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The catalytic effect of American Ninja Warrior

Our favorite show is leading a fitness revolution.

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Case Lawrence, CEO and Founder of CircusTrix, shares his thoughts on the growing state of ‘extreme recreation’ and how American Ninja Warrior is heading up a revolution.

It is incredibly difficult to put down the phone and distance oneself from the Internet. Instead of having tangible experiences and creating memories, many of us complacently scroll through other’s lives, living vicariously through their picturesque experiences.

These matter-of-fact thoughts are often taken as principle—dictating the actions of businesses, parents and really anyone vying for attention. It’s hard to get people away from the screen and into the action, but it’s not impossible.

My extreme recreation company and others similar to it have expanded at an incredible rate. iPhones, Xbox, and all other news making gadgetry aside, the number of indoor extreme recreation and aerial sports parks in the US has increased from 40 to more than 460 in about five years. This coincides with the unmistakable rise in popularity of Spartan races, Tough Mudders, Warrior Dashes, Stunt Runs, Dirty Dashes—the list goes on.

So what gives? In an increasingly digital world, where it seems like many of us are more excited about Pokémon than being active for the sake of being active, where does this rise in extreme recreation come from?

As it turns out, extreme recreation and our digital/content consuming lives go hand-in-hand.

Take the popularity of NBC’s American Ninja Warrior (ANW) as an example. Now in its eighth season, American Ninja Warrior is one of the most popular shows on television, with solid ratings and over 6 million weekly viewers. As participation in organized sports decreases, content fitness and individual physical pursuits like those in American Ninja Warrior are growing. The competition series has ignited a serious flame in people, and created overnight superstars of previously unknown obstacle athletes. And, make no mistake, these are athletes—and this is a sport on its way to full-scale legitimacy and adoption.

For example, take a look at American Ninja Warrior star Kevin Bull (Kevin “The Bull”), who recently signed an endorsement deal with CircusTrix. Bull first competed in American Ninja Warrior’s sixth season as a walk-on. As an independent stock trader, he had seen the show, witnessed the accomplishments of previous competitors and then trained to become an extreme athlete himself.

He isn’t the only one who’s made the jump into the extreme recreation world, either. Jessie Graff, a professional stuntwoman and actress, was the first woman to make it up the Warped Wall. Isaac Caldiero, a rock climber, became the first person to complete the entire ANW course. These people, along with countless others, had a goal and worked to accomplish it. They exemplify the show, the extreme recreation movement, and all it represents. [Editor’s note: Kacy Catanzaro was the first woman to complete the Warped Wall in competition, followed by Michelle Warnky. Geoff Britten was the first person to complete all four stages of the National Finals. Isaac Caldiero was the second, but completed the Mt. Midoriyama climb with a faster time. ]

We love it because the series features normal people—a stock trader, a dad, a veteran—accomplishing incredible physical feats. For some, the show acts as nothing more than pure entertainment. But for a key group—the ones going to extreme recreation facilities and building the movement—the show and its athletes are an inspiration.

Fans follow the athletes as they conquer the Jumping Spider, traverse the I-Beam and scale the famous Warped Wall. They gaze at the TV and cheer their favorites, shaking their heads in disbelief each time a competitor advances to the next stage. That disbelief doesn’t last long though. In the back of viewers’ minds, a seed is planted: “If they can do that, there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to do that.”

What’s more, they share these experiences—they’re practically built to blend into fans’ digital lives, contributing to the rapid rise in ANW and other similar sporting events and activities.

And so the fire is lit—we want to live what we see, similar to watching other sports like baseball, basketball, tennis, etc. We aspire to become what we see on the screen. And then we want to share it. And we’ll even leave the phones and TV sets behind (for at least a moment) to do it. Instead of simply being a show on a screen, American Ninja Warrior has become a catalyst that leads people to try something new. This is why we’re now seeing things like Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge, and I’m certain we will see a lot more extreme recreation in the future.

So get going. After all, it’s a ninja’s world and we’re all just living in it.