I’m sure many climbers have heard of the show “American Ninja Warrior.” Long before I started climbing, my dad and I would watch the series during my trips home for the holidays and talk about what it would be like to give the obstacle course a go. Little did I know that a few of my bouldering videos would later catch the attention of a casting director, and I’d get my shot at seeing what the Ninja world was about. It started with making a ridiculously goofy submission video with my climbing friends during a Red Rocks trip and eventually getting “The Call” (a semi-official term for getting accepted onto the show) from an ANW producer while sitting at Schat’s Bakery in Bishop. A month later, I was at Universal Studios in LA getting ready to compete when everything came to a full stop. COVID was here, and the producers said the show couldn’t go on. I was incredibly sad to have gone through the entire process up to this point and come up short.
Midway through the summer, I got another call that production had received an OK to run a special season of American Ninja Warrior under a sort of “COVID bubble.” The show was on! I was so stoked. Lots of nervous waiting, doing my best to practice swinging dynos from my hangboard in the park, and cringy interview questions later, and I was standing at the start of the obstacle course. My flash attempt was foiled on the second obstacle (which turned out to be abnormally tricky for my episode), and I took the dunk in the pool below. If being on American Ninja Warrior has made me appreciate one thing in climbing more, it’s the value of putting a lot of effort into a flash go. In my case, botching the flash go meant that I didn’t get far enough to move on to the next round. It was a bummer to not get a chance to try the remaining obstacles because if I’m being honest, dyno-ing between giant swinging objects is
American Ninja Warrior shares attributes with climbing in the obvious ways – grip strength, coordination, and explosive movement – but I got a chance to see that there is a shared sense of community and a similarity in how members love to help each other by providing obstacle beta. I remember sitting in front of the monitor before I ran the course, with all the other ninjas that had yet to go, watching the action happen and speculating on the best way to get through the obstacles. Everyone was so psyched to share their beta and encourage others to play to their strengths. It was fun to see an aspect that I love so much about climbing exist in an adjacent group of athletes. Most importantly, the experience was a grand adventure and a good reminder of why I love climbing: meeting interesting people, trying really hard, traveling to new places, and making a myriad of memories.
Written by Jenn Debellis