Have you ever watched an episode of American Ninja Warrior, the obstacle-course competition series that airs every summer on NBC, and thought, “Oh, I could totally do that thing where you hold on to a bar and use momentum to jump the bar up, rung by rung, and then I could totally do an unnecessary and ill-advised backflip before tackling the next obstacle?”
No, me neither (and I’ve been known to try some fairly outlandish fitness classes and challenges). But there are some Atlantans who are a different breed. Many of them showed up at Mercedes-Benz Stadium recently to compete in the American Ninja Warrior 2019 Atlanta City Finals, which will air as episode eight of the show’s upcoming 11th season. (The season premieres with the Los Angeles City Finals on May 29 at 8 p.m.)
They are people like Mindy Hylton, a 40-year-old marketing director, actor, and voice-over artist who lives in Atlanta and has a daughter who will turn three in June.
“Every time I watched the show, I would think, ‘I can do that!’” Hylton says. “The more I watched it, the more I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.”
Hylton was already very active, but in the four weeks leading up to the competition, she got even more serious, particularly about her nutrition. She cut out alcohol, increased her intake of fish and chicken, and generally ate cleanly, “which isn’t that easy with a kid who wants you to try all of her food,” she says. “When I’m on the go, my go-to is a Spinach Slam smoothie from Arden’s Garden. They fill me up and give me tons of energy.”
She trained three days a week at Ninja Quest in Marietta—a must, she says, as other workouts can’t prepare you for the show’s unique and torturous obstacles—and on other days did plyometrics, abs, and chin-ups at home. “I couldn’t believe how much of a difference I saw in my body within the first two weeks,” she says. “I hadn’t been that focused on me in a long time.”
What surprised her most about the ANW course? “Honestly, the sheer joy I was experiencing,” she says. “Every time I completed an obstacle, I got more and more excited. I was almost in disbelief that this dream of being on ANW was really coming true.”
Before his run on the course in Atlanta, Tyler Gillett and a friend built obstacles in his Newnan backyard. “I learned about American Ninja Warrior when I was 14, flipping through the TV channels with a friend,” the now-23-year-old barista says. “I was hooked. From then on I was determined to be on the show. I waited and trained for years before I was eligible to apply.” (Contestants have to be at least 19 years old.)
Also running the course in Atlanta was Tyrone Poole, a LaGrange-born and Atlanta-based self-employed speaker, author, and actor who was an NFL defensive back and first-round draft pick in 1995. He played 13 seasons with the NFL and earned two Super Bowl rings with the New England Patriots. A father of four children, the 48-year-old’s weekly pre-Ninja workout schedule included three days of lifting and three days of cardio, with Saturdays off.
“You don’t have to be a very big or very strong person to do well,” he says. “But you do need upper-body strength. There is a lot of pulling.”
Maybe you’re feeling inspired by these words. Or maybe your fingertips ache at the thought of hanging from them. Poole’s advice for all of us?: “Remember that the people you are watching just started in the same square. Don’t give up.”