Do I Dare?

Do I dare try to make and compete in American Ninja Warrior as a middle-aged 39-year-old father of three? A few years ago a buddy of mine, Ron, and I sort of got into Ninja Warrior (called Sasuke in Japan), the insane obstacle course competition featured twice a year in Japan that the cable channel G4 plays all the time. For those that haven’t seen the show, the obstacle course is diabolical, laid out in 4 stages of increasing pain and insanity.  In 24 contests over the last dozen years only 3 competitors out of 2,300 have ever finished the course.

Like a lot of couch potatoes, my buddy Ron and I would comment about how we could probably get past a lot of the obstacles. We harbored dreams of going to Japan and competing in Ninja Warrior, and taking it by storm as a couple of middle-aged Americans. This dream even motivated us to start going to the rock climbing gym here in Santa Fe, because many of the Ninja Warrior obstacles are based on insane grip and arm strength, characteristics we thought rock-climbing would help further.  More than anything we felt that to even have a chance at competing we needed to develop an “iron kung fu grip.”

Fast forward a couple of years, and we’ve forgotten about the Ninja Warrior dream (although we’ve continued to rock-climb), that is until last fall when AMERICAN Ninja Warrior was held for the first time, a competition here in the US where the finalists would get flown over to Japan to compete on the legendary Ninja Warrior course (here’s a good short video about the American Ninja Warrior course and competition structure). Hundreds competed in this tournament held in LA, with only 30 completing the first stage and moving forward. A couple of more stages of punishing obstacle course madness, and the ten finalists were left standing. They went to Japan and largely flailed on the Japanese Ninja Warrior course, but that’s not really the point.  The point was that ten guys got to beat the American Ninja Warrior course, get to look like studs for a few hours of cable TV, and get an all-expense-paid trip to Japan to step onto the hallowed course of Mount Midoriyama and compete in the legendary Sasuke.  With only 3 competitors out of 2,300 pretenders completing the 4 stage Sasuke course over the last dozen years, clearly the honor is in the competition and leaving it all out on the course.

So  back to the fast forward part…American Ninja Warrior 1 was replayed on G4 last week and it began to stir the juices.  I looked up the specifics of competing in American Ninja Warrior 2 and saw that they had just released the info for American Ninja Warrior 2 (to be held in July in Los Angeles). What I found was that there are basically two ways to get into the competition: first, you can submit a video with your story and some footage of your Ninja Warrior-esque athletic accomplishments to earn a guaranteed invite, or, second, you can just show up to the competition and wait around in line for a couple of days hoping to get a shot. Nothing guaranteed. But if you are determined and submit a good video early in the submission window, and are even willing to go to the competition without a guaranteed invite, there’s a pretty good shot you’d get a chance to compete.

At 39 and with my opportunities for athletic competition rapidly dwindling, should I give it a shot? Sort of insane, given that at age 39 I’m a good 50% older than most of the competitors who tend to be in their mid 20s. Another significant disadvantage…I’m a big guy. Makoto Nagano, Grand Champion of Ninja Warrior and the last guy to finish the course, clocks in at about 5’2″ and 130 pounds. That’s pretty typical of the top Japanese competitors, and not too far away from what the top American Ninja Warrior competitors who tend to be taller but still only about a buck-fifty in weight with ridiculously low body-fat.  With many obstacles requiring you climbing, swinging, and launching yourself using only your upper body, there is a real premium in relative strength. Me? I’m 6’4″ and 225 pounds.  Hauling that much body around is going to be my principle challenge.

But should I try anyway? Dare to put myself out there for probable failure, and potentially looking ridiculous? I think I just might…butterflies in the stomach even thinking about it.  At 39 and a long way from my athletic peak, which by the way was pretty good (could 360 dunk), do I have enough left in the tank?  Do I still have a little Ninja Warrior inside me?

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