When Fred Lewis was asked to assemble a team for a popular reality television show about gold miners, he knew exactly where to look.
Lewis had very little experience in mines, so it would be logical to assume he would select men and women with intimate knowledge in the field. He didn’t go that route, instead choosing people just like him. Lewis wanted veterans.
“Being a gold miner means you’re a professional problem solver,’’ said Lewis, a staff sergeant in the Army. “Things break, things stop working and you’ve got to act like you’re basically on [seven-time NASCAR champion] Jimmie Johnson’s pit crew and you’ve got to change wheels in two seconds.’’
Lewis and his team of seven seek to strike it rich on “Gold Rush,’’ which is in its 11th season and is broadcast on Discovery Channel at 9 p.m. Eastern and Pacific time on Friday.
Lewis, who will turn 43 this month, originally joined the military as a Korean linguist and served for 14 years, including seven as an intelligence analyst. A special forces medic, Lewis said he served deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as spent time in Korea and several places in northern Africa. He was medically discharged out of the National Guard because of seizures and migraines caused by what he said were several concussions.
“I went from being in the military, top of my game, to pretty much unemployed and disabled,’’ Lewis said.
Lewis enrolled in school, earning a degree in agriculture and science. He studied for three years toward a master’s in education before switching to pursuing a bachelor’s in web design. Those years of education did not inspire Lewis enough, leaving a void.
That gap began to be filled by adaptive sports.
Lewis competed in the Warrior Games and is on Team USA for the Invictus Games in track, powerlifting and rowing. Lewis appeared on “American Ninja Warriors’’ twice.
“I discovered that my story was inspiring and how other people might enjoy hearing about how I overcame my obstacles,’’ Lewis said. “I started doing speeches, and that led me to reality TV.
“It was 10 years of struggle before I got to where I’m at now.’’
Lewis was hired as a medic and for security for another Discovery Channel show called “Parker’s Trail,’’ which features “Gold Rush’’ miner Parker Schnabel.
“I’d see how this 25-year-old kid is really killing it in the gold-mining industry, and I see how it works and how it’s set up and just made me think, ‘This could work with a bunch of vets,’’’ Lewis said. “They’re so reward-oriented. We like to see results, and gold mining gives you immediate results.’’
Lewis’ team knows about overcoming obstacles.
One is a former special-forces teammate. Another is a former infantry sniper whose hand was reattached after being blown off by a roadside bomb. Lewis brought aboard another vet who was given no chance of walking or opening his eyes again after another roadside-bomb attack. One member was thrown to the ceiling of his aircraft, breaking his legs and causing other issues. One teammate survived a rollover incident in Afghanistan that shattered his pelvis.
Lewis’ crew includes his wife Khara, whom he met when they were in special forces, and a retired police officer and first responder.
“Every single guy on my team has been through the ringer and come out on top,’’ Lewis said.
Lewis said it was not hard to convince other veterans to accept this mission, venturing into the unknown.
“I knew I had to have those types of people to succeed,’’ he said. “Gold mining isn’t easy, especially for a first-time [operation], and we’re all greenhorns. You have to have guys who have grit, and these guys are just killing it.’’