A True Reality Star

Ryan Thomas

The date was November 25. Three days after Thanksgiving. And three days after Jenny Barry – who keeps her self on a diet that is strict and demanding – ate an entire nine-inch pumpkin cheesecake by herself.

It’s rather odd and quirky that a woman who works as hard on her physique and is as demanding of her body as any person could ever be would ravish a cheesecake like it was the last thing on the face of the earth. But, when contemplating a decision that she knew would end up changing her life dramatically, in one regard or another, she acted out of routine.

That day, the Sunday near the end of November, Jenny boarded a plane bound for Los Angeles. It was her 32nd birthday and her nerves were jumping. After rounds of tryouts, eliminations, in-your-face-24-hour analyses, and standing in front of Network television executives in something closely resembling her birthday suit, Jenny had doubts about her impending journey.

Only one day previous, a casting executive from NBC had called her while she was lying in bed, still recovering from her cheesecake overdose and told her the news. “He said, ‘Jen, you’re coming back,'” she recalls, thinking about the time when she didn’t want to go back to the set of NBC’s new reality television show, American Gladiators.

So when the 5-foot, 2 ½ -inch Barry told him that she didn’t think she wanted to come back, even after all she’d been through in the past two months, he gave her time, told her to think about it and that he’d call back.

“He called back three hours later and said, ‘You’re a starter.” Jenny remembers the promise he made to her. “[He said,] ‘Your character is not going to be used as much, but you’re definitely a starter; you’re definitely on the show.'” Not an alternate or on hold, but a starter. Jenny Barry was going to be starring in a network television reality show. Or that’s what she thought anyway.

Jenny, for the past five years, had been working on a degree in exercise science at UMass Boston and had begun to prosper as an entrepreneurial trainer. Her personal fitness business was doing well, and her degree, which had been hounding her, was nearing completion. But then NBC and American Gladiators showed up and got in the way of all of it all.

Jenny was leaving for the West Coast in one day and she needed to figure out a way for her business to run smoothly while she was away. “In 24 hours, I called everyone I needed to call, including my managers for my job. [I called] my private clients and my clients at Boston Sports Club, where I was running two group exercise programs and where I had 60 employees that reported to me.

“I was concerned about everybody’s money. I was freaking out. I emailed all of my professors. I don’t think I slept that whole entire day. I went to my job and met with each one of my managers to teach them, in a very short period of time, how to do my job.”

After putting her education and her well-being on hold, Jenny boarded that plane and was off to the City of Angels to begin shooting American Gladiators.

Everything started off well for the character known as “Blast.” She appeared in all of the shows promos: the television commercials, the movie previews, on NBC’s website. Everything was going well until Gina Carano – who had been with the group before final cuts were made and left the show – returned to the set. Her job was promptly handed back to her and Barry’s character was pushed to the side. It was at that point, Jenny remembers, “We started to see how unsafe our jobs were.”

Jenny explained that, one day during a late taping of the show, her character was preparing for an event known as Power Ball, when the executive producers of the show pulled her aside and mic’d up Gina. From that point on, Jenny was relegated to alternate. She was officially second-string, but didn’t have hard feelings.

“For NBC, it was a very good decision,” Jenny explains. “If you follow the show at all, Gina is the most highly watched Gladiator. With that being said, pulling someone from the starting lineup had to be done, [and] it was me.”

After watching from behind the scenes for the rest of the first season, Jenny came home a cultured-shocked woman and needed time to readjust back to her normal life. “It’s not at all what you think it is,” she says, referring to the life of a reality television “star.” She explains that the people who have been around the scene and know the ropes can handle it, but someone new to the television corridor of life like herself had a tough time, both during and after the show. “Somebody like me, or some of the other girls who just worked in fitness, we’re just the body-building industry,” she says.

“We had no idea the type of days, the type of stress it puts on your emotional and spiritual being; more so, even the physical. But all of the other things involved are very, very tough. Then, coming back into reality and having to re-gather your life, and tell the story to every single person that sees you [is tough].”

