Life in the Marine Corps suited Shannon Ihrke to a tee. She earned respect for her service, quickly rising in the ranks to become sergeant, and looked set to go even further if she wanted to. But what may surprise you is that the beautiful enlistee had an intriguing secret. And, soon, she would be leading a double life – not one that you would not expect of a marine, either.
Ihrke had enlisted young, though, so it makes sense that she wanted to branch out. Back when she was 19 and in college, a dire financial situation pushed her to seek alternative options to working full-time and studying. That’s how she found herself embarking on a career that pushed her to the limit – both mentally and physically.
There was an added bonus, too: enlisting in the Marine Corps meant that Ihrke traveled the world while serving her country. And while she was eventually shipped out to Afghanistan – facing conditions that would test any serviceperson – she still told the Military Times that she had reveled in the experience. In 2019 Ihrke said, “Joining the Marine Corps was the best decision of my life and truly set me up for success. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
Ihrke wasn’t just there for the ride, either. No, she climbed the ranks and succeeded in her posts. Initially, she had started out as an administrative specialist – a role that typically sees marines deal with correspondence and travel orders, make sure punishment books are up to date and distribute ID cards, among other tasks.
But Ihrke wouldn’t stay in this position for long. She spent years working her hardest to climb the ladder, and in time her effort was rewarded with a new rank: sergeant. Throughout it all, she also battled the stigma that came with being a female marine, although apparently this didn’t take away from the experience.
Ihrke told Military Times, “It’s hard [to be a female marine], no doubt, but I was able to see what I was capable of and I pushed myself to be my absolute best. Work hard, play hard!” That mentality affected other areas of Ihrke’s life, too – especially when she picked up a second job that put her on a path to a double life.
Yes, Ihrke had a secret, although she’s now happy to speak about it. She’s opened up about her childhood, too. Talking to Inside Edition in 2019, Ihrke revealed that she had grown up in a “one-horse town” and that she had rarely identified with her feminine side. The future marine added, “For the first ten years of my life, I thought I was a boy.” But Ihrke didn’t have any military aspirations during this period. No, those came out of necessity – at least to begin with.
You see, Ihrke didn’t know what to do when she graduated from high school. And while college seemed the obvious next step, the young woman had no idea what she wanted to do with her life even after becoming a sophomore. What she was sure of was that she was tired of working two jobs and going to school full-time.
So, Ihrke went to see an adviser at her college for help arranging financial aid. But as it turns out, there was a catch. Ihrke would only get free tuition in her home state of Minnesota in one of two scenarios: either she had to be a single mother, or she needed to enlist in the military.
That discussion led to another fateful conversation for Ihrke. She told Yahoo! in 2018, “I decided to research the different branches [of the military], and a Marine Corps recruiter caught me on the way out from talking to an Air Force recruiter.” But it may surprise you to hear that this man didn’t think Ihrke had what it took for the Corps.
Ihrke recalled, “[The recruiter] explained how tough the program is and said, ‘A girl like you probably wouldn’t make it through boot camp in the Marine Corps.’” But those words of discouragement ended up having the opposite effect on Ihrke. Instead, the teenager decided to enlist. She said, “I took that as a challenge and asked, ‘Where do I sign up?’”
Ihrke later admitted to Inside Edition that she’d had second thoughts after the ink had dried. She said, “On the way to boot camp on the plane, I’m like, ‘What have I done?’” In part, this was because she knew she was entering an environment that wasn’t necessarily female-friendly.
Ihrke explained, “I’ve always been athletic and stuff. But, like, literally, they say it’s a man’s world, but the Marine Corps is a man’s man’s world.” And, sadly, that environment made her feel judged as soon as she arrived for boot camp. Ihrke said, “You walk in with a target on your back. People are looking at you, like, ‘Can she keep up?’”
You’d think that the doubt from others during boot camp would have put Ihrke off. But, again, it had the opposite effect. She told Yahoo!, “You have to work twice as hard to be seen as an equal, so my goal was always to push myself to be as good if not better to show them you can be on the same level.” Plus, Ihrke said, she had her fellow female marines for support.
