Every American Ninja Warrior legend starts a rookie. Each season, we’re introduced to new faces who go on to leave us thrilled and awe-inspired. But Kevin Carbone’s fledgling season is a unique standout in the history of first-timers. He has a distinct title: The only Ninja to ever defeat his own obstacle in his rookie season.
Kevin is the creator of the Wingnuts, a design that came to life through the American Ninja Warrior Obstacle Design Challenge.
For Kevin, the road to the course began long ago.
“I’ve been watching since season one. I even watched the Japanese show, Sasuke, before that. I watched Ninja Warrior late night in our guest bedroom. With the TV turned down so I didn't wake up my parents and have them know I'm watching TV. All just to watch Ninja Warrior.”
But before Kevin could make his Ninja dreams come true, he had to first turn 21, the age limit for competitors. Once he was old enough for season nine, he submitted his own application video and then began the very long waiting game for the call from casting.
While he waited, he kept up with what was happing on the most recent installments of the show. It was during one of season eight’s episodes that he learned about another way to show off his super-fandom: the obstacle design challenge.
“I saw the challenge on the show and went to the website.
Literally ten minutes later I went up, took a shower and started just brainstorming. Sometimes I come up with my best ideas in the shower. Right off the bat I think I wrote one down. Started drawing it out when I got back downstairs.
It was a nerve-wracking sideways leap of faith. A lot of people compared it to the motion of a Viking ship. Rocking back and forth. And then you let go. You kind of scramble through the air and hope your hands land.
The name came from my father who was sitting in the kitchen with me when I was drawing it out. He mentioned that it looked like a wingnut, which is a type of hardware for tools. You tighten a bolt with a wingnut. I was like, ‘That's stupid.’
But I couldn't get it out of my head. Then I was like, ‘That's genius.’ It was so simple. Simple can be elegant sometimes. I liked the name, so I submitted with the name.”
After he sent in his design, Kevin went back to focusing on making it on the show. Time ticked by, however, and no phone call came. Kevin was not going to be selected to compete for season nine.
“But I decided that I love American Ninja Warrior and I'm going to do the walk on line.”
Undeterred, Kevin picked himself up and joined the other dedicated hopefuls in the Daytona walk on line. That experience alone turned out to be worthwhile.
“The guys were great. I made so many nice connections. So many friends. Had a lot of camaraderie. We got to go hang out with each other all day long. Get to know each other really well. Train. Occasionally we did funny things and we made funny challenges. We got better. We pushed each other. And we had fun.”
After about ten days in the walk on line, Kevin took a little break from the shenanigans to check his email. That’s when he noticed a message that was a few days old. It was from NBC and the subject line referenced something he’d put out of his mind to focus on the competition: His obstacle design submission.
“The email basically said hey, just a heads up that your design may or may not be used this season.”
Kevin was, understandably, eager to learn more. He quickly called the contact who sent the email. That’s when Kevin tipped off NBC that he was in the walk on line for Daytona. The contact couldn’t confirm anything for Kevin at that point, but he had a feeling something big was about to happen.
“It was pure excitement. I had so many questions. I didn't know what was going to come of the next days.”
About one week later, Kevin first laid eyes on the Daytona course and saw that not only did his Wingnuts design make the cut, it was in the city he’d be running as the third obstacle.
“I was at a loss for words. I was speechless and honored all at the same time. And excited and nervous. A mix of emotions.”
When the night of competition arrived, Kevin trepidatiously stepped up to the starting line.
“I think anyone's first time on the show is going to be very crazy and nerve-wracking already. There was so much pressure surrounding me, in my own head, to beat the obstacle.
I was overwhelmingly nervous and also confident at the same time. Because if you don't have some level of confidence, you're not going to ever do it. I told myself that I could do it. I tried my hardest.”
Kevin’s hardest was more than enough. He not only defeated his Wingnuts, but the entire course. Before he hit the buzzer, he dropped to one knee and pretended to propose. It was a fun way for Kevin to demonstrate his love and commitment to American Ninja Warrior.
There's nothing like conquering your own obstacle design and moving on to city finals all in one night! You could see your obstacle come to life next season like Kevin Carbone! Enter the American Ninja Warrior Obstacle Design Challenge: http://anwnation.comPosted by Ninja Warrior on Monday, June 26, 2017
Kevin barely had time to let that experience sink in before he realized another amazing moment was about to happen. His heroes were about to test their skills on his design.
Daytona was also the city where Jessie Graff and Drew Drechsel would start their season nine journeys, attempting to get to the National Finals. To make it there, they’d have to get past Kevin’s Wingnuts.
“I couldn't take my eyes away when I saw Jessie Graff and Drew Drechsel on it. They're superstars and to see them on something I may have come up with in the shower, designed at my house. It's special, cool. Unreal a little bit.”
As the legends leapt from swing to swing, the audience was suspended in the air right along with Drew and Jessie, pleading that they would be able to catch and hold the next Wingnut. Both of them would complete the obstacle, but for other Ninjas, the Wingnuts proved to be their demise.
“You don't want the obstacle to be a pushover that's so easy everyone can beat it but to watch it get beat so beautifully by superstars and by the Ninjas was awesome. When athletes went down on it, it was kind of like watching Ninja ghosts disappear. Maybe I had a couple nightmares about it.”
Overall, the Daytona competitors, even if they couldn’t make it past the Wingnuts, enjoyed the high-flying trip Kevin had planned out for them.
“They all loved the obstacle. Everyone said it was the most fun obstacle on the Daytona course. That's what I heard from the majority of people.”
Kevin will have to get past his obstacle one more time in the Daytona City Finals if he wants to punch his ticket to Las Vegas. But so far, it’s pretty safe to say that his rookie season is already a once in a lifetime memory.
“I'm in Ninja heaven. I say that I live a Ninja life. I always Ninja on random objects and buildings everywhere I go and it's a blessing to be out here. I’m honored to have an obstacle.
Applying to the challenge was one of the best choices I’ve ever made. It’s been the best use of my time.
It's made me more excited to make more obstacles and I plan to. I already have started making more obstacles in my backyard and cultivating the ideas for them. I have so many more ideas!”
If you’ve been dreaming up an American Ninja Warrior obstacle, you too can have a chance to see it come to life! The Obstacle Design Challenge is back for another season.
Just remember as you send in that daunting design: Think you could beat it yourself?