Carli’s Next Challenge
By Kate Morgan

Photos: Pete Dadds/FOX

Soccer legend Carli Lloyd spent close to 2 decades at the very top of the game. Known for her nonstop mental toughness, Lloyd figured she was up for any task she would face as a contestant on Fox’s new reality TV series “Special Forces: World’s Toughest Test.” But in the end, she says, nothing could have prepared her for the 10 days of incredibly grueling training she endured along with 15 celebrity contestants.

For 17 years, Carli Lloyd pushed her body to the very limits of athleticism. The Delran native helped lead the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team to 2 World Cup championships and 3 Olympic medals – 2 of them gold. She also won dozens of individual awards before announcing her retirement after the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo.

Since her final game in November of 2021, Lloyd has continued looking for ways to push herself. “I’m a go-getter. I’m someone who wants to constantly find ways to make myself better,” she says. “To do that, I have to get out of my comfort zone.”

And she did, in a big way, for her next major undertaking – one that pushed her further than her sport ever did and forced her to work harder than ever before. This month, she’ll appear alongside 15 other celebrities in a new Fox reality show where she and her competitors – a mix of actors, singers, athletes, politicos and reality stars – are dropped in the Jordanian desert to train with a team of Special Forces veterans known as the Director Staff or “DS.”

“This was the hardest thing I’ve ever done mentally, physically and emotionally. I mean, hands down, it put every ounce of training that I’ve done to shame. Every tough, challenging situation, every tough championship, anything that I’ve ever done, literally to shame.”

Everything you see on the show and then some, Lloyd says, is entirely real. She was in the Jordanian desert with no way to communicate with the outside world. She could only speak to the DS and her fellow celebrity recruits.

“We’re only referred to as our numbers – recruit 8, recruit 9,” she says. “We don’t speak to production staff, there’s no craft services, there’s no hair and makeup. There’s one shower, and there are 4 non-flushing toilets. You are given whatever they provide for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you’re lucky enough, you get some snacks. Three pairs of underwear. That’s literally all you have.”

For 10 straight days, Lloyd and the other celebrities took on challenges designed to test their ability to endure. “We were rappelling out of towers, diving out of a helicopter into water, it was pretty insane,” she says. No one’s voted off and there are no eliminations. “You just try not to quit or get injured, and see how far you can go.”

“This was the hardest thing I’ve ever done mentally, physically and emotionally,” she says. “I mean, hands down, it put every ounce of training that I’ve done to shame. Every tough, challenging situation, every tough championship, anything I’ve ever done, literally to shame.”

But Lloyd thrives on a challenge – it’s what made her the athlete she is – so she embraced the experience and trusted her own ability. That’s something she’s done before. In 2020, she cut ties with her longtime trainer. It was a shocking move, but one that allowed her to stand on her own 2 feet. Her experience on “Special Forces: The Ultimate Test,” she says, was the same feeling, just multiplied.

“Having my personal coach with me for 17 years,” she says, “there was this dependence that developed, and I internalized the idea that I couldn’t do anything without him. When I did the show, it opened my eyes to show me I can do anything I want, and to believe in myself, because there was no one there to help. There was no one there to call.”

It was a truly transformative experience, she says, that left her with life lessons and valuable insight into her own psyche.

“I left there maybe not fully realizing what I got out of it. But over time, it started to make more sense,” she says. “You never knew what was coming, and they did that on purpose because you have to surrender your control. You literally have to live minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. You have to just let it go. And that’s a really hard thing for me, because I am all about my routine. But life doesn’t work like that.”

Lloyd says the brutal experience in the desert has made her mentally tougher than she was before – if that’s even possible.

“I think there’s always these self-doubts that we have internally,” she says. “But if there’s something I truly want to do in life, I know I can do it. And I don’t need to fear that I can’t.”

It’s a lesson that couldn’t have come at a better time. After so many years as a professional athlete, life after soccer, Lloyd says, has taken some figuring out.

“When you’re finished playing the sport that you played for 34 years, 17 ears professionally, you have no idea what the future is going to hold,” says Lloyd, 40. “When I announced my retirement shortly after I got back from the Tokyo Olympics, I knew I wanted to be done. I gave it everything I had for 17 years, literally to the extreme. Every single aspect of my life revolved around soccer.”

But Lloyd timed her departure just right. Her final season with U.S. Soccer and Gotham FC was “like a farewell tour,” she says. “I was grateful for the opportunity to take those last couple of months and just soak up every aspect of it. I wrapped up my career being more in the moment, and almost kind of surrendered myself to a mindset of “‘whatever happens, happens’ in the future, and not trying to have everything ironed out.”

In the last few years, she’s reconnected with family she was estranged from for most of her career. “I was ready to put my husband first,” she says. “We’ve been together for 22 years, and this is the closest we’ve felt. He’s got all of me now, and before, it was a sacrifice. I was ready to spend more time with my family, friends and really just actually live life – go out, have some cocktails, have a dinner that maybe isn’t the healthiest dinner, just literally have fun.”

And while she was looking forward to retirement, the change was daunting, too. It meant figuring out who she is without soccer.

“When athletes transition out of doing something on the big stage, and you have fans that love you, and you have the media talking about you, whether negative or positive, and you have the championships won and all of these things happening in the spotlight, I think you can get lost when that goes away,” she says.

But celebrity was never what drove Lloyd. “I hated being in the spotlight. I didn’t crave the attention or the money, the glitz and glamour that comes with winning and being successful,” she says. “My drive and my motivation came purely because I just love playing soccer.”

That love of the game, of course, was just the start. A career like Lloyd’s required an incred-ible amount of dedication and hard work.

“People think, ‘Oh, it’s so fun.’ It’s like, no, it was fun when I was 5 years old,” she says. “Although I love the pressure, it’s very hard to constantly have to prove yourself, to constantly have to evolve. Not having to be at my peak performance every single day is very nice.”

The lessening pressure, she says, has let her soften a bit and allow people to see a different side of the athlete.

“I’ve been Carli Lloyd, the soccer player, but that’s not who I want to be when I’m away from the soccer field. I’m just Carli. I’m someone who grew up in Delran and worked really hard at her craft.”

SPECIAL FORCES: World’s Toughest Test

The premise: 16 celebrities spend 10 days intensely training with a team of former U.S. military special forces for a new Fox reality-tv series that airs this month.

The contestants: Besides Carli Lloyd, they include Kate Gosselin from the reality series “John & Kate, plus 8;” Anthony Scaramucci, very briefly the White House Communications Director; Jamie Lynn Spears, actress, singer and sister of Britney; Mel B, aka Scary Spice from the Spice Girls; Tyler Florence, Food Network host and chef; Gus Kenworthy, an Olympic skier; Montell Jordan, famous for his hit “This Is How We Do It; ” actress Beverley Mitchell from “7th Heaven; ” Danny Amendola, a former NFL player; Hannah Brown, a former Bachelorette; Dwight Howard, former NBA player; Olympic gymnast Nastia Liukin; Kenya Moore of “Real Housewives of Atlanta;” Mike Piazza, former MLB baseball player; and Dr. Drew, a daytime talk show host.

The goal: To make it through all 10 days without quitting. There are no votes and no eliminations – just survival.

To watch: The series starts Jan. 4 at 8 pm.

January 2023
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