Ihrke explained, “I had drill instructors [during boot camp who] were beautiful, smart women. They were amazing – and it motivated me even more.” And, thankfully, the enlistee found mentors in the Marines who helped her realize that she could succeed in what seemed like a boys’ club. She told Inside Edition, “When you push yourself to the limit, you’re amazed at what your body can really go through.”
Ihrke didn’t stop there, either, as she continued to push herself after joining the ranks. And for her hard work, she received a promotion after two years in the service – one, in fact, that typically goes to enlistees after at least four years. Ihrke revealed to Yahoo!, “I was meritoriously promoted from E1 to E4.”
It probably helped that Ihrke had quite the affinity for guns as well as an exceptional ability to shoot on target. And some of that may have come from her childhood. Ihrke said, “I grew up shooting guns with my dad, which is part of the reason I did so well in the rifle range when I was in the Marines.”
But what pushed the young woman even more was the self-confidence she had. There was also her burning desire to prove everyone wrong who had doubted her. This drive ultimately helped her to climb to the rank of sergeant. She did understand, though, why her fellow marines may not have expected her to get so far.
Ihrke explained, “It’s kind of natural to judge a book by its cover. But then it makes you want to be as good, if not better than those people to show that you can keep up and you are equal.” And that same philosophy has continued to fuel her – even though she was honorably discharged from the Marines in 2012.
So what were Ihrke’s key take-homes from her time in the Marines? Speaking to the Daily Star in 2019, the young woman revealed all, saying, “I pushed my body harder than I could have ever imagined, and I learned to remain calm and collected in the midst of chaos. I became part of something that was bigger than myself, and I loved it.”
Leaving the Marines would also give Ihrke the chance to pursue new avenues. One of these was a relatively traditional path: she eventually returned to school at Illinois’ Elmhurst College, where she studied for a degree in science. But the former servicewoman similarly had the chance to explore a more unexpected career – one that had fallen onto her lap near the end of her time in the military.
How had this curious line of work begun for the ex-marine? Well, Ihrke had gone to visit friends in Chicago just before the conclusion of her four-year contract of service. Then, as one of her pals happened to be putting together a fashion show at the time, they asked Ihrke to walk the runway. She agreed, and the rest, as they say, is history.
This modeling debut did more than simply put Ihrke on the fashion world’s radar. Photographers began to get in touch, too. So, when the Corps discharged her, she went on to pursue a career in an industry that was far from the one to which she had grown accustomed. And it was an especially big change for someone who had been a tomboy throughout her life.
Still, having modeling as a new potential career path made it easier for Ihrke to decide to leave the Marines. She told The Sun in 2019, “Had I not had other dreams I still wanted to accomplish in my life, I would have re-enlisted without hesitation… And although I am no longer on active duty, I will always bleed green.”
Fortunately, Ihrke’s first session with a photographer showed her that she could just as easily fit into modeling as she did the military. She told Inside Edition, “I remember getting my pictures back from my first photoshoot and being like, ‘Look at this, I actually look like a girl.’”
And the ex-marine wasn’t the only one admiring her photos. You see, Ihrke’s first modeling job was a Maxim gig, and the magazine’s editors clearly liked what they saw. She landed on the cover, in fact, although Ihrke didn’t even know that was the case until the issue hit newsstands!
“My friend was at the airport, and he called me and said, ‘Congratulations on getting the Maxim cover,’” Ihrke said to Fox News in 2018. “And I was just stunned. I had no idea.” But the beauty soon realized that she liked her new job just as much as the old one, later telling Inside Edition, “I love modeling just like I love the Marine Corps.”
Ihrke made waves again in the summer of 2019 when she posed for a racy Armed Forces calendar that featured her and other servicewomen. That made the experience “cool,” according to Ihrke, as she had previously been part of shoots “where all the girls are dressed like they’re in the military, but not all of them are.”
