“So, are you going to retire now?”
“Do you think you’ll compete again?”
“How much longer do you think you’ll be able to do this?”
These are common questions I’ve heard over the last few months as American Ninja Warrior has not only gotten a lot more public awareness with its successful summer run on NBC, but as awareness of my own involvement has increased pretty significantly since both my runs in the regionals and regional finals were featured fairly prominently on the show. Not surprisingly, my fellow ninja brothers and sisters hardly ever ask me this, they know the fun and passion of competing, and mostly just assume I (and others) will be back as long as we are able. More surprisingly is that people from my other walks of life – family, friends, co-workers – ask these questions with the baked-in assumption and tone that my participation in the competition is just a wacky crazy short-lived fling with lunacy.
Here’s my answer: “I’ll compete until the wheels fall off.”
First of all, it’s great fun, and it helps me stay fit. Exercise by itself I find sort of boring. But doing obstacles is fun, and training for a competition is motivating. Participating in American Ninja Warrior motivates me to stay active, and to acquire new physical skills. In short, it keeps me young. Yes, I am kinda old for this…41 is not the average age by a long shot. My body is not the same as it once was, it takes me longer to recover and I’m not nearly capable of doing some of the same things that I once could (360 dunk anyone?). But my will is strong, stronger than it has ever been, and I compete for the joy and passion of it, not because I need to be the best at it.
Second of all, I AM COMPELLED TO COMPETE. In general, and in this competition. More than that, I feel like I am MEANT to compete here. What is the name of the domain here? Yes…AmericanNinjaWarrior.com. I knew this thing was coming before it arrived. I don’t think I would have had this vision of the existence of American Ninja Warrior if my participation in it wasn’t inseparably entwined with it! Even as a kid, I had visions of competing in obstacle course competitions, and always lamented the lack of any pro sports league centered around obstacles. When I stop competing in American Ninja Warrior, I may never physically compete in anything again at a high level, this is my last shot at true physical competition. I get to compete against some of the best athletes in the world – professional stuntmen, professional parkour practioners, some of the top rock-climbers in the world, All-American athletes in different disciplines – and this is almost certainly my last opportunity to stand among them as an equal and a brother. This is the final window of opportunity of this in my life, and entering my fifth decade on earth I will hold onto this until they kick my withered old carcass off the course and tell me not to come back.
Third of all, and finally, I feel competing is a great example for my three young boys. They get to see me strive, succeed, and fail. Life is competition, but competition can crush you if you don’t have the right mentality for it. This is something that I myself learned too late in life, and wish I had known it earlier. I want to encourage my boys to compete, and to have stretch goals for themselves, but to focus on the joy of the pursuit, and not necessarily on the outcome. Every year they see me fail at some point after seeing me prepare hard, but they also get to see me overjoyed with the experience, the pursuit, and the brotherhood among the competitors. Seeing a model of a father who is active, dares to dream, strives for great things, but focuses on the experience and not the outcome I personally believe is one of the most invaluable things I can provide them. Maybe I am wrong…parenting is full of unknowns…but I believe my competing in American Ninja Warrior is something they both admire and something they can learn some important life lessons from.
So, for those of you who would ask, I repeat: I will compete in American Ninja Warrior until the wheels fall off. Any other questions?