What makes this a sport like no other
When people watch the show American Ninja Warrior, the vast majority do not realize it, but they are not just watching a bunch of athletes having fun on an insanely difficult obstacle course. They are watching the culmination of year-round training and a course which for many of these competitors, has been their life's goal to complete. The intensity and rigor behind training for the sport is comparable to the Olympic level. Many of these athletes quit their jobs and make their living off of training for the course. The gym's, training competitions, and even the walk-on line serve as proof of this insurmountable dedication.
We all work together to better ourselves and each other in hopes of achieving total victory (conquering the course), but more importantly, in living out happier, healthier lives. Were two athletes to complete the course in Japan in the same tournament, they would both be hailed as national heros and praised to the equal extent. Unlike virtually every other sport or competition, Ninja Warrior is not about human vs. human, it is about human vs. obstacle and as a result, everyone shares in the glory of your success and the pain of your failure.
When I grew up watching the show (on G4 when it the Japanese version) as a kid, I developed a tremendous respect for athletes like Makoto Nagano and Yuuji Urushihara. These people were the most athletic and fittest people in the nation, and their body compositions were similar to that of any Olympian, yet they remained extremely humble and supportive of each other. I can never recall a time when either of those athletes ever talked negatively about or gloated in front of another competitor. What I did not realize, was that this supportiveness extended to both on and off the course.
My first trip to a Ninja Warrior gym was to the Movement Lab, where I met and interviewed Chris Wilczewski who was a finalist in the past two seasons of American Ninja Warrior (seasons 2 and 3 at the time). Upon speaking with Chris, I learned that there was a tremendous community behind the sport. He said how his fellow competitors, even Brian Orosco who eliminated him from the show had gone on to become his best friends, and all these competitors held events at the different gyms where they would get together and train for the next ANW season.
The more and more gyms and events I attanded, the more I saw of this Ninja Warrior community. Whenever I would struggle on an obstacle, there were always veteran competitors more than happy to give me advice and help me out. Eventually, I could walk into a gym and would be bound to be greeted by the countless familiar faces I had met. When it came time to compete in the mock competitions these gyms held, the cheers of support of each other erupted in unison. It was at this point when I saw how American Ninja Warrior was more than just a show, it was a sport.
The final component which makes Ninja Warrior so unique is how difficult it is to complete. Without a doubt, this is the most difficult obstacle course on the planet. It is this challenge, which drives the athletes to train so hard that they push themselves to the limit to conquer it. In the Japanese version of the show (Sasuke) 3,000 competitors have taken on the course over the past 18 years. Only 3 have completed it. In the American version, to put it into perspective
90,000 Americans have been awarded an Olympic Gold Medal
500 have summitted Mount Everest
12 Have walked on the moon
0 have completed American Ninja Warrior