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Father-son Ninjas break down how competition has changed their relationship

Vance and David Yarter are father and son Ninja Warriors. Both return to the show for Season 8. Here, they talk about the special way Ninja Warrior is changing their relationship.

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Vance and David Yarter are father/son Ninjas. Together, they own and train at Power Park Fitness in Spring Branch, Texas. David, age 25, and his father Vance, age 56, are currently the only father and son team to make it to a City Finals together (Season 7). David, 25 years old, also made it to the Vegas finals in 2015.

To celebrate Father’s Day, we asked these Ninjas to interview each other, finding out more about the unique relationship that’s forged between a father and son as they take on a challenge like American Ninja Warrior.

David took the lead and interviewed his dad, Vance, first.

David: So Vance, why did you decide to try out for American Ninja Warrior the first time?

Vance: I decided to try out for American Ninja Warrior because I was intrigued with the competition and the level of all-around fitness that these guys had doing these competitions. They did these amazing things, and I just thought 'I can do that.' I'd like to try that. So I built a Salmon Ladder. Did it, and it kind of took off from there.

David: What keeps you coming back year after year?

Vance: What keeps me coming back year after year is the fact that I believe I can still compete at a high level. And even though I am 56 years old and I deal with things that 56 year olds deal with in their bodies, and things like that. I feel like I can still do it. In my mind, I feel like I can do what anybody can do. So I at least have to try.

David: What's the toughest obstacle you've faced on the American Ninja Warrior course?

Vance: The toughest obstacles for me have always been the balance obstacles. It requires not just balance, but explosiveness and speed as well. Those have been the tough obstacles for me. There's no excuses. I just have to train a little harder, and a little differently to fix that issue. That weakness.

David: For sure. Do you feel like you think injuries have played a role in your inability on some of the balance obstacles?

Vance: Yes and no. If you have an injury, yes. It's going to effect your ability to do certain things. If your muscles aren't firing right. If you've got a messed up leg, knee, ankle, anything like that. Wrist. It doesn't matter. But it also makes you train to conquer your weakness. You kind of have to adjust for that. No athlete is 100% whenever they compete. Nobody.

David: So just make accommodations when you need to.

Vance: You have to.

David: What comes to mind as the toughest obstacle we've faced as a family?

Vance: The toughest obstacle we've faced as a family is the fact that Daniel, your older brother, had testicular cancer right after we got back from American Ninja Warrior [Season] 7 and from Nationals.

We went from a super emotional high, and just a great time as a family to watch you compete. To a devastating time when things happen that you think would never happen to you. And when they do it's very hard to deal with.

David: What do you think is my greatest strength? Physical and mental.

Vance: Your greatest strength is both. Because you know how to bring balance to both, David. You know when you've got to be mentally strong to make up for your weakness in your strength. And you know when you've got to be physically strong to make up for your weakness in your mental capacity. You balance both very well.

David: What advice do I need to keep in mind when I hit the course?

Vance: Trust your training. No second thoughts on what we've done. We're prepared. We are prepared. We're ready. So just trust your training.

David: Do you feel like your age plays a role in wether you make it or don't make it on the course.

Vance: To me that's a yes and no question. If I said no, I'd be a liar, because it does. I'm twice the age of everybody else out there, and a lot of times, almost twice the weight as well. So my age does play a factor, but I don't factor that in.

David: You use it as motivation.

Vance: I use it as motivation. I don't think about it. I never have ever thought 'You're too old to do this.' Never.

David: That's awesome.

Then Vance asked David some questions.

Vance: Hi son.

David: Hey dad.

Vance: So why did you decide to try out for American Ninja Warrior the first time?

David: The first time I tried out for American Ninja Warrior was because you had tried out. You did it the year before I did and that's what made me realize that I didn't have to accept the situation that I had put myself in. Or the rut that I had put myself in by not taking care of myself.

I think at that point I felt helpless at the age of 21. If I went and ran a mile, it would take me 45 minutes to recover. And then I saw you trying out for the show, and something just kind of snapped in my head. I just asked myself, 'What's wrong with you? What are you doing to yourself? Your dad is 56 and he's still forging on and you're not.’ So that's what made me try out for the show. You.

Vance: So how do you stay motivated to come back year after year?

David: What motivates me to come back year after year is the fact that I haven't gotten to where I want to get to. So I really want to conquer the obstacles the took me out last year, and forge through that on to wherever I can make it to next. I don't know. I just feel like I'm never ever content with how far I get. So I always want to get farther.

And then making sure that I...I also feel like what keeps me coming back are the people that support our facility. They believe in us. I feel like if I didn't come back, a lot of them would kind of be like wondering where my drive went. I feel like that could effect them a little bit. So I think that's the two driving factors.

Vance: So for you, what's the toughest obstacle you've faced in American Ninja Warrior?

