Brick-bashing Lincoln Park mom wins Red Lobster contest

Steve Pardo
The Detroit News

Sure, it was an advertising promotion. But as promotions go, it was a good one, with a 34-year-old mother of five earning $2,000 and a heck of a seafood meal for her family April 6, courtesy of Red Lobster.

And Antwanette Bills of Lincoln Park crushed it. Literally.

Bills explained how she has used powerbreaking — splitting bricks with bare hands — to overcome adversity and get over a painful divorce.

“It’s all about second chances,” Bills said recently from inside the PKSA Karate dojo in Allen Park where she trains. “Everybody makes mistakes and everybody deserves the opportunity to show they can learn from their mistakes.”

She admitted she was a shy person and not very outgoing in 2012 as she was going through her divorce. She brought her son, now 10, to the dojo to help him get some discipline. The dojo instructor, Tonya Germain, convinced her to sign up for the family plan. Soon, Bills found herself drawn to the Korean martial art taught there, tang soo do.

“When she came in, she did not have one ounce of confidence,” Germain said, “but I could tell she had ‘it.’ I could see that spark.”

And the training led her to try her hand at pulverizing cinder.

“The first time I broke a brick I felt empowered,” she said. “That’s when I started to believe that maybe, anything is possible.”

In 2014, she entered her first national powerbreaking tournament. She drew the starting spot. It was a lousy bit of luck — the advantage in going late in the competition is you know how many bricks you have to break at once to win.

She opted for nine bricks. Her previous best, even in practice, was eight.

“Every disappointment, every fear, I put it all into that stack of bricks,” she said. “I had my eyes closed ... and when I opened them, everything was demolished.”

No one else was able to match that number. And for good measure, she won the competition again in 2015, smashing through the eight bricks needed for the win.

Bills entered the restaurant chain’s national “Lobsterworthy” competition, which Red Lobster defined in February of 2015 as “a moment or an occasion that you consider so special that you have to go celebrate with a delicious lobster, as if it was an edible trophy or … something.”

The contest makes sense because Red Lobster is naturally a place people come to when they want to celebrate a happy news or an event, said Deanna Kotch, director of brand management for Red Lobster.

“Her story really touched us,” Kotch said. “We were looking for one of those moments that really spoke to us.”

Bills, who works in the auto manufacturing industry, will use the $2,000 to help train for her black belt. It’s a test she’s going for in August.