The Ninjas we never know

From the time the application is submitted in December, thousands of aspiring ninjas across the country sit on pins and needles.

First there is the wait for locations and dates to be announced. Once that comes, calendars are cleared, and then the worst of the waiting begins.

Once calls start going out, every ninja worth their salt is inseparable from their phone. Waiting for the 818 area code to pop up is an annual tradition, and one loaded with agony and angst. For hundreds of ninjas each year, the exhilaration of seeing that call and getting an invitation to officially compete is unforgettable.

For thousands of others, the call never comes.


Waiting for the Call (Credit: Devin Harrelson)

This, so far, is my experience. I am one of the thousands. And this is the experience of most of the friends and acquaintances I have met over the last few years. In fact, some of the strongest competitors I have met at various gym competitions have never been on the show.

Most have applied, some 3, 4, or 5 years and counting. This time of year for those aspiring ninjas is a mixture of joy and pain. We can’t help but be excited for all those who get their shot at the course. That’s how the ninja community works. We cheer for each other, no matter what. It’s us versus the course, and when one of us succeeds, we all do.

But there is also heavy disappointment in not having that experience for yourself. Many of us become course testers, seeking out spots each year to get on a few obstacles, attend the live taping, and take part in the journeys of others.

Many of us also compete during the year through local competitions, the National Ninja League, the United Ninja Athletic Association, OCR races, and really any chance we can find to push ourselves further in our athletic journeys.


Me after testing in Atlanta for ANW 8

In spite of facing the prospect of disappointment year after year, we continue to persist. We spend countless hours training each year. We spend dozens of hours refining our submission videos. We wait. We stare at silent phones.

And we do it all again the next year.

What I find fascinating and challenging about the ninja community is how it embraces failure. Many find the fear of failure paralyzing. It holds them back from even trying. Ninjas embrace failure at every turn. Failure is not a four-letter word.

For me, diving into the ninja warrior game has meant trying things that terrify me. That first big lache. First time on the Warped Wall. First time on the Salmon Ladder. First time flying through the air with a bar in hand. All of these moments bring with them both fear and thrill. In my own experience, for most of these firsts came corresponding failure.

However, once you commit to the journey, failure becomes merely a part of the process, not the end.


Facing down the course can be intimidating. Tiana Webberley looks on in LA for ANW 9.

Not long ago, a fellow ninja posted on Facebook about the power of "yet." His words captured beautifully the spirit of determination which persists in this community. Rather than "I can’t do this," we embrace "I can’t do this, yet." The power of "yet" means we continue in the journey, because the journey ultimately is about challenging ourselves. Pushing ourselves. Embracing obstacles. Looking at something you just can’t do and labelling it with a "yet."

My family and friends have been great cheerleaders. For my kids in particular, my hope is I treat my "failure" of not getting a call three years running now not as a reason to quit, but merely as part of the journey. Whether I end up on the set as a competitor at some point or not, embracing challenges, promoting a fun form of fitness, challenging myself and others is just par for the ninja course.

And what a fun journey it is, for me and all the ninjas you may never know.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of American Ninja Warrior Nation's writers or editors, or of NBC.

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