Reality TV of a different kind premieres this week, without the usual singing, dancing, cute celebrity banter or dramatic bickering.
Instead, these two series just may move and inspire you.
On one, you’ll meet a heroic San Antonio military veteran who not only has endured the kind of hardships and injuries that most of us can’t even imagine but has triumphed over them.
On another, charismatic movie and TV personalities who are passionate about the environment — including David Letterman, in his first television project since retiring from CBS’ “Late Show” — travel the globe on a mission to bring attention to one of this planet’s most argued-about issues: climate change.
A powerful story
It hasn’t been easy, but retired Army Sgt. Michael Gallardo has worked hard to persevere, even after losing part of his leg as a result of a devastating truck explosion in Iraq.
Since that day in 2007, Gallardo has trained diligently in his beloved home of San Antonio to become a first-class athlete. His stamina, determination and physical strength not only will be honored but also tested on national TV.
Viewers can watch him, and nine other wounded warriors, compete during a three-hour miniseries called the 2016 Power Triumph Games.
Staged at the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., the games bow at 8 p.m. Monday and continue on subsequent Mondays through Nov. 14 on CBS Sports Network (check your carrier for the channel). The action culminates in a special at 1 p.m. Nov. 19 on CBS.
At the end of eight grueling challenges — some over rough terrain, others under water — that involve running, climbing, swimming, memory skills and more, the winner gets a $50,000 prize.
As I discovered in a phone chat with Gallardo, the 31-year-old father of two already should consider himself a victor. His against-all-odds story is a compelling one that starts with a rough childhood.
“My mom died of cancer when I was 10,” Gallardo began, adding that he was fortunate to have a caring older brother who, once he turned 18, adopted him and his younger sibling.
Still, life was tough for the brothers because the Los Angeles neighborhood they lived in was rife with gang violence and drugs. “Bullets would fly into the house. When we heard gunshots, we’d fall to the floor and stay there,” he said.
“You have a couple of options when you’re raised in that environment,” he added, “either join in and probably end up in jail, or find some way to overcome it.”
Gallardo’s way out was to serve his country.
When the 9/11 attacks happened, he saw it as a sign, explaining he was born on Sept. 11. So, eight months out of high school, he joined the Army.
He was deployed to Iraq and served as a reconnaissance scout. In early 2007, he was in a truck scouring for IEDs when he and his truck commander realized a foot patrol was heading directly toward a device. Hoping to save them from the explosion, and believing the truck would absorb most of it, they decided to run over it. The blast was much bigger than expected.
“My truck commander was knocked out; everyone thought he was dead (in actuality, he lost both legs above the knee). I tried opening the door but couldn’t. So I put my foot against it to try and pry it open. But it was melted shut, still hot. When the door opened, it ripped off my Achilles tendon.”
“They flew me to Germany; then to Brooke Army Medical Center - which is now SAMMC (San Antonio Military Medical Center).”
Over the next year, Gallardo had multiple surgeries to try to piece his foot together.
“None really worked, and the pain was awful, so I decided on amputation,” he said.
He lost his leg from the calf down.
It helped that prosthetics kept getting better. In fact, one reason he decided to settle in San Antonio is “it’s military frinedly and a good place to be for people who need prosthetics.”
He also got heavy into fitness — running, swimming and CrossFit. He said it was the perfect antidote for his PTSD.
“Working out helped me with stress and the short term memory loss we all suffer from because of the concussions,” he said.
That discipline and training came in handy during the Triumph Games.
Gallardo’s biggest challenge, though, was “to make sure I didn’t beat myself up if I didn’t place that high,” he said, “and to make sure everyone else did well and had fun.”