Monday, May 13, 2013

American Ninja Warrior Miami

American Ninja Warrior
Miami, FL
Heather Kluch

I had originally applied for a Bear Grylls reality show last year but didn't make the final cut. A few months later, I received a call from NBC asking if I wanted to be a part of the American Ninja Warrior. I said sure, but they told me I still needed to fill out the application and send in a video. I had plans for someone to help me with the video, which fell through, so I was in a time crunch and only had about a half hour to come up with something before the deadline. I put something together at the last minute, and I think it sucks so much that I still haven't watched it again. So you can imagine my shock when I got the call saying I made the cut to be on the show for the taping in Baltimore! It took me a while to finally make my decision and sadly I had to turn them down. I just had too much going on that weekend and I just couldn't make it happen with such a short notice. The casting producer asked if I'd like to be put in the decision pool for Miami with no guarantees that I will be called again. I said sure, might as well take a chance, at least the dates of Miami were more doable than Baltimore, and I knew it would be a lot warmer! I really didn't expect another call so I continued on with my normal busy life not expecting to ever be a ninja. One day out of the blue, I got the call for Miami! My first thought was "Are you freaking kidding me? Did these people not see my horrendous video?" I contemplated for a couple days since I had not been specifically training for these types of obstacles. I'm an adventure racer, so I've done 36 hour races that include non-stop orienteering, mountain biking, and paddling, so I knew I had the mental and physical strength, but I also knew obstacles could be tricky. I had also done a few Tough Mudder races, but knew that American Ninja Warrior was a whole different animal. Then I thought, when would I ever get a chance like that again? And Miami? It's hard to say no to Miami!!! I knew I couldn’t afford the trip, but when I mentioned on Facebook about the Baltimore call, my friends offered to donate, and suggested to set up a donation page. I didn’t feel right about doing that. I’m not one to just take people’s money like that, but knew it was the only way to get me to Miami. So I decided to setup a donation page and set it to a goal of $1500. I wasn’t sure exactly how much everything would cost me in the end, but I thought $1500 should be enough. I also decided that if I had anything leftover, I would donate the money to the March of Dimes charity on behalf of my running team, Team Randomocity. I ended up reaching over my goal, which got me to Miami to be a ninja warrior for my first time!

