Kansas City ninjas will add a little science and a lot of style to “American Ninja Warrior” on Monday, Aug. 21, when they compete in the show’s Kansas City Finals episode.
Four local athletes — Mitchell VeDepo of Mission, Donovan Metoyer and Alex Carson of Kansas City and Annie Dudek of Independence — are among the select few vying to move on to the Las Vegas finale later this month.
They started among more than 100 athletes who converged on Union Station in April to try to make their way through a challenging obstacle course. Thirty or so got to move on to the KC finals airing Monday.
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The four local finalists won’t necessarily get air time. But we got to know all of them a bit:
“The Classy Ninja”
Metoyer, 30, a longtime “Ninja Warrior” fan and competitor, earned his nickname for the snazzy duds he wears when he competes.
About 15 years ago, Metoyer, a big fan of Japanese culture, began watching the Japanese TV show “Sasuke,” which “Ninja Warrior” is based on. “I remember seeing these guys running through a giant playground. It looked so fun,” Metoyer says. At 18, he even applied for the chance to compete in Japan, not realizing he had to be 21.
With dampened hopes, he says he “forgot about ‘Ninja’ ” for a few years, until “American Ninja Warrior” became a cultural phenomenon in the States, complete with that all-American bravado:
“I don’t mean it in a bad way,” Metoyer says. “But all the guys were taking their shirts off and just being kind of arrogant. I remember thinking, ‘They remind me of meatheads,’ ” he says. “I want to bring some class and dignity to the show. So I’m like, ‘All right, I’m going to be the Classy Ninja.’ ”
So Metoyer went the exact opposite route of the athletes he had seen, choosing to compete on “Ninja Warrior” fully clothed, in a suit.
“It allowed me to stand out and be unique,” Metoyer says. “And I just want to show that you can run the course in anything.”
Metoyer says the suit, made of stretchy fabric, also serves another purpose:
“It gives me the ability to restrict my movements to where I’m proficient while not overexerting myself,” he says. The suit doesn’t allow for bad form.
Over time Metoyer, who helps oversee the slot machines at a local casino, made tweaks to his wardrobe. Unless he’s competing in a cold climate, he swaps out his blazer for a vest and tie. He originally completed his ensemble with a pair of Nike dress shoes but quickly found out (after splashing out in his first competition back in 2013) that tennis shoes were a more practical option: “I guess I’m the Classy Ninja from the ankles up,” he jokes.
The changes seem to be working. Each year Metoyer has improved his “Ninja Warrior” results. This is the first time he has ever advanced to the city finals stage: “Doing ‘Ninja Warrior,’ I’ve learned how to step back and realize your life is your life. You move at your own pace, and you don’t have to do what you think people are expecting you to. You need to do what you want to do, the way you want to do it.”
“The Science Ninja”
VeDepo, 26, is a bioengineering doctoral student at the University of Kansas. In his third year of “Ninja Warrior” competition, VeDepo will be aiming for his second straight trip to Vegas.
His secret? It’s all in the science, he says.
“I’m a really analytical person,” VeDepo says. “I like to break obstacles down to a science. In general I like to break things down and understand why they work and how it’s best to approach these things.”
He considers variables like force, inertia and momentum. He plots which foot to start on to maximize momentum when he tries to mount the Warped Wall. He remembers the importance of evenly coiling his legs to maintain balance on the Floating Steps. It’s a cerebral approach VeDepo hopes audiences will enjoy about him, among other things.
In addition to his studies at KU, VeDepo is also undertaking research at Children’s Mercy, working on tissue engineering heart valves for kids in need. “It’s difficult kind of beating your own chest, but I try to be a good person,” he says. “I’m pursuing a career I think can save lives and do a lot of good in this world. I hope people can focus on that and want to see me do well.”
Dudek and Carson
The Star profiled Annie Dudek and Alex Carson in April. Here’s a recap:
▪ Annie Dudek, 37, an elementary school PE teacher, is returning to “Ninja Warrior” for her third straight year. But this time she was recovering from a torn ACL. “It was my first time getting hurt and experiencing anything like that,” Dudek said. “I’d never had stitches or even sprained anything, so it was pretty intense.”
Just seven months after her injury, Dudek was back in the gym preparing. “I’ve had a few moms reach out to me from social media to tell me I’ve inspired them,” Dudek said. “That inspires me.”
Dudek said she was also inspired by her students and by showing her sons the importance of bouncing back after a setback: “I’m stronger now than I was in college,” she said. “It’s like I tell all of my kids: ‘You never know if you don’t try.’ ”
▪ Alex Carson, 30, has competed twice before but this time was not officially chosen for the KC rounds. He competed as a walk-on, which inspired him to train even harder. “My goal is to make it through the city qualifiers,” he said before the first competition. “If I can make it through the qualifiers, that will drive me to the next level. If I narrow it down to 30, I know I can narrow it down to 15.”
Carson’s voice, soft but assured, carries a quiet confidence. “This isn’t about you against other people, it’s about you against the course,” he said. “You pull from how much self-worth you have and how much you believe. It’s a mindset I take through the obstacle course and life in general.”
One competitor The Star profiled didn’t make it past the first round but proved among the most popular: Richard Talavera, a 70-year-old who can do a handstand on a skateboard. But he did carve out his own piece of “Ninja” history by becoming the oldest competitor to complete one of the obstacles.
Kansas City is one of six regional hosts for Season 9 of “Ninja Warrior,” alongside Los Angeles, Cleveland, San Antonio, Denver and Daytona Beach, Fla. The top 15 competitors in each city, plus the top two women, will move on to Mount Midoriyama, the “Ninja Warrior” finals course in Las Vegas.
Where to watch
“American Ninja Warrior” Kansas City Finals will air at 8 p.m. Monday, Aug. 21, on NBC. The first Vegas Finals episode will air at 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 4.