ALL IN: The American Ninja Warrior Lottery

It’s been a wild ride for the last several months. Hello ANWNation! My name is Michael Poston. I’m from Kennesaw, Georgia and a 3-time American Ninja Warrior competitor. I’ve walked on 5 times in 4 years (not including the Season 11 lottery system) totaling 94 days in line. I’ve worked in the telecommunications industry for the last 19 years. I started training for ANW shortly after Season 6 while I was recovering from artificial disc replacement in my lower back. Now that you know a little bit about me, I want to tell you about the Walk On Line Experience from Season 11. Yes, I have been to each lottery in the first four cities, so I have a lot to say so bear with me, because it’s one heck of a story.

Season 11 Begins

33 days prior to Ninja Warrior filming in Atlanta, my hometown, fellow Ninja Warrior walk-on veteran Greg Schwartz drove down from Connecticut to Atlanta to start the walk on line. Without hesitation, I was there to join him as #1 and #2 in line (shortly joined by #3 Katie Staples). Combined, we have more than 200 days of walk on line days behind us prior to Season 11. One week later, with our line up to 11 people, news from Casting comes down that effectively disbanded our line. The new walk on line format was introduced: the Walk On Lottery. No more controlling our own destiny based on how much we’re willing to sacrifice to get our chance. Instead, we had to leave it to chance.

A week later, I found myself flying to Los Angeles with Greg and fellow Atlantan Kevin McCall. We decided that LA would have the least amount of ninja hopefuls in the Walk on Lottery, based on timing of the casting decision (less than a week notice) as well as the size of the ninja community on the west coast (compared to the east coast). Statistically, it was the right decision. Only 50 people showed up to the historic first American Ninja Warrior Walk on Lottery. Twenty ninjas are selected in the lottery process, so the odds were in our favor. Both Greg and Kevin were picked in the first walk on lottery, but I was not selected. Greg was selected 6th and Kevin 16th. Knowing what the weather forecast showed, we felt confident about Greg getting a chance to run the course and held out hope that Kevin would get his shot. [Without giving pre-season spoilers] Greg got his chance on the course, in less than ideal conditions, but Kevin did not, as the rain pummeled the course for a couple of hours prior to filming and during an extended lunch break. So back to Atlanta we went, with the first chance under our belt and a little bit of LA course knowledge to help our fellow ninjas training for the show (i.e. new first obstacle).


Top: Michael Poston, Greg Schwartz, Katie Staples starting the Atlanta Walk On Line
Bottom Left: At the LA Walk on Line
Bottom Right: Kevin McCall, Greg Schwartz, Michael Poston in LA

Two more weeks of ninja preparation to try again in the second city: my hometown of Atlanta. You would think that’s not a big deal, but it’s one of the hardest things I’ve had to do since starting my ninja journey four years ago. We didn’t just go home to our lives for the next two weeks and wait for the lottery. It was so much more than that. There’s truth to the mantra: Eat, Sleep, Train, Repeat!


Not all athletes cut weight for competition, but I do. Who wouldn’t want to drop ten pounds before competing and retain all your strength? Prior to competition season, I like to stand between 155 -160 lbs. I work to drop down to 142-145 lbs. for my competition weight. With that said, I don’t like to stay there, but when you prepare for a competition and it gets pushed back two weeks, your body doesn’t have time to adjust back up and then back down, so you must maintain the lower body weight and eat incredibly healthy to avoid excess weight and maintain full strength.


As most ninjas know, you must adjust your sleep schedule several days in advance to accommodate for overnight filming (unless you’re competing in Tacoma this year). With a two week break in between cities, do I adjust my schedule back to a regular time or do I maintain the overnight sleep schedule that I’ve already adjusted to? Like most ninja competitors, I have a ‘normal job’ working ‘normal hours’. Those normal hours aren’t conducive to the ninja overnight schedule. Additionally, I already have sleep issues that prevents me from waking up early in the morning (being treated for narcolepsy as of last week). I struggled for two weeks to maintain my normal work schedule as well as keep a somewhat late-night schedule, sometimes staying up until 3-4AM and sleeping up to 12 hours a night. I’m lucky to have a work environment that supports me. [My new ninja name… the Narcoleptic Ninja!]


As any competitive athlete will tell you, training is essential to staying physically strong and at your peak performance, but it’s imperative to taper your training prior to competition. That means I tapered my training to prepare for LA Qualifiers, then got back to training for a week, then start tapering again for Atlanta. There becomes a fine balance between tapering your training and simply not training. Finding that balance was demanding on my body because it didn’t know if I was supposed to be training or resting. My standard training routine is 5 days a week of rock climbing and ninja training. I spend a lot of time at night in the gym to recover in the hot tub, sauna, swimming pool or by using my HyperVolt for intense recovery. Luckily, they’re open 24/7 to allow me that time to myself recovering.