 Pre Ninja

I ended up going alone since it was such short notice. It’s hard to rearrange prior commitments when you only have about a week in advance, so it didn’t bother me that no one could make it. I flew in the morning of Friday, May 3rd since I was picked to do an interview with the production crew. I brought a few changes of clothes since I wasn’t sure what they wanted me to wear for this. I arrived at Bayfront Park and looked that the huge mass of metal beams with American Ninja Warrior signs all over the place. Holy intimidation! I’ve seen the show before but didn’t realize how huge this would be in person. When you watch it on tv, you think, oh this looks easy, and that guy should have done it this way. Well it’s easy to say that when you’re sitting on the couch drinking a beer, not actually doing anything! I walked over to see if I could figure out how to do the obstacles, but they weren’t done installing everything so there was no way to tell. All I could see was that it looked like a lot of upper body work, and I thought  “Well it’s a good thing I bought that pull up bar a couple months ago!” I walked over to the producers for my interview. They took my “Badass pic” in my normal girly cloths, did a quick interview asking me about adventure racing and why I think I could concur this course, and then did what they call a B-Roll shot. This was my action shot of me doing what I do best. Since I’m an adventure racer, it’s hard to portray that in a few seconds. I was watching others do their B-Roll, and man, they had some talent. I saw a guy standing up and twirling around inside a ring, another guy, who now I know as Alex Black, showing off his martial arts skills, and then the extremely awesome parkour athlete, Drew Dreschel, flipping and swinging around like a monkey. I also met one of the female contestants, Kristina Kovch, nicknamed Blue Streak because of the blue streak in her hair. She’s a personal trainer back in D.C., and she also did some parkour, I glanced at her muscular arms and thought, oh crap, this chick has got me beat in the strength department. She just looked badass! Speaking of badass, I saw three African American women walk past me, and you could just tell by looking at them that they were athletes. Later I learned that all three of them were Olympians, one of them being Deedee Trotter which I end up meeting later. All of these people were pretty damn talented, and without my mountain bike and some trails, I didn’t really have much to show off. An action shot of me reading a map with a compass isn’t very action packed! The producers and I decided that I could wear my racing team gear along with my hydration pack, and we would do a shot of me running. I offered to do a shot of me pooping in the woods, since that’s what ends up happening in adventure racing. They actually loved the idea, but of course they couldn’t air that on TV! So we stuck with the shot of me running. After running around with the crew, I walked over to Drew Dreschel since a friend of his told me to contact him when I got there. Honestly after watching his previous ninja videos, I expected him to be a total douchebag just for the fact that he’s so good at what he does. I approached him anyway, and my assumption was flushed down the toilet. He was one of the coolest and most down to earth guys I’ve ever met. His ninja fame hasn’t inflated his ego at all, he was super friendly and really easy to talk to. He gives you that feeling like you’ve been friends for a long time. He offered to give me some pointers and also invited me to train at a ninja gym with his friends later that night since I’ve never done parkour before. If I couldn’t make it to the gym, he offered to meet up with me and a few others the next day at Bayfront Park to give out some pointers then. Unfortunately I couldn’t make it to the gym because it was about an hour away and I didn’t rent a car. His friends would’ve given me a ride, but they were too far away from me. I was really looking forward to training with these guys, but it just didn’t happen. Oh well, I was just excited for the whole experience, so I didn’t let that get me down.
Drew Drechsel (one of the coolest American Ninja Warriors) and I
That night I went to dinner in downtown Miami at a place called the Filling Station. I sat at the bar since I was alone and three guys next to me started talking to me. I found out that they were part of a bike club called the Cycle Holics, and also found out that they road trails..aka single track….just like I did. We talked bikes and trails for the rest of the night and they suggested going for a ride with them the next morning. I wasn’t sure since I had no idea when I would be back from playing ninja so I told them I’d play it by ear and text them after I ran the course Saturday night. I didn't have a bike with me, but they would try to get one for me. There are some pretty awesome people in Miami!

Ninja Warrior Time

I woke up pretty early because I just can’t sleep in and I was too excited about running the course. My check in time wasn’t until 11pm, so I had a lot of time to kill. I decided to walk around Bayside Marketplace, I had seen it from the course and thought it was a nice touristy area. They had a bunch of shops and restaurants along the harbor so it was an awesome atmosphere. I ate lunch at a place called Largo Bar & Grill. Their food was delicious and my waiter Paul was awesome! I knew I’d be coming back to his place before I left! After wandering around I headed back over to the course and met more ninjas. Everyone was extremely friendly and easy to get along with. It felt like our own little ninja club! I saw Alex again and we were both looking for Drew to give us some pointers since he told us he would be at the course around 4pm. We finally found him and a few others practicing some parkour moves. These guys made it look so easy. It made me want to try all their flips and jumps but I knew I’d fall flat on my face! Drew went over a few things and then I decided to head back to the hotel to try to get a nap in before I had to be awake for who knows how long. I had planned on getting at least 2 hours of sleep, but nope, that didn't happen! I was tired and wanted to sleep but I was just too damn excited. I kept running the course through my head on how I would tackle each obstacle. My mind just wouldn’t stop. At about 7pm I called it quits on sleep and decided to head out for dinner. I saw Alex as I was leaving, he was just getting back from dinner, so I told him I’d meet him at the course. I went back to Largo since I knew their food was awesome and wouldn’t upset my stomach. I chowed down some delicious pasta and then headed over to the course around 9:30pm to watch the first wave of contestants run the course. They should have already been running at this point but if any of you are familiar with tv productions, nothing starts on time. Having to organize and deal with the audience and also technical issues with camera or course equipment can create some serious delays. At 9:30pm, the first wave didn’t even start the course yet. Right at that moment, I knew this was going to be a long night. They finally started around 10:00pm, and I finally got to see people run the course. I met up with Alex and found Kristina around the check in area at 11pm. We tried to check in but they weren’t ready for us since they started later than expected, so we just sat with other contestants while we waited. Finally I received a call from Jeffery, one of the producers of the show, asking me where I was. Apparently they had opened up check in, and didn’t realize it. All three of us checked in and went over to another tent to get our bib numbers. As soon as I looked at mine, I immediately said to the crew, “Come on guys, seriously! Are you f*cking with me??” My contestant number was 066, my bib number was 666, and it just happens that the last three digits of my cell phone number are 666!! I thought the crew did this on purpose, but it was totally by chance! Creepy!! I thought to myself well this is going to either bring me good luck or the worst luck ever. Everyone kept commenting on it when they saw my number. People were jealous because they wanted it, and I thought, well you can freakin have it!!