Ihrke added, “We all knew how to hold a gun, [and] we all knew how to walk strategically and tactfully move, so that was cool.” And it wasn’t lost on her that a marine-themed shoot was pretty different to life in the Corps. She said, “I went from feeling like a guy every single day… to having my hair done and my makeup done and my nails done.”
Following her career change, though, Ihrke has enjoyed getting back in touch with her femininity. Talking about getting dolled up for shoots, the model told Inside Edition, “I loved it. I was like, ‘Oh, I do still have this girly side to me.’”
That was just one way the modeling world differed from Ihrke’s life in the Marines. And while she appreciated the beautification process, she did have a reality check after swapping fatigues for fashion shoots. It all came down to the way in which she got her modeling work – which was a much different process than earning a promotion in the Marines.
Ihrke explained, “In the Marine Corps, if someone tells you ‘no,’ you can prove them wrong.’ In the modeling world, if someone tells you ‘no,’ there’s nothing you can do. You’re not it.” Luckily though, she was offered lots of work. And it all brought Ihrke to national attention for her unusual career trajectory.
However, life post-Marines isn’t just about modeling for Ihrke. For one thing, she’s gone back to her roots. Remember how she told Inside Edition that she came from a “one-horse town?” Well, she may not have returned to that location specifically, but she does work with animals now.
Yep, Ihrke is a horse trainer who also instructs kids on how to ride. She told Yahoo!, “I have about six horses right now, and I am training for roping competitions.” And it doesn’t stop there. The model also collaborates with her local sheriff’s department – working in what she calls its “horse posse.”
Ihrke’s time tutoring youngsters may even have helped her with another major life step. In October 2019, you see, the former marine welcomed a daughter named Aryana River. And the new arrival was swiftly followed by another happy announcement. Come June 2020, Ihrke revealed that she was expecting another little one – due in December of that year.
Still, Ihrke upholds some of her marine ways as a parent. For one thing, she maintains her physical fitness as she did in the Corps. The model told Yahoo!, “I love running and working out. I’ve always been an athlete. If I’m not training horses, I’m at the gym.” And while she has since become a mom, that hasn’t stopped her from keeping herself fit.
In an August 2020 Instagram post, Ihrke admitted not “[working] out nearly as much as [she] used to.” But she still maintains fitness as a priority, she said, in order to be a good example for her daughter. Ihrke explained, “I strive to be a great mother to Aryana and show her good habits.”
Other than that, Ihrke told Yahoo! that she enjoyed being back in Minnesota and living life at a slower pace. And the calm of the young mom’s new life allowed her to reflect on her career and time spent serving the nation. She said, “I love being back in a small town. Life is so simple.”
Still, Ihrke maintains that everything wouldn’t have fallen into place this way without her time in the service. She explained to The Sun, “I owe the Marine Corps my life – hands down. It gave me a reason to wake up, push myself, set goals and to push myself even harder when things got tough.”
So, as Ihrke continues to model, she can rest assured that her career has done more than just good things for her personally. She concluded, “Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But the Marines don’t have that problem.”
Yet while Ihrke’s secret only turned out to be a good thing for her, it would have been a different story if the press had gotten hold of what Andre Agassi was concealing. Yep, the champion tennis player had his own skeleton in the closet during his heyday – and if it had somehow come to light, the star’s many admirers may have viewed him very differently.
Let’s take a trip back to the summer of 1992. Tennis superstar Andre Agassi has just won the most prestigious title in the men’s game: Wimbledon. The crowd erupts. He’s on his knees. Tears of joy are streaming down his cheeks. And little does he know, this is just the start. Within three years, Agassi would go on to scale an even bigger peak in his sport by becoming the world’s number one ranked player. Yet through all of this, the American harbored a dark secret – one that his fans would probably find rather shocking when it eventually came out.
Before that, though, Agassi’s glittering career continued. And with it came prize after prize after prize. As well as that Wimbledon title in 1992, the tennis star claimed the other three highly prestigious Grand Slam tournaments of the professional game. To start, he won his ‘home’ competition — the U.S. Open — in 1995, and then again in 1999. But it would have been rude not to show off his expertise to the other side of the world now, wouldn’t it?
