The Wizard Talks to Cheryl

Big Head Oz

"If you want to know something, just ask me."

It isn't often that even the Wizard of Oz gets to sit down and interview Cheryl Ann Silich.

First of all, just getting her in one spot for that long is difficult. Then, there's so much to cover.
American Gladiators. A veritable shrine to "all things Oz". Plus business acumen to boot.

So it was with great anticipation that I sat down to talk to this "different kind of Dorothy."


The Wizard: Do you lift weights?

Cheryl: Hard to believe, but I get this question all of the time. Of course the answer is (jokingly), "no." I was born this way.


The Wizard: How did you get on American Gladiators?

Cheryl: By freezing my gluteus maximus off! I stood in line for hours in Chicago on a brutally cold December day. National try outs were also held in Los Angeles and St. Louis. A friend of mine from the gym where I lifted tried out with me. The wind was so piercing that we took turns saving our spots in line, with one standing outside The Boys & Girls Club of Chicago while the other huddled up in the car. It was that cold! Once inside the building, we worked our way up several flights of stairs. All and all, it took about six hours before we reached the gymnasium to begin tryouts.

The first thing the men had to do was 25 pull-ups in 30 seconds—nearly humanly impossible. From what I witnessed, only the guys who did "mini" pull-ups without any range of motion could do enough, fast enough, to pass on to the second test. This basically meant you had to cheat on your form in order to pass the test—and then hope you didn't get disqualified for cheating. The pull-up contest eliminated 90 percent of the men in the field right from the start, sending most people packing with only bragging rights that they had "tried out" for the Gladiators. Unfortunately, my friend fell into this category. It would be hours before we found each other again. By the way, the ladies only had to do 7 pull-ups in 30-seconds. I did 15 and stopped, with time left on the clock. This was no time to show off. Who knew what might be coming next?

Emily "Mom" Silich

Emily "Mom" Silich gets a behind-the-scene, Gladiator-style hug from co-host and pro football star, Todd Christensen!

The pool of contestants who survived the brutal pull-up drill were put through several additional feats of strength and agility: push-ups the guys had to do them on fingertips, a shuttle run, a mock game of Powerball, etc., further paring down the field. By the end of the day, about 100 people got sent into a room full of tables to fill out applications and provide background information. Then we stood in one final line for an on-camera interview. I wagged a finger at the camera and said, "Hey, Zap! Are you ready to get Z-A-P-P-E-D?"

A few weeks later I got the call from Hollywood. I made the cut. I was one of 20 selected out of the 30,000 people who had tried out. In January, I would be hading to Hollywood, all expenses paid for two. I took my #1 fan—my mom.

That weekend, I actually watched American Gladiators on television for the "first" time. It was scary, sitting alone on my couch, watching people getting the crud beaten out of them, and wondering what the heck I had gotten myself into!


The Wizard: Were the Gladiators staged?

Cheryl: No, but it wasn't "fair" competition, either. In the Olympics, if you break the rules, you get disqualified. On the set of Gladiators, it was hard to know what the rules really were. They changed all the time, seemingly about every commercial break usually right after an opponent got seriously injured, which the viewers at home rarely saw. I'll never forget the game of Assault, but you'll have to hire me as a speaker to hear the real behind-the-scenes story on that one! Suffice it


The Wizard I've seen the original Gladiators airing on ESPN Classics recently. How does it feel to be a "classic?"

Cheryl: Well, you can call me a "classic" if you want to, but I should probably warn you: I might still be able to kick your gluteus maximus! Seriously though...I recently did a radio interview to talk about the new Gladiators. The interview was a lot of fun. At least I didn't have to put on any spandex! Yes, I like the new show. No, I don't like Hulk Hogan—too WWE for me. Sure, the water elements are cool, and they make it a lot safer. I saw injuries literally every day on the set. Getting back to being called a "classic," well, the way I look at it, at least I'll always be in great shape on TV!


The Wizard: Just before you got on the Gladiators, you started hosting your own educational fitness television show, The Body Perfect by Cheryl. Tell us about those years in your life.

Cheryl: I was the creator, executive producer and host of The Body Perfect for ten years, from 1990 to 2000. It was a national Telly Award-winning, regionally syndicated, educational fitness TV show that targeted adults ages 18-45. In the early years, I admit that I had a predominantly male following. Each week, I invited a special guest—usually a professional athlete—to work out with me on the set. The alternative talk show format allowed us to discuss their sports and their lives, while we demonstrated sport-specific training techniques. Eventually, I added an injury prevention tip, a cooking segment and a community spotlight segment. The pizzazz of the celebrities enabled me to help teach everyday athletes how to exercise more safely and effectively. I got to meet a lot of great people, I had a lot of exciting experiences, and some silly ones, too, like emceeing a sumo wrestling contest. I injoyed a vital role in the community as a fitness expert and media personality.

