Utah climbers to join ‘American Ninja Warrior’ competition

First Published      Last Updated May 16 2017 08:37 pm

For all intents and purposes, Devin Stratton shouldn't be alive.

On a cold day in January this year, while skiing in the Mount Timpanogos backcountry north of Provo; Devin accidentally went off a roughly 100-foot cliff. His chances of walking away from a fall like that without an injury were one in a million.

But he did. He walked away, unscathed.

Devin and his friend Matt Reeves aren't much for statistics. Both men have been recently invited to compete in the "American Ninja Warrior" competition, which pits competitors against one of the hardest obstacle courses known to man.

On May 22, Reeves and Stratton will make their way to the preliminary rounds, or qualifiers, out in Denver. If they can make their way through the course in the allotted time frame, they'll be invited to the championship rounds in Las Vegas later this year.

"I applied a while back and didn't even get a look," said Stratton. "But this year I'm headed out. It's pretty exciting."

Reeves, who was with Stratton on the day he took the 100-foot-plus fall off the cliff, doesn't seem to carry the weight of nervousness about him either; during training sessions he mostly smiles and laughs.

"The wall run is what gets most people," he says as he lifts his arms in the air, demonstrating a technique for an obstacle used in the show. "You gotta run hard, with short approach, and get those arms up there."

The duo both train formally for the event, but mostly have been doing what they usually do in their spare time: climb, hike and do the occasional workout.

"Climbers have a big advantage when it comes to '[American] Ninja Warrior,'" said Aaron White, a friend of Stratton and Reeves. "You see a lot of endurance people, and strong people, but you'd be amazed at the finger strength it takes to do some of these obstacles."

White, who knows others who have tried out for "American Ninja Warrior," has his own obstacle course of sorts set up in his backyard. The setup consists of differently shaped holds, much like rock-climbing holds, that are suspended by rope, and other swinging obstacles that you need to hold on to, with your legs suspended, as you swing through the course. After that, you grab hold of the salmon ladder.

A salmon ladder is much like a normal pull-up bar, except when you're through with a single pull up, you bring the bar, in the air, to another rung that is above the previous rung.

It's obstacles such as these that pepper the "American Ninja Warrior" course, a course that changes every year and is largely kept a mystery until it is unveiled and competitors are on it.

"So we don't know what the course is going to look like," said Reeves. "We just have to train for everything, sort of."

"American Ninja Warrior," or ANW as it's popularly known, has stemmed from the wildly popular Japanese show "Ninja Warrior," or "Sasuke" as it is known in Japan. Both shows are notorious for being nearly impossible to win, with four stages of obstacles that the majority of contestants fail at.

In the U.S. show's eight seasons, few have even made it past stage three of four, let alone completed all four stages. To put into perspective how rare it is for someone to win the competition, there wasn't a crowned winner of the show until season seven, after thousands of competitors had entered and failed.

The show had gained popularity in Japan, but since has been aired in different iterations in countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Turkey, Sweden, Denmark, United Kingdom, Bahrain, China, Indonesia and Vietnam, with versions also launching in France, Germany and Italy in 2016. An Australian version will launch on Nine Network in 2017, according to Wikipedia.

Despite the odds stacked against them, failure was not something discussed by the duo while they trained. Instead, Reeves and Stratton were more focused on the individual obstacles themselves, where and whether they were going to camp in Colorado during the qualifiers, and planning their next climbing trip.

As it were, the two men are not even giving failure a thought; the elephant in the room, it seems, was just a small mouse. A tiny piece of the overall picture, the possibility of failure in the world's hardest obstacle course is much more a part of the lure than it is a deterrent.

"I'm just going to have fun," Stratton said of the experience.