You bet it would! So, in 1995 Agassi claimed the Australian Open – a tournament he would win again in 2000, 2001 and 2003, too. And it seems he still wasn’t ready to hang up his tennis shoes just yet. In 1999 Agassi returned to Europe, completing the ‘career Grand Slam’ by claiming the French Open title.
That victory elevated him into the pantheon of tennis titans. Modern greats such as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Agassi himself are among a list of only eight men to have ever achieved the feat, you see. At the time, the U.S. player was 29 years old, making him the oldest person to secure that accolade. Pretty impressive, eh?
And he still wasn’t finished racking up the achievements, either. In 1996, at his ‘home’ Olympics in Atlanta, Agassi won the gold medal in the men’s singles tournament. He also won the Davis Cup — the most prestigious team event in the men’s game — with the U.S. squad in 1990, 1992 and 1995. Plus, by becoming world number one, Agassi arguably pocketed every major prize available in the game. It’s fair to say, then, it was a pretty extraordinary career.
As you would expect, this level of success didn’t come out of nowhere. Yes, tennis glory looked likely for Agassi from a young age. At 13, the future star was sent to the prestigious Nick Bollettieri tennis school in Florida. And even though the teen’s father could only afford to send his son for three months, the boy ended up staying rather longer than that.
Apparently, you see, it took Bollettieri just 10 minutes of observing the young Agassi’s skills to decide that the boy had a special career ahead of him. “Take your check back. He’s here for free,” the coach reportedly told Agassi’s father, Mike, on the phone after seeing the future champion play.
Understandably, Bollettieri was excited. According to the International Tennis Hall of Fame, the prolific coach believed Agassi to have more natural talent than any other player he’d seen. Marking the start of his professional tennis career, the 15-year-old beat John Austin at 1986’s La Quinta tournament in California. And as we already know, it was onwards and upwards for the budding star.
That’s right: the following year, Agassi started to make an impression on the top players, the pundits and the tennis public alike. And he ended that season ranked as the world number 25. It was 1988 when he really put himself on the map, though, claiming six major tournament wins and passing the $1 million mark for career earnings. After just 43 competitions at this point, it was the quickest that any player had reached that milestone.
As if anyone needed any more convincing that a tennis star had been born, 1988 brought other notable achievements for Agassi. He claimed the most consecutive match wins on the men’s tour for a teenager, and he finished the year ranked number three in the world behind Ivan Lendl and Mats Wilander. Impressively, Agassi was still only 18 years old by the time the season ended.
There was much more to Agassi than just tennis, though. His good looks and impressive flowing mane earned him the reputation as a rock ’n’ roll athlete. And when he changed his shirt during matches, a chorus of wolf whistles could be heard from the crowd. Unsurprisingly, the sponsors clamored for his signature – and he soon signed a lucrative deal with Nike.
Off the court, Agassi was also turning heads. Firstly, there was his high-profile relationship with actor and singer Barbra Streisand, who was 28 years his senior. Agassi then met and subsequently married actor and model Brooke Shields. They were, as you may remember, the type of young, glamorous couple that regularly adorned the pages of magazines.
Sadly, the Agassi-Shields marriage broke up after two years. Then, just two years after that in 2001, Agassi entered into another high-profile marriage. And this time, it seems his wife had an intricate understanding of what it takes to be a professional tennis player. You see, Agassi married none other than 22-time Grand Slam champion Steffi Graf.
Agassi and Graf remain happily married to this day, with their relationship standing the test of time and the end of Agassi’s high-profile playing career. The pair also have two children and reside in Agassi’s hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada. And with many major investments and charitable oraganizations in their name, they can only be described as something of a powerhouse couple.