From a business perspective, show business was a self-actualizing, uphill learning process that involved broadcast and syndication negotiations, sponsorship procurement, commercial spot development, research, script writing, staging, wardrobe, booking celebrity guests, budgeting, pre- and post-production, advertising, marketing, public relations, product endorsements, promotions, personal appearances—you name it, I did it! Oh yes, and I also hosted the show. I didn't learn any of this stuff in college, so it took me a season or two to catch on. But once I embraced my fear—and made the camera my friend—I loved it! The Body Perfect years were wonderful years in my life.


The Wizard: So what is the "perfect body?"

Cheryl: That's simple. The "perfect body" is what's perfect for you, not what someone else thinks is perfect. To me, "perfection" stresses health and how you feel every day of your life, not how you look.


The Wizard: According to the Indianapolis Monthly magazine, you’ve been considered one of the top trainers in the city for many years. Do you still do personal training?

Cheryl:Yes, I do. My clients don’t need to be serious athletes, but they do need to be serious about their commitment to their health, and to maintaining their workouts as a priority in their schedule. From rehabbing after surgery, to becoming an Indianapolis Colts cheerleader, to simply looking and feeling great at any age, no one can afford to waste time, especially in the gym. To reach a goal, your routine needs to be safe, effective and efficient. My part is to make it fun!

Give me a call so we can talk about your specific goals. But before you do, here’s some free advice. I’ve built an entire career on these four words: “Eat Less. Move More.” Give that a serious try before you hire me to come up with 17,346 different ways to say those four words—and at least a million ways to torture you in the process. Happy lifting!


The Wizard: Cheryl, you still have some pretty good-sized guns. Wanna arm wrestle?

Cheryl: No thanks! (Jokingly) My mom made me promise to stop humiliating men a long time ago.


The Wizard: Okay, okay, I get your point. Can I at least ask how much you bench press?

Cheryl: Sure, how much do you weigh? I could probably bench press you! My actual lifetime personal best on bench press is 250 pounds for one repetition. (And yes, of course, that's with free weights...and no bounce!)


The Wizard: That's pretty incredible for a lady. Have you ever done steroids?

Cheryl: No. Never have. Never will. Fortunately, I've never even considered using steroids. I was blessed with great genetics, I had good coaching as a kid, and I grew up in a family with a real "can do" spirit. All that, combined with my intense discipline, means that I've worked very hard to become, and remain, fit.


The Wizard: What about supplements?

Cheryl: I eat lots of lean protein and a scoop of protein powder once or twice a day. My favorite product is ProComplex, but I only like the chocolate flavor, can't stand Rocky Road. Frankly, I think everyone on the planet would benefit from drinking a highly engineered protein powder once a day as a catch-all to the gaps in their diet, especially given all the fat and empty calories in today's food choices. Protein drinks are packed with all the amino acids your body needs, and they're fast and convenient. Protein bars are even faster and more convenient. You'll always find a Balance Bar in my purse, glove box, carry-on, desk drawer...


The Wizard: I heard bodybuilders can eat 10,000+ calories a day—or more. Do you eat that much?

Cheryl: No, but my husband may have a different opinion on that! I do eat quite a bit, especially after a workout. I'll eat just about anything that's in front of me. My husband knows that halfway through my meal, I'm already eyeing his plate for more food. He's 6'6" and 225 pounds, but I often eat as much as he does.

My husband loves telling about the time we stayed the night at the Ritz Carlton in Naples, Florida. When we walked into the room, I immediately scarfed down the purple and white flower left on the pillow for us by the turn-down staff. Then I walked over to the other side of the bed and offered him his flower. He looked at me like I was crazy and refused to eat it. So I popped it into my mouth—stem and all—while he quickly searched the drawers of the nightstand. Looking at his watch, he shoved the room service menu into my hands and said, "Here, order now, before you eat the phone book!"

To this day, my husband thinks that only cows and goats should eat flowers (laughing). The fact of the matter is that I like edible flowers like that little pansy on my pillow, called a Johnny-Jump-Up. At least when I do jump up in the morning, it doesn't show up on my thighs. Of course, I'd never admit this to my husband, but it did kind of taste like grass-only sweeter!


The Wizard: Speaking of eating, can you cook?

