Last year, Andrew "Roo" Yori advanced to the Las Vegas Finals of NBC's "American Ninja Warrior," a reality TV show sports competition in which athletes go up against insane obstacle courses.
This year, Yori, an assistant lab supervisor at Mayo Clinic, was not the only area ninja folks were cheering on. Dr. Candace Granberg, a pediatric urologist at Mayo Clinic, also was invited to a city qualifier event as a first-time contestant. Yori competed in Kansas City, and Granberg competed in Denver.
While neither advanced this year, they both had great experiences and already are looking forward to applying to compete again next season.
"I unfortunately didn't advance this year, but I was able to test the obstacles in Denver while I was there to support and cheer on Candace," Yori said. "The show uses testers to tweak the course and get it ready for the competitors, so I got to get a little more experience in, and even though the courses are different every time, the more experience on obstacles you have, the better."
Granberg was on a medical mission trip to Haiti when she got an email from the casting director of ANW and had less than a month to train once she got the invite to the show.
"What's interesting is I didn't even apply for ninja warrior initially. Roo had asked me to apply for the 'Ultimate Spartan Team Challenge' (the show that comes on right after ANW on Mondays), and you need four people to apply, so it was Roo, me and two other ninjas up in the Cities.
"We had to submit our applications separately but talk about why you are a team, and for us, our theme was team 'Minnesota Nice' because we each have a cause that we lobby for," Granberg said.
"We submitted our applications for that show, and they never called, but they apparently keep your video on file because it's the same casting team for both shows," Granberg said. She got an email in Haiti inviting her to try out for the ninja competition.
"It was pretty exciting and surprising, and it was only about 3 1/2 weeks away, so I didn't have much time to prepare physically for ninja stuff compared to the sort of training that I did baseline, which was Crossfit," she said. "It was a welcome surprise, but it made me a little nervous."
At the qualifying rounds, the obstacle courses are kept secret until the competition begins, and there are no practice runs.
"You have no idea what the obstacles are before you go," Granberg said. "You show up, and then they'll say, 'Here's the course,' and you just do it. The course is huge; to me it's bigger in person than on TV, and its pretty huge on TV.
"I wasn't as nervous as I thought I'd be," she said. "I was just trying to enjoy the moment."
Having experience doesn't necessarily give you a leg up, Yori said.
"The obstacles are always different," he said, "and each year it continues to get harder and harder, and you don't know if your training is going to keep up with the level of difficulty … or if they will think of something new that you haven't really tried or dealt with, so there is always an unnerving level to it."
Try, try again
Both are hoping to apply and get called back to the show next year, so there really isn't much of a lapse or slow-down in training for either of them.
"My wife and I are going to be doing some Spartan Races coming up, so I've been focusing a little more on running, but I still want to maintain what I have and continue with what I've been doing," Yori said. "With the athletes that are starting to get on the show, I almost can't rest, because they aren't resting."
Granberg said she's "hooked" on the competition.
"I've seen what I want to do and what I think I can do, and to actually take the time for some training for this, I want to go back and have another shot," she said. "I will absolutely apply again next year. They have thousands of applicants, so not everyone gets a call back, but I'll definitely try."