A few years ago, my life was very different. Living in Vietnam, I occasionally exercised, but mainly went out drinking with the boys. I had a great group of friends and we had years of foolishness and some dangerous close calls. One day I got a scary call that my grandfather was on his deathbed in California, so I flew back to be together with my family for his last days.
Grandpa had lived a life to be proud of: he was a sucessful chemist/businessman and was a great athlete. I remembered seeing a great picture of him smiling on a beach, holding my grandma up on his shoulders. And even in his 70s, he was still regularly working out at the YMCA and playing basketball. Then I got to thinking about how so many people in my family were gifted athletes – my sister was a hardcore rock-climber, one cousin was a professional golfer, other cousins played college baseball, and another cousin was a MMA fighter/karate blackbelt. Was I wasting my athletic genes?
So I started getting back into physical things I enjoyed as a kid – playing tennis, rollerblading , and tumbling on mats at the gym. My strength and skill improved through doing these fun activities, and that’s when I started realizing that I could play better tennis on Saturday morning if I didn’t go out drinking the night before.
While running on a gym treadmill one day, I happened to catch an episode of American NInja Warrior and the whole time I kept thinking “yeah, I’m pretty sure I could do that.” I remembered the first time I ever heard about the show was when my dad and sister were watching it and remarking about how hard it would be (neither believed I had a chance at completing a ninja obstacle course).
I became a student of American Ninja Warrior and studied the obstacles and techniques carefully. It was clear that upper body pulling was important, so I focused on pull-ups at the gym. I saw that grip strength helped, so I began rock climbing. I continued with tennis and rollerblading to help with explosive leg strength and balance. The best part was that my wife and 3-yr old son also enjoyed doing these activities together so my training wasn’t taking away from family time. Instead of my kid brining me beer cans at home, he was racing me down the street on rollerblades.
When I discovered that Vietnam had its own Ninja Warrior (Sasuke Vietnam), I was amazed. I watched every episode (no English), and found out that they were holding tryouts for season 2. I got a spot on the show and was lucky to meet a few people from other countries (including American Ninja Warrior) who came over to compete. At first I was apprehensive about the competitive aspect since the last time I’d done anything similar was two decades prior with high school tennis, but the other competitors put me at ease and were very helpful and supportive of everyone. It didn’t feel like I was fighting against anyone – it just felt like we were a big team trying to help each person reach their potential to beat the course. A lot of us describe this as feeling like a ninja family.
During Sasuke Vietnam , I got to hit my first buzzer at the end of stage 1, and I exploded with joy. I proved the nay-sayers wrong: I did it! Then in stage 2 , I made a rookie mistake. I got caught up in the excitement of the audience, cameras, and spotlights and ran full blast until I ran out of energy halfway up the salmon ladder. Climbing out of the water, I couldn’t believe it was over.
With that first experience under my belt, I traveled to Singapore to compete in the Urban Attack 4 ninja competition. Singapore is a very expensive country, but I was lucky enough to stay with Alvin Tan CK, a ninja friend I’d met when he competed in Sasuke Vietnam. At the competition, most of the Singaporeans had never tried a warped wall before, and were very appreciative of the coaching tips I suggested. Though I was already a ninja veteran, I was only regurgitating the points that long-time vets like David Campbell had given me a few weeks before.
Next, I traveled to Thailand to compete in the Tough Warrior ninja competition. I had more competition experience, and again most of the other competitors hadn’t done ninja stuff before. I had a great time making new ninja friends and sharing obstacle strategies. I placed 6th , got some nice prizes, and made some new Thai ninja friends.
A few months later, we made a permanent move to the US. Still jetlagged, I went to a taping of “Team Ninja Warrior” with my mom (who didn’t believe me when I said I could do the obstacles on that course), and then competed in the UNAA competition at Anaheim FitExpo. I reconnected with a ninja with whom I went to elementary school in the 1980s! She and I did fine on the course, but didn’t do well enough to place.
I’ve since competed in a couple other smaller competitions in California and have placed in some of them. My main focus at the moment is on training for American Ninja Warrior Season 9.
To be honest, I don’t know where this road will lead me. I do know that I’m working hard and it’s improved my health and relationships with family and friends. I think grandpa would be proud of me.