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Sean Bryan on his humble return to Ninja Warrior, ‘I hope people would see me as an ordinary guy’

The Papal Ninja wants to inspire and motivate others with his jaw-dropping runs.

Matthew Hayward/NBC

Sean Bryan’s return to American Ninja Warrior had more than a few people on edge. Those that follow him on social media knew he was actually making a late return. Normally, the Papal Ninja would have run the course in Los Angeles. However, Sean was still in the midst of recovering from a broken ankle when that region was filmed, and decided to wait until Seattle/Tacoma.

Messing with broken bones and injures is no joke. Sean is known for aggressive, fast runs that have gotten him to Stage Three of the National Finals twice in a row. Returning for his fourth season, we just wanted him to be safe. Sean wanted that as well and delivered a little more. He charged through the course, wisely skipping the Mega Wall, to put up the second fastest time of the night.

That sent him to the Power Tower against Leif Sundberg. There, Sean was in his element climbing and laché-ing, leading to a strong finish and officially sending him back to the National Finals this season.

Before his run, Sean gave us some insight on the meaning he finds in American Ninja Warrior, his faith, and what he hopes to accomplish this year.

Responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

“I have a lot of motivations. Certainly not one primary drive. I certainly want to achieve total victory, that’s one of the major pushing points. Also, all the feedback I’m receiving on social media and when I meet people in person is very encouraging. I know that I’m not just doing this for myself. I know that I’m doing this for our Lord, and I know that I’m doing this for the wholeness and healing of other people, and to inspire and encourage people and give them hope.

For me, really becoming part of this community has become part of my identity. I think American Ninja Warrior is synonymous with encouragement, that’s one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that has manifested in me. It goes along with who I consider myself to be.

It is wrapped up in my identity. It strengthens my heart to know that I’m doing something that is such a part of who I am.”

Matthew Hayward/NBC

“Last year, based on the feedback I’ve been receiving, people have been telling me how calm and collected I seem on the show while I’m competing. And how matter of fact I am when I fail. I think that is one of the main things I hope to communicate to people because who we are isn’t based on how we perform.

It’s some sort of indicator of how we’ve been training, and some sort of indictor of our talent, but it doesn’t define who we are. I think continuing to accomplish that or help people see that can be amazing, but I hope people would see me as an ordinary guy. Not an extraordinary person who has a deep faith or however people might imagine my interior life to be. But to know that I’m a normal person and the faith is just a part of that. It’s not something that’s extraordinary.”

Matthew Hayward/NBC

“I’m not about total victory in that sense (of the Power Tower). I don’t want to assert whatever dominance I have, I want to ensure that I have the opportunity for true, total victory. Not necessarily a decimation of the course. It’s similar to rock climbing or mountain climbing. If I get to the top of a mountain, I purposely don’t stand on the very tippy-top of it out of a sense of respect. But also as an interior practice out of humility to understand that anything could have happened to get in the way and respecting that. Likewise, I’m not going for fastest time. I’m going to go the pace that I’m comfortable with. I think that might end up in the top two to go for the Power Tower, but that’s not my goal.

I’m going to try my best to focus on what I know I can do. That’s hit enough buzzers to move forward.

I will not try the Mega Wall. I’m recovering from a broken ankle. I actually built a Mega Wall in order to specifically do that and as soon as we finished building it, I broke my ankle. I’m still limping, to some extent. I’m still recovering and it wouldn’t be a good idea. I don’t have the explosive leg power and if I put my ankle in the wrong position, I could hurt it more.”

“Expectation is a dirty word. It’s a complicated word. I expect that I’m going to be able to focus and perform at my best. I expect things to happen that I don’t foresee, and having to recover from those things. Hopefully not falling from those things.

I know certainly the possibility of total victory. But it would be hard to say that I expect it, just because there are so many variables, so many factors. I expect to be able to go out there and impress people somehow. Whether it’s through my attitude, or whether it’s through taking failure like a champ or taking victory like a good sport. I really expect to have fun this year, probably the most fun I’ve had in years past because gave me the tools to move past anything the clouds my performance. I hope the audience expects really good things from me.”

Sean will return for the Seattle/Tacoma City Finals to see if he can continue his path to total victory.