Cheryl: No, not well. Well...not really at all, unless I can zap it or unwrap it. In fact, before we got married, my husband told my father that for our honeymoon he was going to take me somewhere I'd never been before: the kitchen. Now that we are married, he explains that, "the only reason we have a kitchen is because it came with the house." It's pretty simple: the entrepreneur in me would rather cook up "deals" than cook up "meals." But with the help of a fancy microwave and a few pots and pans (some still from college), there's always hope for me. Right?


The Wizard: Is your husband a bodybuilder, too?

Cheryl: No, but he thinks he is, so don't tell him! (Laughs.) Actually, we did meet working out, though. He enjoys lifting weights, but he does it mainly for general health reasons. He figured out a long time ago that it's difficult to develop your body and your bank account at the same time. But don't get me wrong; he still does the heavy lifting around here, if you know what I mean!


The Wizard: Fair enough. Why do you think so many adults today are at the gym battling their weight?

Cheryl: I think it all started with the invention of plastic. I grew up playing kick-the can. Today, I imagine it's not much fun kicking around a plastic bottle. As a kid, I got up from the floor to change the channels on the TV. Now we reach for a plastic remote. Plastic computers. Plastic cars. Plastic surgery. Chewing gum. Cell phones. iPods... Plastic. Plastic. Plastic.


The Wizard: Things certainly have changed. A lot. When I grew up, hardly anyone was obese, especially kids. Now our country is in the middle of an adolescent obesity epidemic. Is that why you created your children's fitness DVD program, Adventures in Oz with Cheryl™?

Cheryl: I created it because I love kids. Today's kids aren't active enough and they don't eat healthy foods. Nearly one-third of children and teens in the U.S.—about 25 million children—are already overweight or on the verge of it. Adolescent obesity creates serious health concerns with potentially lifelong consequences. That's why I combined my love for fitness, a gift from my Dad, with my love for the Wizard of Oz, a gift from my Mom, to create Adventures in Oz™. I want to turn concerns into hope.

Ask any adult and they'll agree that it's ten times harder to break an old habit, especially as an adult than it is to create a new one. Kids learn habits from the people around them; oftentimes, this means their parents or other adults. We know that habits are easy to learn when we are young. I want to make them even easier to learn by making them fun! That's why we gathered so many creative people and spent so much money on this project. The feature-film-quality production features seventeen original sing-a-long songs, eye-popping sets, and two new animatronic characters: The Lizard of Oz and the talking exercise shoes, Archie and Lefty. Kids love doing the exercises; they love singing the songs. We sprinkle in the exercise and the nutrition, and kids don't even know that it's good for them. They just want to watch it over and over and over again because it's FUN! And that's how good habits are formed.

Moms and dads can feel good, too, knowing that our product is full of positive messages and values. We're proud of our "5-Star Rating" from the Dove Foundation, the Hollywood Film Advisory Board's "Award of Excellence," and a plethora of other national awards and endorsements. Our friends from Oz teach your kids to use their brains, heart and courage. The Key to Fitness invites kids to OZercise™—to get up and play along, while they learn about friendship, teamwork, the importance of reading, following your dreams and never giving up. All that adds up to give you a happy and healthy kid, and that's all any parent really wants.

I believe in your kids. I want them to be fit so they can reach their dreams...just like me. For me, Adventures in Oz is a dream come true. For parents, it's guilt-free TV. For kids, it's just plain old fun!


The Wizard: So, your father got you started in fitness. Was becoming a fitness expert your childhood dream?

Cheryl: Yes, my Dad got me started in fitness the day he stood on his head in our living room. I thought it looked really funny—and I thought it looked really fun—so I practiced and I practiced until I could stand on my head, just like Dad. That's how my childhood dream was born. I wanted to become an Olympic gymnast. I even bought my own balance beam with my paper route money. (Although the birds in the neighborhood balanced on it better than I ever did, requiring my daily workouts to begin with a paint scraper in my hand). The balance beam was going to be my one-way ticket to Russia to train with Olga Korbut (and trust me, my three brothers were ready to help pack my bags!)

Many years later, I met Olga Korbut, my childhood role model.

I wrote Olga after I met her at breakfast one morning. She sat across the table from me, on the cover of my Wheaties box. She never wrote back. My Olympic gymnastics dream faded with every approaching birthday—and with every blue ribbon I started accumulating in swimming, a sport that didn't require any fancy equipment or expensive private coaching. As a kid, I also managed to make straight A's pretty consistently, so I promised my mom that one day I would become a doctor or a teacher. I also had my own secret fall back plan—to run away and join the circus as a star of the flying trapeze. So, I bought a unicycle with my paper route money, too!

