As a climber, it’s easy to watch American Ninja Warrior and say, “I could do that.” The obstacle course is full of things to be campused, jumped across, or balanced on. It seems designed for our skill set, with most objectives requiring a vice grip and unlimited pull-up strength. Competitive boulderer Meagan Martin wasn’t sure she could cruise the course when she was invited to audition by the show’s producers, but she did think it would be a fun challenge. She went on to become the first woman to finish the Denver qualifying course and the Jumping Spider obstacle in finals (see videos below). We spoke to Martin about her experience.
What made you decide to enter Ninja Warrior?They wanted more climbers and emailed a bunch of us. I thought it might be fun, but I was also thinking that I didn’t want to get hurt doing something that’s not climbing. So I went back and forth. Then I decided to make a video and see what would happen. I got the callback a week before the first qualifying course.
Did you train specifically for the show?Not really. I didn’t have time because I had Dominion Riverrock, the Toronto World Cup, and then the Vail World Cup. That all happened within the two months of Ninja Warrior, so I was mostly just training for climbing. I did go to the parkour gym a few times. Luckily, I am in shape for climbing, and I think my background in other sports was helpful for my overall coordination.
Before climbing, you were a gymnast and pole vaulter. How do you think those sports helped you?I think all of them together were helpful. I don’t think one was more helpful than the other. I’m really strong right now because of climbing; I train for it five days a week. Any upper-body stuff should be simple, but knowing how to jump on a trampoline, knowing how to balance, and having leg strength were important, too. So gymnastics and pole vaulting were definitely helpful.
What’s an actual day of shooting for the show like?My call time for the Denver qualifying round was at 11 p.m. I thought I was going to be there for an hour, and everyone was like, “Oh, no. We’re gonna be here all night.” I was like, “What? Are you kidding?!” I didn’t have enough layers. People brought crashpads to sleep on. I didn’t have anything; I didn’t even bring food. Luckily, they did feed us. I ended up doing my qualifying round at 5 a.m., got home at 7 a.m., then I had to be back in Denver at 5 p.m. I think I went the next day at 3 a.m.
Did you get to practice on the course beforehand?They don’t let you practice, but you can watch everybody. And they do walk you through everything. A tester shows you every obstacle, then you can watch from the warm-up area, but you can’t see everything from there and you can’t leave that spot, so there are still things you miss that might be beneficial. For example, it’d be nice to watch someone closer to your height run the course if the tester is way taller.
Were you competing for fun, or did you set out to win?It was something to try for fun, to see what happens. It was nice to have another athletic outlet away from climbing because climbing is really fun, but it’s my job, too. It’s more serious. This was like, “An obstacle course, why not?” I didn’t spend the whole year preparing for it like a lot of people, so I felt like I didn’t have much to lose. It was all about fun.
So how dangerous is the course? Was getting hurt a concern?In hindsight, I think maybe I should’ve thought about it more, because you can get hurt. Other people on other courses did. One girl was telling me how she tweaked her shoulder on one of the obstacles. When I fell into the water off those swinging cones, it totally knocked the wind out of me. That water is not deep! It’s only like four feet. And it’s freezing! Especially in Denver. It was so cold that week.
Do you think climbers have an advantage in the competition?Climbers have an advantage because of how much upper-body stuff there is, but then there’s also a lot of coordination and lower-body stuff that climbers aren’t as good at. That’s where the parkour guys excel. Like trampolines and swinging. Climbers tend to stay in a locked-off position when they swing. I know to keep my arms straight because I’m a gymnast. It’s little things like that, which climbers aren’t used to. But when it comes to upper-body strength, everything is simple for a climber. Definitely an advantage.
What obstacles were the hardest?On the first day, the jump to the cones was far, but it wasn’t super hard. For the second day they pushed them back eight inches and made it basically impossible for someone my height, which was a bummer. The Devil Steps—the campusing part wasn’t hard, but the transition was a lot farther than I thought it would be. The Jumping Spider was difficult, and the Warped Wall wasn’t necessarily hard, but you’re tired at the end of the course, which makes it more challenging.
Any advice for other competitors that make it through the audition process?Have fun and don’t take it too seriously.
Will you compete again next year?Oh, definitely.
Want to audition for American Ninja Warrior? Visit ANW Casting for details.