My Ninja gear!

 We waited in line for a loooooong time. My number was pretty far down the line but Kristina and Alex had it even worse. They were in the 90’s so their night was going to be even longer than mine. Finally at about 3am, I was called into the warm up area which meant my turn was almost up to run the course. As I was warming up, Deedee Trotter , the Olympian, came up to me to give me a high five. Deedee was awesome! I got to hang out with here for a while before I had to run, and we had a blast! She had already run the course so we were joking around about some of her ninja poses. Soon after that, they told me I was next. Now, I’m an adventure racer, I’ve done over 50 races, my longest being 36 hours, and I just don’t get nervous anymore. Well at that moment, I felt nerves kicking in. I was about to try to concur something I’ve never done before, something I’m unfamiliar with. I’ve done obstacle course races before like the Tough Mudder, but this was totally different. There was no mud, and no one to help you over the obstacles, it was just me versus the big metal unknown. The camera crew took a picture of me, and before I knew it, I was up at the podium to start the course. I stood there waiting for my cue, staring at what lie before me with lights beating down on me. I knew in my head how to concur this first obstacle, now I just had to execute it. I heard the countdown 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…the audience cheered and then suddenly when it hit silence, some random person yelled out “What up Skinny???”  I looked over real quick but couldn’t really see the audience. I wanted to start laughing but knew the cameras were on my so I stayed focused. (I later found out that this person was some random bum in the park!) I tackled the first obstacle and…….I can’t tell you what happened because I signed a confidentiality contract. Sorry! All I can say is the course was not easy. It might look easy on tv, but once you’re up there standing in front of the obstacle, it’s a lot harder to judge your jumps and swings that looking at it from far away. I saw some people take some falls, that I know could demolish the course. Sometimes you jump too early, too late, lose grip, or slip on a wet surface. Not only does it take strength and balance, it also takes patience and planning just the right route. One slip of a grip, or wrong foot placement can cost you from advancing to the next round. As soon as you hit that water, you’re out! I’ve seen it happen, and felt bad for those people, but I know they will come back and master that course next year. This was definitely one of the coolest experiences in my life! The crew was so much fun to work with, I met some amazing people that I will for sure keep in contact with and possibly race and train with. I did end up going on that bike ride with the Cycle Holics on only 3 hours of sleep, and I rode a Huffy (a clunker of a bike), and had a blast during the rest of my trip! Also, I ended up raising more than enough for my travel expenses and was able to donate $476.00 to the March of Dimes! Thank you to everyone who supported me, and to everyone who made my trip awesome! I’m so grateful I got to experience being an American Ninja Warrior and I already miss all the other ninjas I met
along the way!

The course from afar since I can't show you the obstacles. ;o)

Kristina Kovch and I waiting for our ninja run!

Farewell Ninja dinner!

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