I actually didn't start lifting weights seriously until I was fifteen, the summer after I completed my freshman year at Hobart Senior High School. I had competed in three sports that year—gymnastics, track and field, and swimming. I was already the fastest breaststroker on the varsity team. Instead of goofing off with friends all summer, I decided to spend my vacation cross-training in the gym. I started lifting weights at the YMCA back when there weren't any girls in the weight room. My goal was to get stronger to gain an edge on next year's competition. By college, lifting became my favorite form of exercise...and it still is today.


The Wizard: But what about your dream? Did you ever make it to the Olympics?

Cheryl and a student battle it out gladiator-style at the University of Indianapolis.

Cheryl: No. I never made it to the Olympics, but I got close—I went all the way to Hollywood and became a Champion on American Gladiators which was an awful lot like being in the circus! Winning thirteen national awards on the Adventures in Oz DVD program for kids has made me feel like a "champion" in the fight against adolescent obesity, It's not an Olympic medal, but I guess the moral of the story is this: when we dream big—really big—we don't always get our dreams. But I believe that if we try hard enough, and we never give up, we do gain something meaningful in the process.

By the way, my mom would be proud to know that I did actually become a teacher. Television is a powerful classroom, and I taught for 20 years as a personal trainer. I even completed a one-year assignment as an Assistant Professor of sports marketing, sales and marketing at the University of Indianapolis School of Business. I had a blast with my students in the classroom!


The Wizard: I'll bet the college kids had fun with you, too, a professor with brains and brawn. Most people take one look at you and can tell that you are an athlete, a serious athlete. But those who know you best, like your colleagues or clients, for example, know you as an entrepreneur. What kinds of businesses have you owned?

Cheryl: Well, my first real business as a kid was a paper route which had been in the Silich family for many years. Delivering the Gary Post-Tribune to 88 customers was my introduction to the world of customer service. By college, I owned my own gymnastics and tap dancing studio, a business given to me by my first-ever gymnastics teacher, Mrs. Ruth Cooper, of Hobart, Indiana. Since college, I've owned a personal training studio, an educational fitness TV show, and an independent children's film company. That about covers it unless you want to include giving all three of my brothers a back rub as a kid—at the bargain rate of 25-cents per hour!


The Wizard: So, what is the next dream on Cheryl Ann Silich's desk?

Oz Books

Cheryl: One of my next dreams is to get published as a children's book author. At this point in my life, I realize that there are more messages in me besides "Eat Less. Move More."



The Wizard: Really? I didn't know you had any children.

Cheryl: I don't. But I'm a very proud aunt and I have a whole lot of kids in my extended family. I've met and worked with so many wonderful kids, while visiting schools and daycare centers across the country with the Adventures in Oz™ project. I love receiving their letters, the pictures they draw, and the photos their parents send of their children Ozercising™. I cherish them all. It warms my heart.


The Wizard: Okay, but if you don't have kids, how can you write children's books?

Cheryl: I simply write to the little girl inside of me!


The Wizard: Sounds like you are transitioning into writing.

Cheryl: Yes, I've been writing ever since I've had my television show, but now (along with my speaking), it is a main focus. After spending the majority of my career teaching, both through television and one-on-one in my personal training studio, I've developed a great appreciation for these two venues. Television, while it reaches the masses and seems unlimited, I find it to be very impersonal. It's almost too big and that makes it hard to gauge what kind of impact you are making on any one viewer. One-on-one coaching, on the other hand, is so personal, it's actually limiting. There are only so many hours in a day.

Teaching for a year in the School of Business at the University of Indianapolis really helped me bridge this gap. As a teacher, and now a speaker, I realize that I can work with a live audience, which, is very personal, and I can make an immediate impact on a sizeable number of people, all at the same time. That's what I want to do at this point in my life.


The Wizard: Seems to me like your dreams have grown up a bit. Is Cheryl Ann Silich getting older?

Cheryl: Yup! It happens to the best of us. If we're one of the lucky ones, that is....


The Wizard: What is the scariest thing to you about aging?

Cheryl: You mean besides the poor eyesight, the wrinkles and the sagging gluteus maximus?, I'd have to say, embracing your wisdom. There comes a time in your life when you begin to understand that "awareness breeds responsibility", and as a leader, you must gather your wisdom—and your courage—to address the needs of this world in a measureable way.


The Wizard: You make everything look—-and sound—-so easy. What are some of the hardest things you've ever done in your life, besides winning a championship on American Gladiators?

