The Pack's Only Mom Competitor on How Her Dog Helped Her Stop 'Being the Worrying Mom'
Lucy Riles has a tagline for her team on The Pack —Amazon Prime Video's new competition adventure show hosted by Lindsey Vonn that is like Amazing Race but with dogs — which premiered on the streaming service on Nov. 20.
"We're on a mission to prove that you can teach an old dog new tricks" Riles, 40, says of her slogan for her and dog Duchess, an 8-year-old black Lab.
Duchess and Riles of Woodland Hills, California, make up the oldest female team on The Pack, which features 12 pooch and owner pairings. Riles is also the only mom competing on the show, and Duchess is one of the only rescue dogs in the canine cast.
Before the duo started training for The Pack, Duchess only knew the tricks "Sit" and "Fetch," and Riles was emerging from ten years as a stay-at-home mom, a life, she tells PEOPLE, that caused her adventurous side to go "dormant."
"My oldest child was born with a serious heart defect and needed open heart surgery at birth, having that experience kind of traumatized me when it comes to worry and anxiety," says the mom of four, who also runs the blog Life of Mom. "I got stuck in this space of being the worrying mom."
In The Pack, this pair of "old broads," as Riles describes herself and Duchess, compete against pets that came into the show knowing how to surf, backpack, hike, and more — plus humans that are in the best physical shape of their lives.
Even with this type of competition, Duchess and Riles "did well," according to Riles, who was careful not to spoil the show, and outlasted more than they and the other contestants expected.
"It was such a surreal, and wild, and crazy, and thrilling, and wonderful experience," Riles says of the show, which started filming in January 2020 and completed before the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
And while animal lovers will have to watch The Pack to find out who wins, Riles and Duchess feel comfortable letting you know they left the "transformative" show feeling like champions.
"She absolutely blew me away," Duchess' owner says of the dog's performance on The Pack.
Riles has always known that her dog, who she adopted from the Southern California Labrador Retriever Rescue when Duchess was 4 months old, is capable of greatness.
While Riles now laughs at the fact she and her husband, Tom Riles, adopted a puppy while they were caring for a "medically fragile" toddler and a 4-month-old infant, she certainly doesn't regret adding some canine chaos to their lives at that point.
Duchess has grown into a calming companion for her 10-year-old daughter, who is on the spectrum and is the child that required heart surgery shortly after birth due to a serious heart defect and chromosomal disorder. The dog was also one of the few beings that Riles opened up to after the stillborn birth of her third child.
"I closed myself off from the world. I was in a hard place emotionally and Duchess was one of the only beings I let in," Riles remembers. "Every morning, she would nudge her nose under the comforter to lick my skin and get me out of bed. She was always there by her side. I am so grateful for her and her soul. She has helped me a lot."
And Duchess did it again by helping Riles find her way to The Pack.
"I am physically, emotionally and mentally transformed. It changed my life for the better by the end," she says. "And really, it was just the beginning."
After reconnecting with her adventurous side through The Pack, Riles returned home and bought an Airstream trailer and is ready to explore the world with her entire family once it is safe to do so.
"I am always going to worry, but now it's not preventing me from living my life," Riles says. "Now, I can still pursue adventures with my husband, kids, and dogs. "
She hopes that after watching The Pack, other moms who find themselves in a similar rut of worry, anxiety, and inaction will be inspired to get in touch with their inner explorers again.
"I know where I was as a mom for the past decade. It's been a bit of a roller coaster, with lots of lows that kind of overtook my emotional state. If I can go out there with my dog and travel the world and do these thrilling things and inspire moms to ignite their inner adventurer, I would be really excited," Riles shares. "For me, it's about connecting to moms and showing them that I have been through pregnancy loss too, I am a special needs mom too, I have had a medically fragile child too."
"I know what that feels like and it can feel very defeating and hopeless. I want to give these moms some hope that they can feel joy again after despair, feel happiness after heartbreak."
Riles also hopes that The Pack helps dogs get more out of life too because treating Duchess to a grand adventure after years of benefitting from her selfless support was a "gift."
"To go on The Pack and give all this attention to her and pour all of this love into her was such a gift because I am so grateful to what she has given me," Riles says, adding the show is "what 2020 needs."
Riles plans to watch the show with her entire family and is excited to see her kids react to seeing a different side of mom, one that tramps through the jungle and races around the world.
"Their reactions are going to be something I hold on to forever," she says.
Along with celebrating the arrival of The Pack on Amazon Prime Video, which is now available on the streaming service, Riles is also basking in the release of her book Mom vs. Dad, which she wrote with her husband, who runs the blog Life of Dad, a complement to her Life of Mom. Mom vs. Dad is a comical and thoughtful collection of essays that takes on all the little things couples fight about when they live together, and especially when they raise children together.