I detoured from the climbing world into the ninja world for a couple weeks. In mid March I volunteered at the Chandler Mountain Challenge, Climbers for Christ bouldering event in Alabama. Michelle Warnky an American Ninja Warrior star was our keynote speaker at this event. I spoke with Michelle and another ninja for a while about the obstacles, the courses, and the process for walking on. I had watched the show and thought it looked amazing, and speculated as to whether I could complete the obstacles, but that evening for the first time it seemed possible. A few weeks later I found myself at the Movement Laboratory, Michelle’s gym in Columbus, Ohio for a small competition. I tried a lot of obstacles, didn’t finish many, left with a sore shoulder, but nearly all of the obstacles seemed very possible. The two lessons that I learned were that there is a lot of technique to every obstacle, and that the community is very welcoming and helpful. I love sports like this where athletes are all striving to see everyone succeed. It is the ninja vs the course instead of ninja vs ninja.
After this experience, I naively decided to try to stop at another gym with the intention of learning to swing and jump off trampolines, then head to Indianapolis to try to walk-on. Again people were super helpful and my swinging was much more effective after this short training. I showed up at Indianapolis and got my name on the list. I spent a night in the rain and cold in the park before filling out a one page bio which was given to the producers. We were released for the weekend, to wait for an e-mail telling whether we were invited back to the filming, and a possible chance to run the course. I traveled down to Nashville with a few other hopeful walk-ons to learn a little more technique and try a few more obstacles on a backyard course. That Sunday I received the e-mail that I was one of the 30 potential walk-ons, and showed up in the park the next Tuesday morning. They did a very brief interviews and some filming of stupid human feats of strength. We were all hoping that maybe we could impress someone enough to get our chance at the course. One fellow walk-on commented that it felt like he was back on college spring break with all the guys doing tricks to impress the girls. I was amazed by the strength and commitment of my fellow walk-ons. I was inexperienced and new to the sport, but nearly everyone else had trained for years, some waiting in lines like this all around the country during multiple different seasons. They were superb athletes who didn’t have a crazy video backstory, but did have good chance at completing the course if they received the chance to start it.
The next night was the filming. The event started with 10 walk-ons who ran in a light rain. The rain made all of the obstacles slippery and extra challenging. A couple people who had been in Indianapolis for three weeks to have this opportunity fell on the first obstacle. It was heart breaking to see, particularly after getting to know them personally, and knowing how strong they were. After this the rained picked up and we were all brought inside for a 2.5 hour rain delay. This pretty much eliminated all hope of more walk-ons running, but we couldn’t give up. The night continued and the first half of the chosen athletes ran. Near the end of the night they knew they didn’t have time to complete orientation with the second half of the athletes, so they called up 10 more walk-ons. At 5am the walk-ons were about 4 people from running, and it started raining again. The crew covered the course and the event was over for the night.
This left me with a hard decision. I could either hold on to a slim hope of getting to run the course the next night, while they are running the qualifier for the rest of the chosen athletes and the city final for the top 30 athletes, or I could become a tester and try out some of the obstacles for the finals course. I contemplated all morning and made the illogical decision to remain in the walk-on line. I really felt like I could do well if I got the chance, and even though the chance was slim, it still existed. I returned to the course and again waited in the warm up area until nearly midnight. I watched a lot of great athletes run the course one after another, until just our walk on crew remained. We heard rumors that they might squeeze some of us in because things had run smoothly. None of us wanted to give up hope, but we had not heard an official word. Eventually, the athlete coordinator came over and give us the expected, but disappointing news that the qualifier was over, the 10 walk-ons who ran in the rain were the only 10 to have a chance at the Indianapolis course.
This was a difficult time for me. We all gave each other hugs, and took a picture of our disappointed crew in front of the sign and parted ways. I really didn’t know where to go from here, I had emotionally invested myself in this event, and frankly didn’t have anywhere else to be. Feeling a little lonely and lost I crawled behind a fountain and cried for a few minutes. I can’t explain exactly why I cried, I wasn’t that upset at not running, I knew the whole time that the chances were slim. I think the tears were a combination of physical exhaustion from lack of sleep, emotional exhaustion from continually hoping for a chance, and loneliness from not knowing where I was going next. This didn’t last too long before I, still tired, was ready to watch the finals. It was exciting to see these great athletes in their realm, performing beautifully on a brand new course. They are certainly phenomenal athletes. The whole thing wrapped up around 6am, at which point I drove to a parking lot and slept for a full 8 hrs. I woke up knowing my ninja adventure was complete, but unsure where to drive next.
What I learned was that the community may have been created by the tv show, but in reality the community is much better than the tv show. Stars from all different regions where in Indianapolis cheering their friends on. There are formal ninja gyms and backyard courses popping up all over the country. People are traveling to different gyms to try different obstacles and compete against each other. There are actually multiple ninja leagues around the US. This community is the heart and core of the ninja world. I will always be grateful all of the ninja’s who welcomed me, gave me pointers, and encouraged me along the way. Even though I didn’t get to run the tv course, after playing in their world, I consider myself a ninja.