Cheryl: As a young kid, I had such a severe speech impediment that I couldn't even say my name. The Catholic grade school teachers from our small town of Hobart, Indiana, would never have said, "Now, there's a girl who will go on to Hollywood some day, host her own educational fitness TV show, and do public speaking for a living." My problem went unresolved until my first week in college at Valparaiso University. After a co-ed referred to me as "the girl with the lisp," I froze. I panicked. I cried. Then I took action. I asked for help and, over time, I learned how to speak clearly. I didn't realize it at the time, but that co-ed gave me a gift—the gift of motivation. I knew that I wanted to be known for a lot of things in my lifetime, but one of them was not "the girl with the lisp." So I made a choice—the choice to change. My lesson that day was more important than my college degree.

As an adult, the hardest thing I ever did was help my big sister, Diane, die of ovarian cancer. She died a few days shy of her 40th birthday. Diane's death was a harrowing example of how "awareness breeds responsibility" in my life. Understanding the symptoms, risk factors and tests for ovarian cancer could have helped save my sister's life. That's why I'm so passionate about honoring her courageous fight through grassroots educational efforts as a Board Member and Chairman of the Speaker's Bureau for Ovar'coming Together. I really miss her.


The Wizard: You seem to celebrate "all things Oz". Dreams. Ambition. Heart. What first led you down the Yellow Brick Road?

Cheryl: My mom loved The Wizard of Oz. She was an orphan, like Dorothy, and when my mom was adopted as an only child, she spent a lot of time alone, reading the many books about Oz. The Land of Oz gave my mother another place to live in. And because I really loved my mom, I wanted to share that world with her. Oz became a special place for both of us. As a middle child with five siblings, it was hard to stand out in a crowded family, but our tie to the movie created a special bond between Mom and me. We started a tradition. Back then, the movie aired only once a year, and when it did, I got to rub mom's feet throughout the entire movie. And I thought it was the best day of my life!


The Wizard: Do you have a favorite character?

Cheryl: Definitely, Dorothy. Dorothy needed magic. I respect her for that. Plus, she's such a great role model. Here's a girl from a small town who never gives up on her dream, who makes friends easily, who doesn't step on the little people to get where she's going, who always looks for the best in others, and who believes in others even when they don't believe in themselves. She's positive; she's adventurous; she sets goals. I want to inspire others, too, believe that the dreams that they dare to dream really can come true.


The Wizard: Have you heard about the Pink Floyd connection to The Wizard of Oz movie?

Cheryl: Apparently, several years ago someone noticed that if you start the 1939 movie, The Wizard of Oz, then cue up the 1973 album of Dark Side of the Moon right as the MGM lion roars the third time, many coincidences will occur. Alan Parsons, producer of Dark Side, denies any connection between the two, but some fans of Oz and Pink Floyd feel differently. I've never tried it, but if you want to see the complete list of suggested synchronicities, go to Dark Side of the Rainbow at Remember to turn off the sound on the movie.



The Wizard: You have an amazing collection of Wizard of Oz memorabilia. Do you have a favorite piece?

Cheryl: Yes, but with more than 3,000 items, I have many, many favorites: a handcrafted marionette puppet of the Scarecrow commissioned for me from a craftsman in Germany by my college roommate, Rika; a handcrafted Story Gourd from the artist's colony in Metamora, Indiana; a handmade wooden jewelry box for my 30th birthday from my big sister, Diane; several of the original hard bound Oz story books by L. Frank Baum from my 87-year old gymnastics teacher, Mrs. Cooper. Too many to mention! But the best part of the collection is "the story" behind how all the pieces come into my life. I have so many friends. I am so blessed. I've lived a very charmed and magical life.


The Wizard: Wow! Three thousand items? You're obviously hooked on Oz! But you're passionate about kids, fitness and business, too. Do you have any advice you'd like to offer?

Cheryl: Sure. My advice to kids is to learn how to work; my advice to athletes is to learn how to work hard; my advice to entrepreneurs is to learn how to work harder than everyone else. And to my fellow Oz collectors (or to any collector for that matter), I'd say, "be careful how you pick your passions!"


The Wizard: All this talk about work and working. What do you do for fun?

Cheryl: I hunt for Oz trinkets (especially old toys), I read children's books, I chase my dreams and I ride my unicycle (that always makes people laugh, me included).


The Wizard: can actually ride a unicycle?

Cheryl: Of course I can. I keep the skill dusted off, in case one day I wake up and still want to run away and join the circus!