Even though her experience was anything but glamorous, a person like Jenny can always take positives out of a situation, and this one was no different. The connections that she made in the fitness industry were amazing and the conversations she had with the host of the show, Hulk Hogan, were special too. “I spent some time with him in the make-up trailer, a bunch of times in the early mornings… and we’d chat and things like that,” she remembers.

Hulk Hogan, behind all of the “brothers!” and the “Hulkamanias!” and the bleached goatee, is a very spiritual and calm person, explains Jenny. “He’s got a lot of beliefs centered around the idea of positive influence and positive energy. Speaking to him when you’re having a tough day or a down day, he would always try and give you some sort of positive feedback.

“He told me a lot of stories about his life and about [different] things and how… everything’s supposed to happen for a reason. Even when I got cut from the show, it was ‘Jen, you know, this is for something; this is happening for a reason.”

And as it turns out, the Hulk was right. Jenny doesn’t want to be a character; she wants to be Jenny Barry. The word “character” contains “actor,” and that’s not what Jenny is, or what she wants to be. She admits that she was never 100 percent into the idea of being on American Gladiators. “I’m not interested in reality television,” she admits. “I don’t think I ever was.

“I wasn’t whole-heartedly into it. It happened upon me. They were calling me and I was like ‘I got to.’ You can’t not do that, but in terms of entertainment, I think that I would [rather] pursue this degree.”

She isn’t “Blast,” the street personality from the East Coast with teased up hair, pink highlights and a bright silver spandex bikini. She’s Jenny Barry, the 32-year-old personal trainer with calm, brunette locks who grew up in Somerville and Brockton and fumbled around in her early 20s until she found her true calling: Helping other people with what she struggled with as a younger woman: getting into shape.

After earning a degree in Marketing from Northeastern University in Boston, Jenny wanted to further her education with an Exercise Science degree and UMass Boston seemed like a good fit for her. It’s always funny the way things work out for the best, like Hulk Hogan said, because Jenny, along with Health & Fitness Program Manager Hasan Bailey, breathed new life into the group exercise program at the university by the Harbor.

For the two years that Jenny taught group exercise at UMass Boston, the program experienced tremendous growth, and Hasan explains that Barry introduced kick-boxing, total-body conditioning and free-weight group exercise classes. “She [brought in] a bunch of new styles of classes that we didn’t offer in the past,” Bailey says. “It’s kept up with the trend. Just like us purchasing new equipment, we have to keep up with classes that are gonna be in demand, so it’s helped us maintain our exercise program.”

Jenny did a lot to market the group exercise programs at UMass Boston and as the classes became more popular, Jenny realized what she wanted to do with her life. “I wanted to create awareness,” the South Boston resident said. Since she had the marketing and fitness experience, Jenny decided that she would open her own business. “Having that foundation and actually working for Hassan really brought fitness into a bigger light for me.

“I think that’s really [when I] said, ‘Jen, you can really do this with the rest of your life.’ And then I opened my own business.”

After a few years of successful personal training and running what she calls “boot camps” for women in South Boston, Barry knew she had to finally finish her degree at UMass Boston. But she also realized what she wanted to ultimately do: brand Jenny Barry. No characters. No “Blast.” Just Jenny Barry.

“I think after the Gladiator experience, it kind of came to [my] head to say ‘what can you do with this?’ And my whole thing is that I want to brand Jen Barry. I want to be able to get my message out there into the world about what kind of changes you will experience and can experience by having this type of component added into your lifestyle, whether it be on a very high caliber or a very low caliber,” she says. “And I can only do that by being myself, and not a character.”

Jenny knows that getting exposure on American Gladiators only helped her cause. “My exposure will help me to get my message across, and that message is to help other people and show other people how to do small changes in their lives that will make large changes for the rest of their life,” she explains. “I can’t do that by being a personal trainer for myself in the Boston area on a very low caliber. It has to grow, but it can only grow by continuing to try and push forward in getting myself exposed. That’s the only way I’m gonna get my message out there.”

“Blast” just wasn’t getting the job done.