David: The toughest obstacle I've faced, would probably have to be, I'd say balance as well. Just because it's not something that I feel like I've specialized in a lot of my life. Lifted a lot of weights, upper body wise, and been very technical upper body wise.

But when it comes to balance it's just something I've kind of slacked off on. It's the toughest obstacle in my mind, but physically it's not. It's probably one of the easier obstacles out there.

If it comes to a physical obstacle, it would have to be number 10, the Invisible Ladder, which I've never gotten to. But I just know that the build up of those 9 obstacles before that tenth obstacles would make that one the toughest one so far.

Vance: And I know we've talked about this, that the toughest obstacle is the one you haven't conquered.

David: Yeah, the one that you fall on. That's the toughest obstacle. Cause that's the one that took you out.

Vance: That's right. What comes to mind as the toughest obstacle we've faced as a family?

David: Like you had mentioned, I would say Daniel, my older brother, just going through the testicular cancer. I think it really wreaked havoc on a lot of our thoughts and ideas as to, you know... Whenever something happens to someone, you think there must be some kind of reason. You're like 'Okay, well it must have happened because of this or that.' There's just no reason for stuff like that to happen to people. So I do feel like that's the biggest obstacle that we've had to conquer as a family. Just because it really bled into the rest of the family.

Other than that, I would say the largest obstacle we've conquered is the relationship between you and me. The poisonous relationship that we used to have when I was younger. Just mainly because of how...I don't know, how rebellious I was towards you. That also wreaked a lot of negativity throughout our family for a really long time. It destroyed a lot of relationships for some periods of time.

So the obstacle that Daniel conquered was something that we couldn't control, but the obstacle that me and you conquered was something that we could control. And I think that's almost twice as hard to conquer. We both had to make the decision. It wasn't just one person. You couldn't just say, 'I want to try.' It didn't work like that. We both had to put in 100% effort to get out of that.

Vance: Absolutely. Good answer. What do you think is my greatest strength? Physical and mental?

David: Your greatest strength physically and mentally is that you don't quit. You have no quit. Physically that may mean that you rip off rings, or just completely fly off of something, or land off, or come off of a balance obstacle crazy, like I swear you're going to get hurt. And somehow you're not.

That would have to be your biggest strength. You don't quit. You don't know where the off switch is really. That's why I feel like I'm kind of there. So I can be like 'Hey dad, stop! That's enough!'

But mentally, your biggest strength is the fact that you don't care about your age. You don't let it play a factor. Until you're on the obstacle and you realize, 'Oh yeah, I'm 56 right now.' I'm like, 'Hey, can you do that dad?' and you're like, 'Yup. Wait. Hold on. Maybe not right now. Maybe in a couple months.' Your biggest strength is definitely no off switch. You never quit.

Vance: What advice do I need to keep in mind when I hit the course?

David: The advice that I would give you is just to trust your abilities. To trust that you can do it, that you can do this. I think a lot of times the reason we fail obstacles, and you don't get obstacles the first time, is you're not sure if you can do it. So going out on the course, you just going to have to believe and know that you can do this. Afterwards you'd much rather be shocked that you fell, as opposed to anticipating it.

Vance: Right.

David: So knowing that you can do it. I've seen you do things that I would have never thought that you could do. Not just because you're my dad, but because most of the time 56 years old and 200 pounds doesn't really fit the build for what we're doing.

So half the time you're swinging around on stuff, and I'll be videotaping you with the camera and I can't look through the camera because I'm like, 'Holy crap. Is this happening?"

Vance: I know. You take lousy videos.

David: At least I don't put my fingers in the videos!

Vance: I did that once!

David: Every video so far!

Vance: What do I want to ask you? Let's see. Why do you always want to be better than me? What is it that drives you to be better than me?

David: I think when I was young. When a lot of father/son relationships are young. Dads are constantly proving that they're better at everything than their sons.

Vance: Wait, you're putting this back on me?

David: Oh yeah.

Vance: Oh this backfired.

David: Oh yeah. When you're little, I always wanted to be cool and show you, 'Hey look what I can do.' And then you'd be like, 'Well, look at this.' 3 point shot as opposed to 5 feet away. So I think that's been in our family for awhile. Always kind of like one-upping each other.

But then it inspires the next person. So I think that's part of it too, is that I feel like I'm kind of leading the way like some of the other athletes that inspire me do. If I hadn't seen them do something, I would have never even thought about trying it, or assumed that it was possible. So I don't feel the need to be better than you, but when you forge through and push harder on somethings than I do, it makes me believe that I can too. So I think it's honestly like this ricochet.

Vance: You're making it very difficult for me to be better than you. Cause I'm kind of going in one direction, and you're kind of coming in my direction in a very strong way.

I've got no problem with it at all. As a father, I want you to be better than me in every way and every aspect, son.

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