And then there were 2 ninja warriors from Rochester
Dr. Candace Granberg was on a medical mission trip to Haiti when she got an email from the casting director of NBC's "American Ninja Warrior."
It was marked urgent. The director wanted Granberg to call back as soon as possible. Not having the benefit of cellphone service in one the world's poorest countries, the Mayo Clinic doctor explained she wasn't exactly in a position to call back. "Can you please tell me what this is all about?" she wrote.
That's when she learned she had been tapped to be a contestant on the hit TV show.
When season nine of the obstacle course-style show kicks off this summer, it will feature two Mayo Clinic employees from Rochester. The other is Roo Yori, a clinic assistant lab supervisor who reached the finals of last year's contest.
Filming for the show already has begun as quarterfinal contests in six cities across the U.S. have begun winnowing participants. Yori competed in Kansas City two weeks ago. And Granberg is heading to Denver for the last of the two-night competitions starting Tuesday. Participants are required to keep mum about the results until the show starts airing in the summer.
The show draws ninja fanatics from the across the country, so it's unusual that two of them would come from a relatively small city without the benefit of a ninja gym. To prepare for the contest, Granberg and Yori have traveled to Edina to train at Obstacle Academy.
Granberg has been doing cross-fit training for nearly five years. She has twice won the women's division in an area hammer race that requires participants to carry an eight-pound sledgehammer through an obstacle course.
Still the call from ANW came as a shock to Granberg. For a show that attracts every variety of elite athlete, Granberg's profile was decidedly different. Granberg is a pediatric urologist, a surgeon, a wife and the mother of two young children.
In her application video, she also highlighted her charity work. Granberg has been to Haiti five times as part of a medical team offering free surgery to kids with cleft lips, cleft palates and other medical needs.
The show's producers saw the potential apparently. Granberg will be interviewed Monday by the show, enhancing her chances that her story and run through the obstacle course will be aired.
"I work this normal lifestyle, and then in my spare time, I try to do all this crazy stuff," Granberg said. "A lot of the people you see on the show are professional rock climbers or stunt doubles, and they're amazing. But can normal people do this, too? I'd like to show them I can."
In fact, finding time to train in the midst of a hectic work schedule has been part of the challenge for the Mayo doctor. Granberg is up at 4:10 a.m. so she can get a workout in prior to her morning meetings at Mayo that precede her surgery or clinic days. The up-at-the-crack-of-dawn schedule also allows her to pick up her kids from school and spend the evening with them. Occasionally, she works out in the garage at night after the kids are asleep.
Granberg said fascination in obstacle training and ninja workouts has "grown exponentially" in Rochester since Yori's appearance on the show last year. Kids' workshops taught by Yori have been "super popular" at her gym, she said.
"I brought my (6-year-old) daughter there last year, and it was just so great to see her do things that you don't think your kids could do," Granberg said. "At the end of it all, I asked her what was the best thing about the day and she said, 'being brave.' It's a huge confidence builder for kids."
Granberg's husband, daughter and Yori will be on hand in Denver, cheering her on.
Granberg was given only a month to train once she learned she had been invited on the show. In the meantime, Yori has sought to pass along to Granberg the tips and techniques he has picked up as a contestant.
"You have no idea what the obstacles are before you go. There's no leaked information. You show up, and then they'll say, 'here's the course,' and you just do it," Granberg said. "You just have to prepare your strength, coordination and gymnastic skills for anything."