Kids can be so cruel. Even to a belle like Kiana Tom. 'I grew up in Huntington Beach, California, and my classmates used to make fun of me because I was different,' says Kiana, a self-described 'chop suey' child of Chinese, Hawaiian and Irish descent. 'It was basically a blue-eyed, blonde community at the time, and I would be teased so much, I'd cry at school.'
Is anybody cackling now?
Kiana Tom is the bomb. She seems to have it all these days: beauty, intelligence, a marvelous new custom-built, 8,000-square-foot Newport Beach crib with a killer ocean view and a career that's ascending quicker than a Marion Jones 100-meter dash. The former star, host and producer of 'Kiana's Flex Appeal,' which ran on ESPN2 from 1995 to 2000, says she has two new health-and-fitness-related projects in the works with Fox Sports Network. And a year ago Tom landed her first co-starring film role in 'Universal Soldier: The Return,' in which she got to kill off that big, nasty Bill Goldberg, saving the life of the flick's headliner, Jean-Claude Van Damme, in the process.
'The gun weighed more than I did,' the 5'6', 115-pound bodyshaper reports, laughing. 'It was a replica of a United States smart gun, a heat-seeking missile.' It was the same type of heat she has generated ever since making her television debut nearly a decade ago.
Kiana's passions for athletics and being in front of a camera come courtesy of her parents. Her father, Layne Tom Jr., is a former actor who played Charlie Chan's son in the early TV series. Kiana's mother was a physical education teacher for 30 years. 'Instead of playing classical music when I was a baby, my mother would have sports on television,' Kiana says. 'I was playing tennis and snow skiing when I was five. They always instilled the principles of being in shape.'
Tennis was the name of the game for Kiana during junior high school and at Marina High. 'I was really skinny back then,' she says. 'It's always been a challenge for me to keep muscle on. I was under 100 pounds. I looked like a chopstick!'
An extremely competitive person, Kiana asked her coach what she could do to gain an edge over her opponents. He suggested she head for the weight room.
'I found out that lifting weights made me hit the ball harder, move quicker and, best of all, look shapelier,' Tom says. Thus began a lifelong affair with the iron.
Kiana was an ace in the classroom as well as on the courts. She was an A student at Marina, although she admits she didn't put much effort into her books. 'When I picked the college I wanted to go to, I selected the one I thought was the most beautiful.'
After settling into her new home'a dorm room with an ocean view at the University of California at Santa Barbara'Kiana said good-bye to her tennis career and hello to beach volleyball, scuba diving and wind surfing. When she wasn't on the sand or in the water, she could be found in the school weight room. 'My father asked me if I was at a college or a resort,' she says, laughing.
Kiana eventually pledged a sorority. 'I kinda went crazy,' she says, admitting that she concentrated on having a good time instead studying. 'I was away from home for the first time, and my parents were very conservative. My life had been so structured in the past. I always had piano and guitar lessons; I had to be home by 12 on prom night.'
After two years at UCSB, Tom transferred to UCLA. 'I left for two reasons,' she says. 'First, I needed to get more serious about school. And I wanted to be a broadcaster, like Connie Chung, and to get into modeling and acting too.'
Kiana hit the books at UCLA, but she still reserved time for her training, at the university's Wooden Center and at Gold's Gym in Venice. 'I became a fanatic about the weights,' she says. 'I was becoming more muscular, stronger, and my posture was better. I felt very energetic. I was mentally and physically stronger.' Eventually, she earned her degree in communications, with an emphasis in journalism and business.
Not before competing in her first bodybuilding contest, however. At about '99 pounds'but ripped' Kiana took the Novice Lightweight and Overall at the San Diego Championships, then followed up that auspicious debut with a second-place finish in the Lightweight class at the Palm Springs Championships a year later. She hung up her posing suit after the show.
'I started doing fitness modeling and signed with an agency that only did advertising with health products,' she says. 'I had to be unique, considering my ethic background. Not only could I stand by a mountain bike or by the skis, I could ride down that mountain and do a jump.'
From those assignments she leaped onto the television screen in 1992, landing a job as an assistant on ESPN's 'Bodyshaping With Cory Everson.' 'My only assignment was to keep track of the reps, but when I opened my mouth, nothing came out,' she recalls, laughing. 'That was heaven'not only was I getting paid, but I got to have my own beach-front cabana and also got to keep all the workout clothes.
'I loved working with Cory. She was my idol, and I learned a lot from her. Ironically, Cory did her first movie, 'Double Impact,' with Jean-Claude, and I did my first major role in a film with him as well.'
ALLAfter Cory left the show, the network hired Rick Valente to team with Kiana. She had her own vision, however, and soon after that 'Kiana's Flex Appeal' debuted on ESPN2. Did it fly? Can Janet Jackson sell out an auditorium? Within one week it was the highest-rated show in the network's history, and it eventually garnered 75 million viewers.
What made 'Flex Appeal' different from other fitness shows? 'My focus was on fun, helping viewers make fitness a lifestyle,' Tom says. 'The show was not just about lifting weights but involved all aspects of sports and fitness. We had segments on bicycling, kick boxing, in-line skating, tennis, golf, running, things like that. And we showed what exercises to do to improve skill level in those sports.
