- Associated Press - Sunday, January 25, 2015

GREENWOOD, Ind. (AP) - Ninja training started promptly at 5:30?a.m. in the Center Grove area gym.

Athletes hung from rings chained to the ceiling, swinging by one arm to grab a nearby rope tied to a rafter. Using only their fingertips, they dangled from a wooden beam and inched from left to right.

Jumping up onto unsteady towers of gym equipment and running across a spinning plastic tube helped build core strength, balance and coordination.

The exercises may seem bizarre and the workout intensity borderline insane. But for five area men, it’s the best way to be ready to win the annual “American Ninja Warrior” competition.

The Fast Five have created a makeshift obstacle course that they can set up and take down as needed. Their goal for the past year is to prepare as best as possible to be chosen for the competition, shown on TV every summer on NBC and the Esquire Network.

“People think that since they’ve done monkey bars, they can do this,” Daniel Niles, a member of the Fast Five team, told the Daily Journal (https://bit.ly/1yCq4U8). “But it’s not that easy. You have to use your core, you have to use your legs, and you have to keep everything tense in those moments to get that explosive power to get to the end of the obstacle.”

The ninja workout started as the idea of Bill Westrick, 47, of Greenwood.

He watched “American Ninja Warrior” when it started being broadcast on television. The more he saw the display of raw athleticism, skill and acrobatics, the more he wanted to try it himself.

He convinced a friend, Danny Owens, to submit an online application and video of their personalities in hopes of being chosen for the show.

Owens, 42, from Mooresville, met Westrick while doing a boot camp class at the Community Life Center, the fitness ministry of Mount Pleasant Christian Church. They developed a friendly competition, a key aspect of what became their ninja training.

“Bill has been doing off-the-wall workouts for several years,” Owens said. “We’d go outside and run, climbing over walls and trees, whatever is out there.”

Both Westrick and Owens applied for the show in 2014, and Westrick was accepted to the show. But he was unable to complete the course. He hopes to change that this time around. And he’s bringing compatriots.

From their core group of two, more members joined the workouts. Joel McCall, 45, of Greenwood, knew Westrick through boot camp as well.

“I like to thrill seek, and I love to do crazy stuff, so that’s why he invited me to join,” McCall said. “It is a challenge, because you change up obstacles every time. You come in here every week, and it’s never the same.”

Their enthusiasm attracted Gabe Dougherty, 41, of Camby and Niles, 29, of Indianapolis. Niles was recovering from a car accident when Westrick recommended hanging out with the group.

As the youngest member of group, he’s become the test subject for many of their creations.

“He made me get up on one of these and do yoga stances while that thing is shaking back and forth, just to see how good my core was and my balance was,” Niles said.

Westrick is an engineer by trade and fashions the ninja challenges in his own workshop. He studies past “American Ninja Warrior” episodes to get his obstacles as close to those used in the show as possible.

“If we can build it and practice on it, we have much more of a likelihood of being successful,” Westrick said. “We watch the show to see the scale and how far apart things are.”

The salmon ladder consisted of a straight metal bar that the athletes have to hang from while progressively jumping up to hooks 6 inches apart. On the pipe slider, they have to hang on to a length of pipe as it slips down a metal track, timing it to jump and grab a waiting rope at the end of the track.

He created a spinning log replica out of a length of plastic pipe and supports with wheels that let it rotate.

Often, they have to swing their way around the multipurpose room solely by using ropes, without touching the ground.

“A lot of people get there and start to do these things, and they look like a deer in the headlights, because they’ve never done it before,” Dougherty said. “You’re not going to see all of these exact same things, but it’s the same concept. Hanging from a rope is hanging from a rope.”

One of the only obstacles they can’t recreate inside the gym is the Warped Wall, a 14-foot-tall wall that competitors need to scramble over. The malicious designers of it made the top flair out, so that athletes actually have to go up and out to get over it.

“You have to run up and push yourself out just to grab it and get over it,” Owens said.

The course is set up to be timed, so every training session is designed so the athletes can beat their buddy’s time. Those who aren’t taking part keep score, docking points for touching the ground or using the wall to brace themselves.

Ninja-specific training is bolstered by pull-ups, sit-ups and strength training. The group runs on rock beds to train their ankles not to turn on uneven ground. They pull themselves up on the eaves of buildings.

They run across a field carrying cinder blocks or hike with a 30-pound rock. They do a workout called the “Murph,” consisting of a mile run to start, 100 pullups, 200 pushups, 300 squats and then another mile, all under 40 minutes.

“That last mile is unbelievably hard. You were just doing squats, and your legs are all over the place,” Dougherty said.

The team approach is unique for this type of competition. Most athletes on “American Ninja Warrior” train and work out individually. The Fast Five group wanted to band together and all get in as one.

That mentality has the effect of wringing the best performance out of each one in the group.

“We can inspire each other, cheer each other on and root for each other and love on each other and give Band-Aids to each other when we’re bleeding,” Westrick said. “It’s continually pushing yourself. If one of the guys does it, then you have to do it, too.”

Applications for this year’s “American Ninja Warrior” had to be submitted by Jan. 11, and competitors will find out if they’ve been accepted to the show anytime between now and March.

If accepted, they’ll compete at one of the regional sites, most likely Kansas City, Missouri, or Pittsburgh. The best of each qualifying city moves on to the championship in Las Vegas.

Their goal is for each member of the Fast Five to qualify and make it onto the show, which will air over the summer. Their unique approach to training might set them apart to producers, Westrick said.

Because they met through and train at a church, they also think their faith makes them a fresh story for the show. On the back of their shirts they’ve printed a Bible verse, I Corinthians 9:25.

The verse reads, “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.”

“That’s the most important thing,” Westrick said. “We want to be on the show, and if we make it, we want to be the best representatives of Christ that we can. It’s an opportunity to witness to people, if not through word then through our actions.”

But if they can’t make it this year, they can always get back to work and train again for next year.

Westrick said, “That smile on your face, that’s what you get when you do this. It’s total exhilaration.”


Information from: Daily Journal, https://www.dailyjournal.net

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