NORTH PORT — Two North Port natives were among 100 elite athletes taking part in the Atlanta competition of “America Ninja Warrior.”
The NBC-based show will air in early to mid-June, depending on a few different factors.
Josh Parisi, 21, and Ashley McConville, 19, can’t say how well they did or specifically what happened on their runs that took place while the show filmed in Atlanta between March 24-26, but both spoke about the excitement of the experience.
“It’s been awesome getting to compete at so many different competitions and meet so many new ninjas,” McConville said. “I have Ninja friends all around the country because of all the competitions we’ve done and traveled to.”
“I had a great time,” Parisi said.
That great time happened despite his run starting at 3:54 a.m. The filming starts as soon as the sun sets and ends at sunrise. With 100 athletes taking the stage, it goes all night long.
“My experience was way different from other people. I was actually very relaxed,” he said. “From the point I got my call to the point I started my run, I felt very relaxed through the process. I don’t know how to explain it, but I felt really calm and confident that I would do well.”
Parisi is currently a music education major at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers.
His attention to detail helps with training, he said, but those people who tend to do best with ninja competitions are involved in rock-climbing — which helps with grip strength, and gymnastics — which helps with body awareness, he said.
McConville was very involved with gymnastics. She’d trained or competed in it since she was 6.
While gymnastics was her life, “American Ninja Warrior” caught her attention when she was 14 and “knew it was something I wanted to do someday,” McConville said.
“But at the time, the age limit was 21 so my plan was to do college gymnastics and then do the show when I was 23.”
She continued gymnastics but started participating in Ninja-related activities. She began connecting with Ninjas.
“I was going rock-climbing and Jason Bergstrom (an ‘American Ninja Warrior’ veteran) introduced himself to me and asked if I had ever tried Ninja before,” McConville said. “He told me about a kids Ninja competition that LIVE Training Center (in Palmetto) was hosting and said I should give it a shot.”
Parisi also trains at LIVE occasionally while his work and hobbies also take place at Extreme Air Gymnastics in Fort Myers.
The show lowered the age from 21 to 19 for people to compete, giving McConville the opportunity earlier than she thought.
“This made me start to think: Did I want to do college gymnastics for four more years and be completely dedicated to it, or did I want to begin seriously training ninja and start pursuing a field in that?”
She began to turn toward her faith for guidance, participating in weekly Bible studies.
“I started growing closer with God and made the decision to give my life to him, to start living for him each and everyday and start listening to his plan for my life instead of the plan that I was making for myself,” she said.
Gymnastics competition seemed to be about being better than everyone else. In Ninja training, she found only encouragement.
“I began to fall in love with the community. I started noticing how different the community was from gymnastics,” she said. “In Ninja, everyone wants you to succeed.”
Parisi celebrates the community as well, saying he loved reconnecting with people — and connecting with the audience — as his run began.
“I had a blast. It was a lot of fun...even on the starting line, I had a lot of fun getting the crowd into it,” he said.
He couldn’t get into the specifics of his run because of disclosure rules — but he indicates it felt a bit surreal to him.
“I was calm...but there was also the feeling that maybe this was a dream and I’m going to wake up soon. I felt like the training was really going to pay off at that moment and I was just like: ‘Let’s do it.’”
For him, the patience learned in his music expertise helped him with Ninja he said. For people who haven’t trained in rock-climbing, gymnastics or parkour — a type of obstacle course sport — it’s about being comfortable with repetition.
“When you’re trying to prepare for a concert or recital, it’s best to work on every part of it ... but the repetition is important so you know how to put it together,” Parisi said. “Music, if you prepare ... a slip-up might happen, but it’s rare.”
Ninja is a less forgiving on the course.
“Balance objects ... are never a guarantee for anybody,” he said. “You can have the most-calculated plan, but for balance, it doesn’t always happen. It happens to even the big-name Ninjas every year.”
McConnville began training with Bergstrom’s children, Caleb and Caitlyn Bergstrom. Her background in gymnastics gave McConville a head start.
“I came into Ninja being able to do obstacles and moves that took some Ninjas years to perfect. I started placing first against athletes who had been seasoned veterans on the show,” she said.
She said it wasn’t just gymnastics. She dedicated the past year to “strict training” for ninja competition.
“The biggest obstacle I faced coming into Ninja was myself,” she said. “Gymnastics taught me that if I fell, I was letting people down. When I first started Ninja, anytime I would fall early at a competition, I felt like I was disappointing them.”
But with the help of her new Ninja friends she is striving to overcome these obstacles.
“I’ve had a lot of success this passed year competing placing at almost every competition I’ve gone to, but I wouldn’t be where I was without Caleb and Caitlyn,” Mcconville said. “They always push me to be my best and have brought out the best in me.”
This season of American Ninja Warrior begins airing Wednesday, May 29. The two-hour shows run from 8-10 p.m. on NBC.
If the show keeps to its tradition trajectory of regions, the Southeast is the first one that airs — which would be Monday, June 10. But that has not been confirmed.
There is no telling if their runs will air in part, in full or at all. With 100 people selected to run and two hours of edited footage, they may not know until the show airs.
Parisi said he doesn’t have a Ninja nickname, saying sometimes it becomes almost a tattoo for people and wanting to make sure if he selects one, it’s a good one.
McConville has shirts designed that say “Inspire Kindness.”
“I want to inspire people with my athletic abilities, but I also want to be able to inspire people with my character,” she said.
For Parisi, he said he has been calm about it from the time he received the call that he’d been selected. He said he’s loved it all.
“It’s all just feels like a playground for me,” he said.
For McConville, she’s appreciated meeting new friends and appreciating her family that has inspired her, including her uncle, David, for whom she dedicated her submission video.
She said she is inspired by him and by her new friends in the world of Ninja.
“It’s awesome getting to keep in touch with them and keep up with their training. It’s also crazy to think that some of the Ninjas I looked up to most from the show have become some of my closest friends.”
She’s hoping to be able to be a spark for other girls and women interested in the sport.
“What drives me with ‘Ninja Warrior’ is knowing that I have the chance to inspire people,” she said. “I wanted to be able to be someone that young girls could look up to and know that it’s OK to be strong and that girls can be just as strong as boys.”
Her advice to anyone looking into Ninja is to just do it.
“The thing that’s cool about Ninja is that everyone comes from such different backgrounds. And everyone has their strengths and weaknesses,” she said.