'The point was to show that if you're having fun, you'll be more likely to participate in an activity. You don't have to have a perfect bodybuilder's physique'if you feel healthy and have this energy, that's sexy.'
The program, filmed on Maui, also included a fact-or-fiction segment on nutrition tips. It aired twice a day and had a five-year run. 'We shot from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day for three weeks,' Tom says. 'We did that twice a year, which left me time for my other projects.' Some of those projects include books, videos, calendars, powerwalking tapes and producing active wear, including baby jumpers.
Kiana made her film debut in 1995, getting a small part in 'Cyberbandits,' starring Alexandra Paul and Grace Jones. A couple of years ago she was contacted by Columbia Tristar Films to read for the role of Maggie in 'Universal Soldier: The Return.' She laughs as she recalls how her TV celebrity caught up with her when they were filming in Shreveport, Louisiana. 'I was in a restaurant one night, having dinner, when this guy comes over to my table and says, with a thick accent, 'Kianer, are these here pork grinds bad for you?'
Her television credits include 'The Drew Carey Show,' 'Family Law' and a pilot called 'Aspen.' All three were fitness-related parts, but she doesn't mind a bit. 'Doing movies and television shows is great, and I would love to do more, but fitness is my passion,' she says. She has also hosted 'Summer Sizzle With Kiana,' 'Too Fit 2 Quit with Kiana,' 'X Games' and the broadcast of the Fitness America Pageant's ESPN2 series.
Kiana says she stays in pretty much the same shape year-round, and she has come up with her formula for success in achieving a balanced life, physically and mentally. 'I eat very healthy during the week, and on the weekends I allow myself more freedom to satisfy my cravings,' she reports. 'Knowing I will have my cheat foods later in the week makes it easy to eat well from Monday through Friday.'
She trains religiously five days per week, noting that variety and consistency are key components. 'I change the exercises every time I work out; variety makes things fun and builds a shapely body. Consistency provides for longevity and overall health. I suggest changing your workout routines each time you visit the gym. Change is good. It keeps the mind and body stimulated and creates a symmetrical, sexy, hard physique.
'So many people overtrain. They lift weights for an hour and a half to two hours. It's a common problem'I did the same thing when I was at UCLA. I keep moving through the entire workout, wear my headphones and keep socializing to a minimum until I'm done.'
Folks may have poked fun at Kiana when she was a kid, but she's a big-time role model'especially for the Asian community'in the new millennium. 'A good portion of my e-mails are from Asians who tell me how proud they are of me,' she says. 'That really makes me feel good. And at least 83 children have been named Kiana now'that's the ultimate compliment!' All the baby Kianas will be featured on her Web site soon.
Despite buzz to the contrary, Tom says she's not married. 'There are so many rumors that go around in our business'no, I'm single,' she says, although she admits that marriage and a family are definite goals. Currently, she spends much of her free time casually dating, going out with friends and playing with her two dogs, Flex and Crunch. 'Flex is a Dalmatian, and Crunch is a shepherd-chow-lab mix. His fur is like a black mink coat,' Tom says. 'They are both well trained, and Flex can do front raises. Crunch leans his big head on my shoulders to add resistance when I'm lying on the floor doing crunches.'
Kiana says she's the happiest she's ever been in her life'I always see the glass as overflowing'but allows she would like to have the chance to travel for pleasure a bit more.
'I usually go on one trip a year,' Tom says. 'My most favorite travels were to Rio de Janeiro at carnival time, hiking up to Macha Picchu in Peru and going down the Amazon River. I've been to Monte Carlo to watch the Ferrari Concours d'Elegance races. I rode the bullet train and went to the Japanese Disneyland and heard Mickey Mouse speak Japanese when I went to Tokyo. I was invited to dinner at the United States ambassador's home in London.
'On my next trip I'd like to go to the Greek islands and see them on motorcycle. Also, I want to go on an African safari. I love photography and would jump at the chance to photograph animals in the wild in my khaki bikini!'
And when you do, make sure you send postcards to all your childhood chums. They may feel pretty proud to have known you by now.
Kiana's Kick-Iron Total-Body Workout
15 minutes on treadmill or stationary bike
Weight work x 3 sets per exercise
Split squats on Smith machine
Cable glute raises Seated calf raises
Donkey calf raises
Chest and biceps
Incline dumbbell presses
Straight-bar cable curls
Back and triceps
Seated shoulder presses
Cardio: 'I run on the beach for 30-45 minutes, three days per week with my dogs Flex and Crunch.'
A Sample Daily Menu
Meal 1: 7 a.m.
Protein shake, made with:
50% bottled water
1/2 frozen banana
1 bowl oatmeal
Coffee with hazelnut fat-free Coffeemate
Meal 2: 9 a.m.
5 egg whites, scrambled with
1 egg yolk
Cranberry and almond toast
Meal 3: 11 a.m.
1 protein bar
Meal 4: 1 p.m.
Grilled chicken breast
Supplements & Vitamins
Multivitamin, C, B-complex, E
Meal 5: 4: p.m.
Protein shake made with soy milk
Meal 6: 7 p.m.
Sushi, sashimi or poached salmon with steamed veggies
Editor's note: To find out more about Kiana Tom, including advice on how to go from a chopstick to a hot chick, log on to her Web site at www.kiana.com or send e-mail to [email protected]. IM