It seems, though, that the lowest ebb in Agassi’s career came before he met Graf. Yes, fans tend to divide his time in the spotlight into two distinct periods: pre and post-1997. In that year, injury had taken its toll, and a wrist complaint meant the player was only able to feature in 14 tournaments. That left plenty of time on the treatment table – not to mention plenty of time to get into trouble.
Yes, in Agassi’s 2009 autobiography, Open, the star explained how it was around this time that he started using crystal methamphetamine. It was a startling confession – though arguably not as shocking as the secret fans later found out he’d been keeping. But the sporting star also admitted that he’d lied to the Association of Tennis Professional (ATP) in order to avoid a ban from the game. His approach clearly worked.
In Open, Agassi elaborates on the first time he took the drug. He writes about being at home with his assistant, who is called Slim in the book. “Slim is stressed too…He says, ‘You want to get high with me?’ ‘On what?’ ‘Gack.’ ‘What the hell’s gack?’ ‘Crystal meth.’ ‘Why do they call it gack?’ ‘Because that’s the sound you make when you’re high… Make you feel like Superman, dude,’” Agassi recalls the conversation.
Agassi continues, “Slim dumps a small pile of powder on the coffee table. He cuts it, snorts it. He cuts it again. I snort some. I ease back on the couch and consider the Rubicon I’ve just crossed.” These are quite considerable revelations for a then-professional athlete – and a world-famous one at that.
Agassi then goes on to describe the feeling he experienced. “There is a moment of regret, followed by vast sadness. Then comes a tidal wave of euphoria that sweeps away every negative thought in my head. I’ve never felt so alive, so hopeful — and I’ve never felt such energy,” the eight-time Grand Slam champion recalls.
But Agassi was quick to point of the negative side effects, too. “The physical aftermath is hideous,” he writes of crystal meth. “After two days of being high, of not sleeping, I’m an alien. I have the audacity to wonder why I feel so rotten. I’m an athlete, my body should be able to handle this,” he adds.
It begs the question, then, exactly why did the star athlete feel the need to touch the stuff? “Apart from the buzz of getting high, I get an undeniable satisfaction from harming myself and shortening my career,” Agassi writes in Open. It’s another shocking revelation. Why would the champion want to throw his glittering career away like that? Well, it’s all to do with the secret he was harboring.
As you may have expected, towards the end of 1997 Agassi had sunk in the rankings to well outside the top-100 men’s players. Fear not, though: 1998 was a year of redemption. Hard work and a renewed focus saw Agassi climb back up the rankings, and by the following year he had achieved the career Grand Slam. And as his long list of achievements prove, the hugely popular player would have many more great years on the tennis court.
Despite Agassi’s comeback, his off-the-rails episode actually gave fans an insight into how the star was really feeling. Far from just a single moment of lunacy, the decision to take hard drugs was systematic of a far deeper malaise that Agassi was suffering. And the dark truth that was eating away at the tennis champion would haunt him for the entirety of sparkling career.
So, just what was it that Agassi had been hiding all this time? Well, it was nothing salacious about his private life — apart from the drug-taking, of course. Nor was Agassi harboring any dark ambitions to take over the world. It was the relatively simple fact that, despite a near 20-year career in tennis, the champion hated the very sport that made him.
Yes. Agassi hated tennis — and he always had. “I play tennis for a living even though I hate tennis, hate it with a dark and secret passion and always have,” he confesses in Open. It was a remarkable revelation from someone who had garnered so much from the sport: titles, adulation, fame – and money, of course.
We know what you’re thinking: how could Agassi really hate something that he had so obviously devoted his life to? You don’t become a champion — the world number one — without dedication, commitment and thousands of hours practicing, after all. But that, you see, was exactly the point. Agassi was simply sick of the grind. Tennis had been shoved down his throat since before he could remember.
In Open Agassi speaks candidly about the moment he became world number one for the first time back in 1995. “I’ve knocked Pete [Sampras] off the mountaintop. The next person who phones is a reporter. I tell him that I’m happy about the ranking, that it feels good to be the best that I can be,” Agassi recalls. But it wasn’t the truth.
