. When a situation came up, I’d immediately call my parents or immediately go ask for help. I had to learn to grow tougher skin.”
In the end Dragon not only competed successfully in her first show — placing third in her division – but also earned some other unexpected rewards.
For one, she made such an impression on executives from BodyBuilding.com, whom she met while filming “Made,” that the company – among the world’s top fitness and sports nutrition websites – featured her personal story online. They later offered Dragon a yearlong sponsorship, an opportunity that has afforded Dragon further exposure through photo and video shoots, social media, as well as appearances as a spokesperson at competitions and expos.
“There’s not one person in this world who spends 24 hours a day focusing on fitness. Everyone has something else. It’s just a lot of excuses that people have. They say, ‘I don’t have time.’ I don’t have time, either. I have to make it.”
But what has made the most impact on Dragon are the hundreds of people she has never met who have reached out to her through email and Facebook since watching her on “Made,” to seek her advice and support, to share their personal stories, and to thank her for inspiring them to change their own lives.
“Now that people are starting to come to me, not only do I have an obligation to myself, but I have to be accountable to them also,” she says. “That, in and of itself, is most important to me,” says Dragon, who one day plans to work with professional athletes as a registered dietician. “That’s why I picked nutrition as a major three years ago, because I want to help people. The fact that I can help myself and help someone else at the same time — that is the most rewarding feeling I have ever felt in my life.”
Dragon acknowledges, too, that her transformation has been just as much an emotional and mental one as it was physical.
“I’m a lot more confident in myself,” she says. “It’s mainly been apparent in any kind of work – whether it’s studies or working out. Every time I go into an exam, I go in now saying, ‘It’s been done. You can do it. Stop doubting yourself.’ And I’ve noticed that when I have a better attitude, it carries over into better relationships with people.”
Keeping up with her classes at UConn, continuing to train and compete in the fitness world, and also teaching Zumba and X-Fit classes on the side does not leave her a great deal of spare time, but Dragon says that she can always make the time for what she feels is most important – and that includes her own well-being.
“Being a nutritional sciences student, I knew what I had to do. Everyone knows that if you eat foods that are processed, it’s not good for you. But people do it because it’s convenient, it’s easier, they have stuff to do, they have kids, they work from 9 to 5, they have class,” she says. “There’s not one person in this world who spends 24 hours a day focusing on fitness. Everyone has something else. It’s just a lot of excuses that people have. They say, ‘I don’t have time.’ I don’t have time, either. I have to make it.”