Frisco resident Gary Brown, a former MLB outfielder for the San Francisco Giants, put his personal ninpo skills to work for the popular, obstacle-course game show American Ninja Warrior 2020 Qualifiers in St. Louis -- where the show's entire Season 12 was filmed at America’s Center.
AJW competitors run through a course designed to push upper-body strength, grip strength, balance and endurance limits in a race against the clock. Due to coronavirus pandemic constraints, Season 12 was filmed entirely in St. Louis, from June 29 through July 25. The season series premiered on NBC from September through November. Cheering supporters instead streamed in.
Gary says his World Series teammates often joked about he would do well on the show. He retired from ball in 2017, and went into baseball operations. During the fall of 2019, he discovered there was a Ninja Nation gym just 5 minutes from his house.
On the show, Gary unfortunately fell into water while moving from one hanging plank to the next on the fifth obstacle. Frisco Life got the privilege of asking him what led to that moment.
HOW'D YOU GET INTERESTED IN NINJA WARRIOR?
I’ve watched Ninja Warrior for years as a more casual fan. My teammates and I watched it in the clubhouse before and after games. It was fun to be a couch ninja and criticize everyone who ran the course, thinking you could do it better. Fast forward, and I'm now retired from my playing career and was looking to put my competitiveness into something. I'm now watching ninja warrior more often. My wife talked me into it, made the video, and the rest is history.
WHEN DID YOU GET SELECTED AND HOW?
I got a phone call middle of June to ask if I was interested in being a part of the show. We flew to St. Louis three weeks later. So, it was a tight window of training.
WHERE DID YOU TRAIN FOR THE COMPETITION?
I trained at the Ninja Nation in Frisco, run by Karsten Williams. It was the best possible place I could go to prepare for the show.
WHAT DIFFERENT TRAINING ROUTINES/STEPS DID YOU TAKE FOR THIS COMPETITION OR ALTER YOUR DIET?
Well, I immediately started going to Ninja Nation as often as possible and tried to increase my endurance, all while including explosive exercises. I altered my diet slightly, to try to be as light as possible. I cut carbs, increased protein and lowered caloric intake altogether.
HOW DID YOUR PRIOR ATHLETIC BACKGROUND COME INTO PLAY WITH NINJA?
Playing in nerve-racking situations was the biggest help in this whole process. I don’t think baseball and Ninja Warrior correlate all that much. But, the nerves are there in both, and managing those was a big deal.
WAS IT HARD TO ALSO TRAIN EMOTIONALLY FOR THIS DIFFERENT EXECUTION OF ATHLETICISM?
I think just having grace and patience in this whole process. As a competitor, you want to win and be the best, and I can honestly say that was my goal, even though it was a long shot. I had to manage my expectations, all while still being positive and competitive.
BEING AN ATHLETE, WHAT NINJA COURSE OBSTACLES DID YOU PREDICT WOULD BE EASIER? WHICH ONES CONCERNED YOU BEFORE GOING? ONCE ON THE COURSE, ANY SURPRISES?
It’s funny you ask this question, because the way it worked out is exactly the kind of obstacle I was worried about. I was the most nervous for technically difficult ones with less room for error. I was training to make sure I could last physically through at least 12 or so obstacles. As far as what was on the course, you didn't know for sure until moments before you took the course. You get a brief walk-through, and then depending on what order you run, you go right onto the course.
DUE TO THE PANDEMIC, THE 2020 NINJA COMPETITION WAS HELD DIFFERENTLY WITHIN A BUBBLE AT AMERICA'S CENTER IN ST. LOUIS. HOW LONG WERE CONTESTANTS HELD IN QUARANTINE THERE TOGETHER?
It was difficult, for sure. You were left a lot of time to think in the hotel room and envision the course you may be running on. I got there on a Monday and didn't run the course until a Friday, if I'm remembering correctly.
DID YOU ALL GET TO RUN THE COURSE BEFORE THE ACTUAL COMPETITION?
No, we did not. We had a quick look at the course and that was it.
HOW FAR IN ADVANCE ARE YOU INFORMED WHICH OBSTACLES WILL BE IN THE ACTUAL COMPETITION, OR IS THAT NOT REVEALED UNTIL THE GAME STARTS?
There is gossip, for sure, but that's it. They give you a walk-through; then you go!
DO YOU PLAN TO TRY THE COMPETITION AGAIN?
I would love to compete again. As a scout, my schedule changes quickly, so I'm at the mercy of a lot of other factors. Being taken off the road by MLB for COVID actually worked in my favor in terms of my ability to compete on the show.
WHAT OVERALL LIFE LESSONS DID YOUR NINJA WARRIOR EXPERIENCE LEAVE YOU WITH?
Aging is real! I'm not that 22-year-old I feel like I am! Honestly, it has helped spark a new fire in me to continue to try new things. Saying yes and trying new things is a lot more fun than saying no and keeping the status quo.