Lawrence math teacher to appear on new reality competition show ‘Strong’

Liberty Memorial Central Middle School math teacher Brittany Harrell-Miller talks with her class on Friday, April 8, 2016. Harrell-Miller recently competed on the NBC show Strong.

After school at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School, algebra teacher Brittany Harrell-Miller explains a problem to a student, papers spread across the desk between them. In addition to math, Harrell-Miller also coaches the school’s cheerleading team, and this week she may become known for something else.

Harrell-Miller recently took part in a reality show, “Strong,” which premieres this week on NBC. As part of the show, Harrell-Miller competed against nine other women in strength and conditioning challenges. Each woman is paired with a professional trainer, and at the end of each week one team is eliminated. The winning team is awarded $500,000.

“I’m here to represent Lawrence,” said Harrell-Miller, who has lived in Lawrence her entire life. “That was my whole goal.”

Though Harrell-Miller didn’t necessarily go out seeking fame. A local trainer at Harrell-Miller’s gym got a casting call for the show, and suggested it to her. Harrell-Miller said she filled out the application on a whim.

“I read through it and thought, ‘This seems like a really great thing, but what are the chances that you’re going to get picked?'” she said.

After the initial application came a video interview, and then Harrell-Miller said she just kept making it through round after round, each time providing another piece of information to producers in Los Angeles.

“Then they told me I was a finalist, and I went out to LA,” she said. “I met the producers of the show and basically pitched my story.”

Harrell-Miller, who grew up on a farm south of Lawrence, graduated from Lawrence High School and then from Kansas University before beginning her career as a teacher two years ago. Though that may seem like a straight and narrow path, it wasn’t without its challenges. Harrell-Miller had her son, Jadin, while she was still in high school.

“Once you have a kid, your priorities change, things get put on the back burner,” she said. “So it was kind of to regain my own self-confidence, to regain that high school fit person that I once was.”

Since a young age, Harrell-Miller has been an athlete, and for years was a member of a competitive cheerleading and power-tumbling team. But over the past several years, Harrell-Miller said she’d gotten out of shape. After marrying her partner, Jordan Miller, over the summer, she said she really wanted to get healthier for herself and her family.

“It wasn’t about losing weight, it was about getting strong both mentally and physically, and becoming fit,” Harrell-Miller said.

At the same time, it went beyond fitness, Harrell-Miller said. Meeting her goal of becoming a teacher while raising her son was another reason she wanted to do the show. She said she wanted to show an alternative to those in a similar situation.

“To be on national TV and be able to tell my story of having a kid when I was young, but making the right choices afterwards,” she said. “…I think that sometimes the stereotypical teen mom you see on TV, or whatever the case may be, is always a negative outlook.”

To participate in the show, Harrell-Miller got a long-term substitute for her classroom while she spent three months in LA. Since returning to Lawrence in November, Harrell-Miller said she’s kept up her exercise routine and better eating habits that she learned from the show’s trainer.

The show premieres at 7 p.m. Thursday on NBC. Ahead of the premiere, there will be a two-hour special preview at 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Harrell-Miller isn’t allowed to say — her family doesn’t even know — how she fares in the competition. As far as her plans for the preview, Harrell-Miller said she is having a watch party on Wednesday at Wayne & Larry’s Sports Bar & Grill, 933 Iowa St.

“It’s a watch party, anybody and everybody can come,” she said.