It was an amazing experiencing having American Ninja Warrior here in my hometown again. The ATLNinjas wanted to welcome everyone to our home and show America what we’re capable of. You’ll have to catch the Atlanta episode to see just how well we did!

The lottery was on a Saturday morning in front of the gorgeous Mercedes-Benz Stadium. We had anticipated 100-125 people in the lottery. We knew there would be much more than LA because of the surrounding areas and the number of ninja communities in the Southeast (Tampa, Miami, Nashville, Huntsville, North Carolina, and of course the rest of the ATLNinja crew that didn’t get callbacks). I saw a few familiar faces in the lottery crowd that made the journey from the LA lottery. Everest Ling, Keith Kearney, Jonathan Castaneda, myself and Kevin McCall were determined to get our chance on the show. Additionally, Greg Schwartz had made the trip back down to Atlanta to support the southeast ninjas.

Once everyone signed in and the lottery proceeded, I kept my head down and just listened for my name. There was nothing more I could do to give me a better chance. Roughly 105 people and I waited patiently through the list of 20 names being called. I was extremely excited for a few of my good friends to get called, but alas, I never heard my name. I knew I was facing an uphill battle as the odds would continue to get worse as the season went along. I worked my way through the crowd congratulating a few friends and consoling the guys that I undoubtedly would see in three more weeks.



There was a two week break between filming the Atlanta episodes of ANW and my travel date to Oklahoma City. That two-week break was nothing short of exhausting. I was physically tired from being amped up for the show and cheering on some of my closest friends and training partners. I was emotionally tired from the highs of the show and the lows of not getting my chance to compete with the ATLNinjas at home. I was mentally tired from having to keep it all together. I allowed myself to rest a few days, training a few days and not be as strict with my sleep schedule. I also worked on two different movie sets in that two-week window. But the time had come.

Oklahoma City

I made the decision to drive to OKC from Atlanta. It was a 13-hour drive that I also made in Season 8 to be in the OKC walk-on line. I felt like the time could be beneficial to take a break and unwind. I also didn’t want to buy a plane ticket without knowing if I was coming back home the same day or a few days later, if I was selected. The financial part of traveling was about only spending the money that was required. If I wasn’t competing, there was no need for me to stay. I would just come back home and save the cost of a hotel room and food.

The OKC Lottery was on a Thursday morning but I had no doubt that a midweek date wouldn’t slow anyone down that wanted to compete. We were estimating around 150 in the lottery and while I don’t have an exact number, we were close. Being the third city in a short 6-week span, it was nice seeing the guys again. Everest, Kevin, Jonathan, Keith and I all knew our chances were dwindling, but we weren’t giving up just yet. As the lottery started to get underway, we were moved outside as a group (better lighting for the camera). I remember it being so cold and windy. I stood near the back with the same guys that just went through this with me less than three weeks prior. Once the names started being called, I kept my head down just to listen again. "#18… Jonathan Castaneda!" One of the five of us got picked! We knew that it would be a long shot for Jonathan to get on the course, especially with the pending weather in the forecast. I was excited for Jonathan but had already decided that it was time to go back home. Since the lottery wasn’t near the set of the course, I never even saw the beautiful site of truss that holds all our dreams. I saw the setup at the State Capitol just three years ago when a tornado warning took my chances of me running the course with it. Before I left, I decided to check out a local rock-climbing gym with one of my training partners from ATL, Nick Patel. We decided to stay one night to sleep before I loaded up my car and brought him and fellow ATLNinja Natalie Goldwin back home with me. Kevin had already taken a flight home earlier in the day.

The 13-hour drive home felt much longer and gave me a lot of time to really think about what I was doing. The chances of getting selected kept decreasing and with Baltimore as the next city, we were expecting the most walk-on hopefuls there than any other city (proximity to the NE ninjas). The odds of getting picked in Baltimore were so slim, I almost didn’t want to put forth the effort. I was tired. Physically, mentally, emotionally. It was so draining going two weeks on, then a week off, then doing it again… and again. Now on my 4th attempt at the walk-on lottery, my mentality was set and determined but my mind took a hit. My confidence in the likelihood of getting my chance this season was deteriorating. I mentioned to several of my training partners, "I have to prepare myself for the fact that I might not get my chance to compete this year." All the hard work that I’ve put in, the days and hours of training. The tole I’ve put on my body to be at its peak physical condition. This is the strongest I’ve been in my entire life. While there is a great reward for that, I felt that I was displaced because I wasn’t going to get my chance to achieve one of my 2019 goals (WIN American Ninja Warrior).



Two weeks from the day I got home from OKC, I left straight from work to head to Baltimore. Not nearly the 13 hour drive that OKC was, 10 hours seemed much more manageable. I had refocused during the last 14 days and put my mind on training my body the best I knew how. I spent a lot of time rock climbing. It’s my home away from home. I feel clear… focused when I’m on the wall [I’ve been working on my 2019 goal of climbing 10 v9 bouldering problems]. Despite the odds, I was determined to take my shot again! To avoid any extra downtime before the lottery, I decided to take an hour to myself in our Nation’s Capital. Washington DC with the sun rising from the east was breathtaking. I took the time to clear my head, take some pictures and run some extra nerves off.