“It’s a lie,” Agassi continues. “This isn’t at all what I feel. It’s what I want to feel. It’s what I expected to feel, what I tell myself to feel. But in fact I feel nothing,” the tennis superstar admitted. It was a moment of shocking realization even for the man himself. And for readers and fans alike, it’s probably the last thing they’d expected him to admit.
But what lay at the heart of Agassi’s disaffection with the game that had made him? It seems that with tennis — despite all of his success — he had just never had a choice. His father made him play. And it’s that lack of autonomy over his decisions that has caused Agassi to hate the very game that has given him so much.
Interestingly, though, Emmanuel “Mike” Agassi — Andre’s father — used to specialize in a different sport altogether. Originally from Iran, Mike boxed for his country in both the 1948 and 1952 Olympics. It was only after that that he settled in the United Stated and became a tennis pro at the Tropicana resort in Las Vegas. He decided to build a court in his backyard to train his children, including youngest son Andre.
Agassi junior was made to live and breath tennis. “He practiced every afternoon, all afternoon. He practiced every weekend, all weekend. He practiced every holiday that I can recall. It was just what they did,” said family friend Perry Rogers. And Bollettieri, Agassi’s former coach, described Mike as “very domineering.” He said, “Tennis. Tennis. Tennis. Tennis. He had the ball machines out in the back. They had the ball machines in every room.”
In Open Agassi gives a glimpse into what life was like as a seven-year-old tennis prodigy under the tutelage of his domineering father. “My father yells everything twice, sometimes three times, sometimes 10. ‘Harder,’ he says, ‘harder. Hit earlier. Damn it Andre, hit earlier, Crowd the ball, crowd the ball.’ Now he’s crowding me. He’s yelling,” Agassi writes. And it’s difficult not to feel sorry for the youngster in this anecdote.
Agassi continues. “Nothing sends my father into a rage like hitting a ball into the net. He foams at the mouth… My arm feels like it’s going to fall off. I want to ask: ‘How much longer, Pops?’ But I don’t ask. I hit as hard as I can, then slightly harder,” the former champion adds.
In a 1995 interview with Sports Illustrated, Agassi hinted at how he was misunderstood by the world at large, which was a further source of frustration. “I don’t think the public has ever had any concept of who I am,” he said. “They see the cars and the plane, and if they don’t try, they stop there,” he added. This was just two years before his career went off the rails.
Agassi became lonely in his world: a world constructed by his father. Speaking years later, even Mike Agassi admitted he was to blame for what occurred. “The real sacrifice was Andre’s childhood,” Agassi senior said, referring to what the family had to give up to get Agassi to the top of the game.
Yet Agassi found his savior in the form of his off-the-court ventures. “I found a life next to tennis. I made a dream come true, to be able to help other people who are not doing so well,” Agassi said of his foundation that helps build schools in Las Vegas.
And Agassi has found happiness in love, too. The sporting star describes his match with the former female number one tennis player as a “wonderful marriage.” And he calls her “the woman who fits me as perfectly as you can fit together perfectly.” Agassi, it seems, has not only found purpose in his life – but also the perfect person to share it with.
Fortunately, Agassi was able to turn it around – and has even been able to reconcile with his father’s actions. He told The Guardian, “My lack of education, a lack of choice, had a huge impact. The question always remains: what might you have done? But I don’t have any deep regrets.”
Agassi also admitted that his father isn’t all bad, despite the image that has been painted of him in the media at large. “When people didn’t have my nuanced take on him they just represented him as abusive,” Agassi told The Guardian. The former tennis star has also described his father as “passionate” as well as “loyal.” Let’s face it, father-son relationships are rarely straightforward.
Agassi also spoke of a conversation that he had with his father while out driving. “If I could do everything all over again I would change only one thing — I wouldn’t let you play tennis,” Mike Agassi told his son. Shocked, Agassi pulled the car over and asked why that was. “Because I’d make you play baseball or golf so you can do it longer and make more money.” And what was Agassi’s reaction? “I got back on the freeway with a chuckle.”