This Bobcat trains Gladiators: Exercise boot camp born out of reality TV gig now a multimillion-dollar business

Camp Gladiator illustration

This Bobcat trains Gladiators

Exercise boot camp born out of reality TV gig now a multimillion-dollar family business

By Mark Wangrin 

Ally Kelly faced a dilemma. At least it would be a dilemma for most people. Should she join a couple of thousand other wannabe American Gladiators at the 2008 Austin tryouts for the reality TV show?

Or should she, you know, get married?

If you have to ask what she chose, you don’t know Ally Kelly, a 2006 Texas State graduate with a bachelor’s degree in health and human performance. She chose both. Tryouts in the morning. Wedding in the afternoon. Simple.

Wearing a bridal veil and garter with her workout clothes, and with her maid of honor and bridesmaids in tow, she sold the show’s producers on the novelty of the runaway bride turned gladiator. They bought it and let her cut in front of more than a thousand people. She dazzled with the athletic skills she showcased playing basketball for Texas State, and dashed to the church in time to towel off the sweat, put on her makeup, and say her vows.

Seconds before she was introduced as Mrs. Ally Davidson at her reception, she turned to husband Jeff and said sweetly, "Hey, babe, guess what I did today?"

That’s a question that Ally can ask almost every day, and the answer would never be brief.

You might expect that from a woman who, with her husband, created this marriage mission statement: "To share the joy of Christ by loving, laughing, and living adventurously." Says Ally, "That kind of became our marriage and life motto. In everything we do, we do it adventurously."

And American Gladiator was the start of their greatest adventure. The producers invited both newlyweds on the show. Jeff made the men’s semifinals. Ally won the women’s competition and the accompanying $100,000 prize and new car.

Because Ally was unsatisfied with her advertising sales job, she and Jeff decided to use the money — and the publicity of her victory — to create a boot camp-style workout program for people of all physical abilities to take on in parks, parking lots, or wherever they could. Playing off her championship, they called it Camp Gladiator (CG).

"When we got back, she kept saying, ‘There’s got to be something more we can do from this,’ " says Jeff, a financial advisor who recently became full-time CEO for CG.

They had 40 people sign up for the first round of camps. Then 60 the next round. Then 80. Now they have 750 trainers and almost 50,000 campers. They hope to double that this year. In 2015, the Austin-based company reported revenue of $16 million.

It’s a simple concept. The campers bring a yoga mat and dumbbells to classes and do a variety of exercises. Each session features a different combination, so no two workouts are alike.

"Really a lot of it came from my background of playing team sports, so it feels like a combination of basketball, soccer, or football practice," says Ally, who gave birth to her second child in September 2017. "It’s team-oriented. We run a lot of drills, and it’s also geared to all fitness levels, so you go at your own pace."

Along the way, another former Texas State athlete joined the family, and then the business. Allison "Alli" Crain (B.B.A. ’03), who graduated as the Bobcats’ all-time leading women’s soccer scorer, heard about the camps from one of her former soccer teammates. Ally’s cousin, Brandon Brickley, was her trainer. Soon he became more than that. They started dating.

"Ally threatened him that it would be really bad if he ruined it," says Allison. "Because then she would lose a camper and a friend if it didn’t work out."

He didn’t. They married in 2012. The soon-to-be Allison Brickley went to a kickboxing class the morning of her wedding. "It’s not American Gladiator," she concedes with a smile. Still, she knew she had married into a family that was into reality TV. Before American Gladiator, Ally tried out for Amazing Race and Survivor, almost making the cut for the former, and appeared with her family on Family Feud.

So it was probably inevitable that Allison would find herself on a reality show as well. In summer 2017, Allison, Brandon, and Joey Kelly, Ally’s brother, competed as Team Heart of Texas on the NBC reality show Spartan: Ultimate Team Challenge, an obstacle course race. The team finished second.Ally Kelly Davidson

In 2015, Allison gave up her hotel marketing job and joined the business, where she recruits trainers. And it’s not hard to figure out what kind of people she’s looking for.

"God made Ally for this, 100 percent," Allison says. "I can’t think of anything else that she would shine at as much. When I am trying to bring on a trainer, I think how do they compare to her, what would she think of them, because the standard that she sets is so high."

Plans are for CG to keep growing its boot camps beyond the 11 metropolitan areas it serves in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Colorado. This year, CG will open camps in Corpus Christi, Nashville, and Lubbock; they will continue growing CG Victory, the faith-based nonprofit youth adventure camp.

"When Ally started it, she talked about changing 100 people’s lives, and that seemed like a big deal. And now we’re changing over 50,000 people’s lives in a year," says Allison.

"We’ve got big dreams and ambitions," Ally says. "We’re nowhere near slowing down. We believe we can be the largest fitness organization in America."

This story first appeared in Hillviews issue Making beautiful harmony.