Monday Musings.... I Want to Be a Ninja!

I’m hooked on the show, American Ninja Warrior. In fact, I’d be willing to stand in line for days, just to get a shot at one of the coveted walk-on spots. I know what you are thinking, and yes, there are some obvious barriers like my age and my height, but I’ve got plenty of enthusiasm to make up for that! There’s nothing like being stretched to your limit, thinking the challenge is too great, only to find yourself capable of more than you ever thought was possible.

This past week, while I was practicing Walking the Plank over the pile of laundry covering the floor, I tuned into Season 11’s qualifying round in Los Angeles. Many of the regular star Ninja Warriors were there making their attempts at the intense challenges culminating in the Mega Wall 18-foot sprint and climb. Every competition has a series of brand new obstacles concocted by viewers who lie awake at night thinking about what body contortion has not been tested yet.

This unfamiliarity of the course challenges even the most seasoned veterans to find that right balance of speed and strength to complete the course. It’s super easy for anyone to fail. And that’s precisely why I like watching the show – not to see people fail, but, to see their reactions when they do. I have yet to watch a sport where losing isn’t met with intense disappointment, mixed in with frustration, anger, bitterness and blame. But not in American Ninja Warrior. In fact, you see the opposite - competitors picking themselves up out of the pool, exiting with a huge smile on their face, often followed with “that was a great course!” And though many individuals would be inclined to give up and ‘retire’, these Ninjas go back to the gym and train even harder. What is also awesome is the support and encouragement fellow Ninjas give each other. While they all want to win, they seem to have no ego barring them from celebrating others' success. There’s something spell-binding about the culture the competitors have created that’s worthy of our consideration, especially when fear of failure and lack of resilience seems to paralyze so many from even attempting an unknown challenge or rebounding and training harder to master what is difficult.

This week deepened my appreciation for the founders of this incredible competition even further. For sure, the premise is a race against the clock and your fellow athletes, but, it’s also about competing with yourself and pushing through doubt and fear and pain. To be an American Ninja Warrior, it takes more than physical strength; it takes courage and it takes heart and it takes being in the right head space. And that’s exactly what rookie, Brian Burk, brought to the starting line in Los Angeles.

This 19-year-old aerospace engineering student at Colorado State began training two and half years ago. In a pre-competition interview, the audience learned that Brian has autism, and though he struggled socially most of his life, he found the gym helped him push through some of his barriers. Prior to the race he said, " Whatever happens, I’m just going to be thankful that I got to compete out here. My goal is to complete the course. Qualifying, reach the City Finals, and hopefully Las Vegas! "

And so, the clock started and Brian took off. His steely focus on each obstacle was matched in intensity with his utter delight as he successfully completed each challenge, making it all the way to the top of the warped wall to press the infamous buzzer qualifying him for the next round. Without hesitation, he celebrated his victory by doing the splits!

Brian inspired us all because he realized his ability. He found his passion and trained to make his dream a reality, pushing through many barriers that society would assume would impede his success. Brian proved to us that even if:

  • we have daily challenges in our lives

  • we must take a daring leap across obstacles life has put in our way

  • we have opportunities that seem out of our reach

  • we feel like we are swinging or twirling in circles

  • or that we have more weight to lift than we think we can possibly bear

there IS ALWAYS a way to re-calibrate, to focus, and to push through any challenge. We ALL have a choice and we have the ability. Don't doubt yourself! Brian surely didn't. He was in the right head space and he crushed his goal!

Brian, aka the Burkinator, I'll be cheering you on in your next round, knowing you will teach me even more about what it truly means to win.

Doubt is a dream destroyer. Listen to Micah Tyler who understands what it takes to keep Trusting even when you think you've had all you can take. Here's his song: Even Then.

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