Capital News Service video by Alexander Glass
COLLEGE PARK – David Perry has run through 10,000 volts of electricity in extreme Tough Mudder races and completed basic training for the Army. That’s just a warmup for his latest challenge: tackling one of the world’s hardest obstacle courses on the game show American Ninja Warrior.
“I’m excited for the chaos of it all and being on television,” said Perry, 28, of Manassas, Va. “It will be like nothing I’ve ever done before.”
American Ninja Warrior, a television program that originated in Japan, is billed as the ultimate test of strength and stamina.
Contestants must cross freely spinning suspended logs, climb up a small space in between two walls using no ropes, leap off concave walls and use swinging ropes to pass over gaps of water, among other incredible feats.
The Japanese version of the game show has aired for 17 years in Japan, where it is called Sasuke, which loosely translates to “tough fighter.” The course is so tough that only three people have ever successfully completed the course, standing atop the man-made “Mt. Midoriyama.”
The Japanese version developed a cult following when it began airing on American cable television more than a decade ago as Ninja Warrior. It became the highest rated program on the G4 cable network, leading to the birth of an American version of the show — American Ninja Warrior — in 2009.
In the early seasons of American Ninja Warrior, contestants competed on a U.S.-based obstacle course. 10 contestants earned the right to to travel to Japan and compete in the final stage of Sasuke, on Mt. Midoriyama.
The “mountain” is a mass of steel bars, hanging ropes and spinning platforms, placed in front of a screaming audience. In the final stage, contestants must climb over 30 feet straight up a hanging rope in less than a minute.
Since 2012, American Ninja Warrior contestants no longer fly to Japan to compete on the obstacle course. Instead 100 finalists compete on a replica of Mt. Midoriyama in Las Vegas for a chance to win $500,000. No contestant on American Ninja Warrior has successfully completed the obstacle course.
Perry, who submitted his application video for the show in January, hopes to get his chance and tackle Mt. Midoriyama.
In preparation for American Ninja Warrior, Perry trains at Urban Evolution in Manassas, Va., an “alternative fitness” gym that recreates obstacles seen on the show.
The gyms host “ninja warrior” events every Sunday, on a course modeled after the real show. Between the Urban Evolution gym in Manassas and locations in Baltimore and Alexandria, Va., about 50 people are training for either American Ninja Warrior or extreme races like the Tough Mudder, owner Salil Maniktahla said.
The gyms have also hosted official tryouts for the program. In 2012, 13 people who train at Urban Evolution gyms were accepted by the show, Maniktahla said.
Perry began working out at Urban Evolution in 2011, after basic training in the Army, as a way to train for Tough Mudders and other extreme races.
“I actually lost a lot of my shoulder and control muscles during military training,” he said. At Urban Evolution, Perry befriended several people who appeared on the show and decided to try out.
For Alex Anschuetz, an engineer major at the University of Maryland, the chance to appear on television is not why he’s trying out for American Ninja Warrior.
The show will allow him to test himself on perhaps the world’s toughest obstacle course, he said.
“I’m not really worried about winning money or being on television,” Anschuetz said. “For me, it is more about pushing my limits to see how far I can will myself.”
Anschuetz has been rock climbing since high school, and trains at Earth Treks, an indoor rock climbing gym in Rockville.
Grip strength, a key component of rock climbing, critical to several obstacles throughout the show’s course.
To train, he practices with gymnastics rings, tackles rock walls and does pull-up variations.
“I like the idea that I got stronger without the use of weights, and I’m excited to see how well I can handle the course,” he said.