The hours of hanging from fingertips off of narrow ledges, swinging from rafter to rafter and balancing on a slack rope paid off.
Trudging along on miles-long runs over rock beds and sprinting through fields holding cinder blocks helped Bill Westrick achieve his goal.
He was going to get the chance to prove he was a true ninja champion.
Westrick was one of 500 people chosen to compete in this year’s “American Ninja Warrior” competition. For the second year in a row, he tried his best to traverse over an open pit by rolling a cylinder while hanging from his arms, pull himself up an inverted wall and swinging through a series of rings and ropes.
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After months of training at the Community Life Center at Mount Pleasant Christian Church in the Center Grove area, he has the chance to be featured when the show premiers in late May.
“I’ve loved the training, I’ve loved the guys I’ve worked with, and we’ve gotten to be better friends. We got to encourage each other in life and spiritually,” he said.
Westrick, a Greenwood resident and engineer, had been training to make “American Ninja Warrior” with a group of four other athletes from Greenwood and the southside.
The Fast Five, as they called themselves, met every week early in the morning to train. They created a makeshift obstacle course that they thought would best prepare them for the ninja competition, shown on TV every summer on NBC and the Esquire Network.
Unfortunately, Westrick was the only one chosen to compete in one of five qualifying rounds.
“American Ninja Warrior” is an Americanized version of a famed Japanese show. Competitors tackle a nightmarish obstacle course that tests their endurance, balance and upper body and grip strength.
Entrants sent in a video application, where they revealed why theirs was a compelling story and why they were worthy of being an American ninja. Those chosen were assigned to one of five qualifying cities — Venice Beach, California; Houston, Texas; Kansas City, Missouri; Orlando, Florida; and Pittsburgh.
The best moved on to the finals in Las Vegas.
Westrick received a call from the “American Ninja Warrior” producers in late March, when he learned he’d be competing in Kansas City on April 16 and 17.
“I was excited but nervous. That’s when the real pressure starts,” he said. “Once you get that phone call, it’s real. Until then, it’s just a dream.”
To get ready, Westrick used the Internet to try and scout what this year’s course would be like. News crews in Kansas City had taken photographs of the set as it was being built, so he tried to zoom in and get a sense of what obstacles might be coming.
“Ninja Warrior is notorious for making new obstacles every season, every city and every location. So there are six new obstacles to watch out for this year,” he said.
He used the photographs to help him train. Taking advantage of a section of empty warehouse at his work, he built replicas of the challenges, to get a feel before he had to do it for real.
“My main goal after I got the call was to do obstacle-specific training, to work on timing, eye-hand coordination, studying the obstacles,” Westrick said. “At that point, I had two weeks to prepare. You can’t really get stronger in two weeks.”
He traveled to Kansas City with his wife, Monica, and daughter Erika. Danny Owens, a member of the Fast Five, brought his son along to cheer on Westrick.
They arrived on April 15 and toured the set. Westrick spent much of the time taping segments with show producers, watching people test the course and interacting with fans.
About 100 competitors went through the gauntlet.
“American Ninja Warrior” premiers May 25, with individual episodes focused on the five qualifying cities.
Because the show hasn’t debuted yet, Westrick can’t reveal how his run turned out. But he called the entire experience more enjoyable than last time.
“I knew what to expect. I was a rookie last year, and it was mass chaos. I was just along for the ride,” he said. “This year, I knew the way it would work.”
He’s unsure if he and the rest of the Fast Five will try to qualify again next year. Some of the group members are signed up for endurance races such as the Tough Mudder and Spartan Race locally, and they’ve gathered to train for that.
“We’re changing our training style from ninja to more strength and obstacles,” Westrick said. “We’re incorporating more running. We ran this morning, about five miles in the mud and water and rocks.”
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“American Ninja Warrior” premiers on NBC on May 25. Westrick anticipated the episode from his qualifying round in Kansas City to air in June.