Top: Virgina State Line;  Bottom: DC at sunrise

An hour later, I was back in the car with my sights set on Baltimore. I arrived shortly after 8AM and was greeted by some of my closest friends. Kevin McCall, Nick Patel, Ruben Hernandez with his girlfriend in tow, all from the ATLNinjas, all looking to get our shot on the course. Some people were expecting upwards to 400 people in this lottery, while I was thinking realistically 175-200. As the time grew closer to 9 AM, the crowd continued to grow. It started to seem impossible in this city to get called among all these people. Keith couldn’t make it this time, so we were down to four. But nonetheless, there was four determined ninjas not willing to give up: Everest, Kevin, Jonathan (picked in OKC but didn’t get to run), and myself. The four last standing Ninjas that have been to every city. And one more Ninja that loves his friends and will support us until the end, Greg Schwartz made the trip to Baltimore to show his support for me and the ATLNinjas!


Top: Greg showing his ATLNinja Support: Bottom: the Baltimore Walk on Lottery

As the drawing started to get underway, there was a special guest that made an appearance. Another highly motivated walk-on veteran that finally got his chance to run the show without needing to walk-on, Dave Cavanagh. If you saw the show last year, he was dubbed the King of the Walk Ons. With his appearance, he had the honor of picking the first walk-on out of the fishbowl. As in previous lottery drawings, I sat with my head down and just listened. After Dave picked the first person to run, Peter started drawing from the fishbowl. He mistakenly picked up two tickets, so he shuffled it back up. And then magic happened. "#2, Michael Poston!" I looked up with a shocked smile on my face and immediately was surrounded by friends from all over, jumping up and down. The shear emotion coursing through my veins was unreal. Disbelief, excitement, joy, elation. I was about to burst at the seams. There were people in the crowd that were cheering me on that I didn’t know but had heard of my journey this season. Shouts of "You truly deserve it!" and "It’s your time!" It was a moment that I wasn’t expecting. The first thing Peter asked me, "Is my mother coming?" Absolutely.

As I moved away from the crowd, my ATLNinjas friends were rushing over to me not even listening for their name. They were just as excited. After a few deep breaths, I had a sudden realization: I had every goal still in front of me! I’ve put in the time. I’ve put in the work. I’ve earned my confidence. I can’t just write down a goal of winning American Ninja Warrior if I don’t train. But I’ve earned the right to say that one of my 2019 goals are to not just compete, but to win! I didn’t hear his name, but as I’m quickly responding to texts from friends, family and our ATLNinjas group chat, I saw Jonathan Castaneda in the group of walk-on competitors! Jonathan had the pleasure of being selected TWICE now. It was incredible the amount of support that I was receiving from the Northeast Ninjas, but it was special having Greg along with several of my ATLNinja friends and my family in Baltimore there to support me! I know my parents wouldn’t have missed it for the world! They got in a car from Atlanta shortly after finding out that I was competing.

I gave myself an hour to celebrate, both internally and externally. It was time to focus on what I truly came here for. Everything was already planned out from the beginning. The plan was in place that no matter what city I got my shot in, I would know exactly how my day would look on lottery day and competition day. I was prepared. The next night was the night that I had been visualizing for the last year. My body and mind were strong, and I was ready to go. As the second runner of the night in Baltimore, I was determined to set the stage for a loaded field of competitors.


The Baltimore Starting Line

The Final Four

Jonathan Castaneda, Everest Ling, Kevin McCall, Michael Poston. The 4 Ninjas that wouldn’t give up on the chance to run the hardest obstacle course in the world! Unfortunately, this was Kevin’s last chance to get selected for this season as he starts a new job here in Atlanta. I’m sending all my well wishes to Jonathan and Everest, along with a few other ninjas that have been to multiple lottery drawings like Reko Rivera, Ruben Hernandez, Natalie Goldwin and Keith Kearney. I wish you guys the best of luck in this new game of chance to compete on the biggest stage our sport has to offer!

That’s about all I can say for the time being. Make sure you watch the show to see all the amazing athletes that give everything they have to this sport! There’s no guarantee that I’ll be shown, but regardless of airtime, I took my place on the starting platform one more time on American Ninja Warrior! Maybe I should be dubbed "King of the Walk-on Lottery?"

I’ll leave you with this: If you want something bad enough, don’t let anyone get in your way! You do whatever you need to do to make your dreams a reality. If you don’t succeed the first time, pick yourself back up and keep moving forward. Your first attempt is rarely a success. If all you see is success, you’re not pushing yourself enough. Let your failures become your lessons towards your pursuit of success. Get after it!

Continue following my journey at:

IG: @mikeyp31


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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