JUNIATA, Neb. (AP) - Growing up in Kenesaw, Donovan Schneider was never really much into sports.
Today at 5-foot-6 and 135 pounds, the Juniata resident still isn’t the type one would expect to see competing in the “American Ninja Warrior” forum, the Hastings Tribune (https://bit.ly/2a7lzs2 ) reported.
Yet that’s where the 28-year-old husband and father of four wound up after his audition video tape submission in January won him a nod on the popular television show.
But the story dates back a bit further than that.
Smitten by the thought of conquering the most uniquely demanding obstacle courses ever dreamed up, Schneider and his friend, Sam Gnagy, 28, of Hastings, began training for the program months earlier by running daily drills in Schneider’s makeshift obstacle course assembled by the two men inside his barn.
Complete with a tree swinging element and the signature warped wall featured on the program, the course has become a playground of sorts for family members and friends who share the duo’s enthusiasm for fitness challenges.
“We’re always throwing new stuff in there,” Schneider said. “The goal is just to become as well-rounded as possible. You can’t just have upper body grip strength (to compete); you need balance and agility. We’re always trying to dream up new obstacles or things to work on.
“Everybody who comes out to our house it’s kind of the thing to do: ‘Let’s go out to the barn and try the warped wall’ or the other real recognizable obstacles (from the show). We love having people out to mess around and get people excited about it.”
To Schneider, his course has become a means to keeping fit, less the trappings of a stale gym workout.
“I’ve always tried to stay pretty active,” he said. “I like being able to do something that most people can’t do. But really, with a little training, most people can do a lot of this stuff.
“It’s basically playing. It doesn’t feel like you’re working out, or like I’ve got to put my hour in at the gym. We’re doing obstacles that we build that are fun to do, which keeps me more in shape without the monotony of an exercise routine.”
A Southern Power District lineman by trade since 2007, Schneider has had little trouble keeping fit due to the rigors of his daily workload in the field.
“We’re outside all day and it’s pretty physically demanding,” he said. “It (his job) doesn’t give a whole lot of room to get out of shape.”
He apparently looked the part of a prime physical specimen to producers of the “American Ninja Warrior” television program, who selected him to compete in Indianapolis with a team of some 125 Midwesterners on April 27.
“It was a little unbelievable,” Schneider said of his selection. “They called the house land line and asked for my wife, Renee. Pretty much anybody who calls that line is either a telemarketer or my parents, so I thought, ‘Let’s get to the bottom of this.’
“They were insistent. They said, ‘We’ll call back later,’ but I said, ‘I need to know who this is.’ And the lady calling said, ‘Is this Donovan? Well, you just ruined the surprise! We were going to have your wife tell you you made the show so she could videotape your response.’ It was pretty exciting!”
Though both Schneider and Gnagy appeared on the audition tape, it was Schneider alone who was chosen to participate in the shoot.
Accompanied by his family, he drove to Indianapolis and spent most of the next day doing interviews for the show before finally getting his crack at the obstacle course at 2:30 a.m.
Pushed back from 11 p.m. because of inclement weather, Schneider conquered three of the six obstacle challenges before slipping into the water and out of the competition on challenge No. 4 on the outdoor course. In about 2 minutes - or what seemed like mere seconds to him - his much-anticipated romp was over.
“There were rotating obstacles and on the second one I misstepped,” he said. “The next thing I knew I was upside down in the water. It was kind of cold. With the rain delay, it was a cold, long night.”
But fun, nonetheless.
“I was pretty happy about it,” Schneider said. “I remember bits and pieces, but it’s mostly a blur. It seemed like I started and the next thing I know I was walking off the course.
“I didn’t make it very far but that’s not a huge deal. Just making it and being on the actual course and having my turn to run it - and to be there to meet other people interested in the same thing - was reward enough.”
To his kids, his performance was epic.
“They were right on the sidelines cheering,” he said. “At 2:30 in the morning you can imagine four boys under 7 years of age that it was a rough night, but when I was running they perked up and were cheering. That alone was worth it all.”
Though his recorded performance didn’t make the final cut for television, he said he plans to submit another audition tape next season with hopes of winning another opportunity to put his strength and agility skills on the line once again.
In the meantime, he’ll keep an eye out for local events to tackle, such as the one hosted by Lifehouse Church in the church’s parking lot on June 29.
On that day, he finished second overall. Keeping it in the family, his older boys participated in a children’s Ninja warrior training day hosted by Hastings Public Library at Highland Park on July 5.
“It might be a fad that will come and go, but the whole Ninja Warrior idea is catching on right now,” he said. “We’ve talked about hosting an event at our place. It’s actually pretty crazy.”
Information from: Hastings Tribune, https://www.hastingstribune.com
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