Suspended from the ceiling gripping children's building blocks and sandwiched between Wonder-woman and Rudolph the red nosed reindeer wasn't quite what I had in mind when I signed up for Ninja Warrior. Admittedly I hadn't followed the tv series fastidiously, but when I turned up for the auditions I did pause for thought to consider if perhaps this was an elaborate hoax and waited anxiously for Ant and Dec to appear dramatically from behind a corner. For someone who should be a master at stealth, the room was filled with those that appeared rather at odds to what the concept of Ninja was.
It shouldn't have come as a complete surprise to me following a courtesy call from the production company before I travelled. "Have you given any thought to wearing fancy dress?" queried a very perky production assistant. "It'll really make you stand apart from all the other auditionees!” Turns out she was wrong. Dead wrong. Only those truly worthy of the Ninja Warrior title had the guts to turn up in normal gym attire, their talent apparently being memorable enough.
Held in a small (air-conditionless) Crossfit gym on the outskirts of London twenty Ninja wannabes sweated their way through a series of physical trials in order to be selected to appear on the cult tv show that to me is the modern day Gladiator. “No matter what happens, you should feel proud that you've made it to the last nine hundred out of thousands of applications," reminded the organiser before whisking us off for our quick one minute piece to camera.
Split into small groups I was pitted against a Romanian circus performer, last year’s male runner up and a super hot mama, all of whom did not feel the need to wear fancy dress. Things were not looking good. All potential contestants were extremely friendly and supportive of each other and there wasn’t really an air of competition between us. “What is it you do?” asked the girl next to me, not wanting to know my day job but what sporting credential had made me worthy enough to be considered for an audition. Each time I mentioned that I trained as a boxer, pen was quickly put to paper by those assessing us - I can only imagine as a reference that I needed to be taught a stern lesson.
Puffing my way through chin ups, trampoline-propelled-rope-launches and money bar assault courses my upper body strength was no match for my fellow competitors, but when it came to timed sprints, vertical wall jumps and gym bar dismounts my varied training regime and long forgotten gymnastic experience paid off. The challenges were nearly impossible, leaving even my professional team mate Cain (Mr Runner Up 2016) stumbling from balance balls and a slack line. If he couldn't do it, what chance did us mere mortals have?
The show’s assistants advised that those most successful had been practising these trials for some time, replicating them in their back gardens. These were the people that had studied the programme hard and for those like Cain were returning for a second, some a third attempt at the ultimate title. It is undoubtedly a male orientated challenge, requiring a need for upper body strength that most women simply cannot deliver. It also helps to have the dexterity of a rock climber, be to tall with a long reach and lean as speed is key to make it all the way to the final.
It was an experience I had approached a little tongue in cheek. Eager to chalk it up on my resume as a once in a life time experience but fully prepared not to feel too disappointed when I didn’t match up to the stiff competition. I concluded that if I was successful in making it through to the show, it would be as one of those contestants the nation watches plop into the water at the first hurdle with little to no finesse. Not quite ready to be the ridicule of the British public I think I'll stick to safer, more local waters and limits my Ninja aspirations to this one very special day.