Thursday, March 19, 2015

Ninja Warrior Sverige: My quest to become a Swedish Ninja Warrior

Here is a little write-up on my experience leading up to the final of Ninja Warrior Sverige (Sweden).


Many of you are certainly familiar with the television program called Ninja Warrior.  If you don't know about it you should just type it into Google but in a nutshell Ninja Warrior is an extreme obstacle course where contestants get one shot at completing various stages in pursuit of "total victory" and a big cash prize.  From my understanding the show originally started in Japan back in the 1980s and as it gained popularity it was adapted for an American audience and in 2009 American Ninja Warrior began.

I remember seeing some clips of the early episodes and thinking that it not only looked like fun but it also looked relatively easy.  Apparently many a rock-climber must have had similar thoughts as it wasn't long before fellow climbers (a fair number of them personal friends) began joining the ranks of competitors and consistently being among the best performers.  Some very talented friends have taken on the course and in the end all them punted (that means failed when you shouldn't have) and it seemed surprising to me that in the 6 years of American Ninja Warrior no one has ever won the $500,000 prize.  I'd talk to my friends afterwards and try to gather what went wrong as the obstacles were so far beneath their level.  In the end fatigue, pressure or something always seemed to send them to the drink.

Despite my friends' failures I was still convinced I could complete the course and while I considered applying for the program in the USA the logistics of living in Sweden deterred me and I was relegated to trash-talking my friends from afar.  Then last spring I discovered through a random conversation with a friend that I would be given the opportunity to backup all that talk as Ninja Warrior was coming to Sweden.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect but I threw together an application and before I knew it I was jumping through hoops and hanging on rings with other wannabe ninjas at a tryout in Gothenburg.  After the tryout I was fairly certain I would make it on the show and began trying to figure out how one would train for Ninja Warrior.  I had a couple climbing friends that also were selected and while we trained a few times I feel that high level climbers are pretty well equipped to take on the course without really training.  That said it would be helpful to try some of the specific obstacles and I build a salmon-ladder and ultimate-cliffhanger just to ensure I wouldn't do anything stupid when it mattered.

Leading up to the filming I wasn't nervous at all but just excited about the chance to participate and for a sweet payday.  I also figured that this was the first year in Sweden and the course will probably be a bit easier than what they have in the States so if there was ever a time to win it would be now.  For the two months before the filming I had integrated some extra ninja specific training to my usual climbing and felt that as long as my nerves held out and I didn't do anything stupid I'd come home with a fat wallet. That being said, it's hard to know how you'll perform when there is a big production around and nerves were the big question-mark for me.

Just before the filming our little family drove to Stockholm (Björke was less than two weeks old) and I went through the rigmarole of checking in and learning how things would be run.  While waiting my turn to go (there is quite a bit of waiting involved) I met fellow ninjas and watched as others attempted the first course and tried to glean any tips from their runs.  I was still calm and confident all the way until I was standing in front of the quad-step when suddenly those nerves decided to show up.  Despite preparation and confidence I got butterflies in my stomach and was so nervous that I almost got the "shaky legs".  All those "what ifs" came rushing in and I'm noticeably fidgety as I stare into the camera waiting for the production folks to give me the go ahead.

Fortunately when I was given the green light the nervousness evaporated and it was just me and some obstacles to play on.  It reminded me of when I played basketball and a similar thing would happen at tip-off before big games but once the whistle blew it was game on.  With the moment of nervousness gone the first course was easy and from there on out I didn't worry about my nerves.  Here is a clip of the first course.

The second course wasn't that difficult either but I had a little reminder on the salmon-ladder that it only takes one poorly timed mistake for it all to end.  I think a fair number of others learned this the hard way as only 17 of the 65 that attempted the second course succeeded.  Here is a clip of the second course.

Going into the final I was extremely confident as you could see the obstacles we'd be attempting and none of them seemed too difficult.  "Total victory" seemed as good as mine, but would I show up my friends in America or just be another punter...................

I'll do another write-up in a couple weeks after they have aired the final episodes as I can't spill the bean.  For those in Sweden tune into Kanal 5 at 2000 on Thursday for some Ninja action.  Youtube clips are available for those outside Sweden.