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Face of Defense: Former Reserve Captain Competes on ‘American Tarzan’

By Army Staff Sgt. Andrea Merritt Army Reserve Medical Command

FORT SHERIDAN, Ill., Aug. 4, 2016 — If one was asked to imagine the average 40-year-old American woman, would the image of such a woman include racing through the jungles of a remote island, jumping off cliffs and swinging through trees?

If the answer is no, then meeting a woman like Kim Liszka, a 42-year-old emergency room nurse from Macungie, Pennsylvania, would prove to be anything but average.

Liszka was one of seven challengers to brave the inhospitable terrain and grueling obstacles on the Caribbean island of Dominica in the new survival competition television series “American Tarzan,” which premiered July 6 on the Discovery Channel.

Opportunity for Adventure

“I heard about the show by looking online for adventure races, and this show happened to catch my eye because it said it was primitive and adventurous,” Liszka said.

Liszka excelled as an athlete and even earned the title of “Second-Fittest Female in the Nation.” In high school, she won numerous track and field meets, and as an adult, she continued to race and became the first of only two athletes to finish the Skulls Challenge -- a 26-mile run with more than 70 obstacles, a half-mile swim and a 5,600-foot elevation gain.

While in college, she challenged herself further by joining the Army Reserve, serving as a combat medic and a flight nurse during her 14-year military career.

During her service, others took notice of her astounding athletic abilities. A general officer once selected her for the U.S. armed forces pentathlon team, but she declined the opportunity. As a single mother at the time, she wanted to focus on raising her son, Jace.

Dedicated Single Mother

“We loved her story, because not only is she tough, but she’s a single mother who devoted her life to raising her son,” said Matt Sharp, executive producer for Sharp Entertainment. “Once he was grown up and out of the house, Kim had a great desire to reboot her life around the passion for extreme adventure, and ‘American Tarzan’ was the ultimate challenge.”

Since the show aired, millions of viewers have witnessed Liszka’s competitive drive and indomitable spirit in action on the unforgiving island.

In the first episode, the former Army Reserve captain impressively finished the first leg of the race, even after getting stung by a swarm of bees.

“I really didn't feel any of the effects until later, because I was still in a fight-or-flight mode and the adrenaline was pumping through my body,” Liszka explained. “Once I made it to survival camp, the symptoms set in. I was tired. My body was burning. I was nauseous and had diarrhea. It was not a good night.”

The island tested her resolve, but despite the obstacles, she refused to quit.

In addition to the bee stings, Liszka faced the threat of hypothermia while on the show, and furthermore she pushed herself to complete a climbing obstacle shortly after ripping the skin from her fingertips on a 7-foot vine jump.

‘Digging Deep’

“What kept me going was just digging deep -- thinking about my son -- thinking about him overcoming his own obstacles -- and I didn’t want him to see me fail,” Liszka said.

Along with her never-quit attitude, Liszka credits her military training for getting her through many of the challenges she faced on the show such as rappelling, climbing and swimming.

“The military helped me so much during this challenge,” Liszka said. “Obviously in the survival aspect with building shelter and fire, but more so in the athletic aspect, because I really needed to do strategic planning in order to maneuver across the terrain and successfully complete obstacles.”

While the competition was ongoing, Liszka acknowledged how tough it would be to earn the title.

“It would mean the world to me if I was named American Tarzan,” she said. “I have never experienced anything that has mentally and physically fatigued me like this competition. … To be named the first American Tarzan would be amazing, especially against these world-class athletes and survivalists.”

Though winning the American Tarzan title wasn’t in the cards for Liszka, she expressed her thanks to everyone who supported her and congratulated her follow competitors in a post on her Facebook page after the season finale aired July 27.

“It was by far the most insanely incredible [and] beautifully exhausting challenge I have ever done!!!” she wrote.
Distribution channels: Military