They’re local college students, a drugstore manager, a P.E. teacher, a pizza guy, a cop and more — but come Friday night, each will be a ninja trying to conquer the tough “American Ninja Warrior” obstacle course at Kansas City’s Union Station.
Around 8 that night, the first of 125 or so competitors will take on the show’s challenges. Among that group of regional contestants will be at least eight people from the Kansas City area.
We’re hearing that some of the athletes have been told to report at 6 p.m. Friday and others at 11 p.m. Yes, “American Ninja Warrior” films by dark of night — the first audience seating is at 8 p.m. and the final one is at 2:30 a.m.
About 30 competitors who on Friday night either successfully complete the course or get the farthest in the shortest time will move on to Saturday night (what’s known as the city finals). And about half the contestants on Saturday should make it to the finals in Las Vegas. That course, “Mount Midoriyama,” is so rigorous, no one has ever conquered it to claim the cash prize, recently upped to $1 million.
Here’s a look at the KC contestants we know about so far (confirmed by NBC, although we expect several walk-ons Friday night as well):
Donovan Metoyer is the only KC area “veteran” we know of — he’s returning for his third consecutive appearance on the show, having also competed in Seasons 5 (in Denver) and 6 (St. Louis).
What sets him apart? “I consider myself the classy ninja,” says Metoyer, 27, of Kansas City.
What that means is that he dresses up to run the course, although he now knows the show won’t allow him to wear a tie unless he’s also wearing a vest — wouldn’t want neckwear to get caught up in the equipment.
You’d definitely notice a guy in a suit as opposed to, for instance, “a lot of meatheads running around taking off their shirts and showboating,” as Mr. “Dressed to Impress” puts it.
His audition video for Season 5 showed off his skills in gymnastics, tae kwon do and rock climbing. “And then I had the intelligent Donovan, the smart, geeky guy who loves computers.”
Speaking of Season 5, he lost a shoe on the second obstacle (the Rolling Log) and although he wasn’t disqualified, his “entire game was out the window” at that point and he fell on the third obstacle.
Last season, the first night got rained out. The following night, he made it to the fourth obstacle — two dangling ropes and a cargo net. It was a chilly night, around 15 degrees. He did manage to swing from the second rope to the cargo net, which he caught with both hands, “but I couldn’t hold on and I hit icy cold water.”
When he’s not a ninja, Metoyer is a shift leader/manager at the Walgreens at 63rd and Troost. He’s a graduate of Hogan Prep Academy and Metropolitan Community College-Longview, and he’s now working on a bachelor’s degree in information technology at UMKC.
Lars Hanson of Olathe is just 21, but he’s already a successful entrepreneur: As a middle-schooler he launched a speed and agility youth summer camp.
It all started when he was in seventh grade and took part in a training camp himself. Afterward he applied what he learned to his brother Anders, then a third-grader playing baseball and basketball.
“As we both started improving, his teammates started noticing a difference, so his teammates and friends would ask me for training as well,” Hanson says.
He started out with a dozen kids. This year, his four-day-a-week, summerlong Ignite Your Game camp is expecting more than 250 youth ages 8 to 18.
Hanson is an endurance athlete himself: track, cross country and basketball at Olathe East High School. His original plan when he enrolled at Kansas State University in Manhattan was to become a college basketball coach — he’s a manager for K-State’s basketball team — but now he wants to expand his camps to year-round after he graduates with a marketing degree.
How’d he get on “American Ninja Warrior”? Some of the kids in his camp cajoled him into applying and helped him make his application video.
These days he’s doing a lot of finger grip training, climbing almost every day at the rock wall in the K-State recreation center.
By the way, among Hanson’s friends and family delegation at the show will be his fiancee, Bekah Nyman, a fellow K-Stater. The couple got engaged just days ago, on April 6.
Jordan Cowart, 22, is a secondary English education major at the University of Central Missouri, but he figures these two things grabbed the attention of “ANW” producers: He’s a superfan of the show. And he’s a pizza guy.
The Lee’s Summit North grad commutes to the Warrensburg campus from Lee’s Summit, where on weekends he’s a driver for Domino’s. He’s done that for three years, which has helped with tuition.
“I think they liked my pizza backstory,” he says. Makes him relatable, he was told.
As for his superfan status, he started watching the Japanese progenitor of “American Ninja Warrior” when he was in seventh grade. Back then it was online only, not even on cable.
Like a lot of teenagers, Cowart built “Ninja Warrior”-style obstacles in his backyard.
As for becoming a contestant, “I didn’t think I’d ever get the chance, but somehow it happened.”
He’d always planned to apply but didn’t expect the show to get as big as it has. “Thousands upon thousands” of people apply, he notes.
The future high school English teacher is also an athlete, by the way. He was on the varsity track team and played soccer in high school.
Now that he’s been picked for the show, Cowart has been running, doing push-ups and pull-ups and just trying to get back to his peak of fitness, which was high school.
“Anything dealing with upper body” has always been his weaker spot. How is he at hanging by his hands? “Not great.”
“I don’t know if I have what it takes to win,” he says, “but I’m gonna give it my best shot.” Spoken like a true ninja.
Meanwhile, we’ve introduced you to these local contestants in previous articles (including this story about a gym in Belton that trains would-be ninjas):
Alex Carson, 28, of south Kansas City is a graduate of Grandview High School and Kansas State University, where he played tuba in the marching band. He works as a manufacturing engineer for Continental Disc Corp. in Liberty. He’s also an enthusiast of woodworking and Dance Dance Revolution.
Annie Dudek, 35, is an elementary P.E. teacher in Independence. “I’m just doing it because my boys (Major and Kaicen) wanted me to do it,” she says. And her husband, Casey, “is an amazing supporter.” She interviewed some of her students for her “Ninja Warrior” application video.
Brad Lynn, 37, is a sergeant with the Kansas City Police Department. He grew up in the Northland and graduated from Oak Park High School. He has a wife and four kids. He likes to compete in 5K runs and mud runs. Oh, and he’s a magician!
Jesse Thomas, 28, of Lee’s Summit, attended Archbishop O’Hara High School and Benedictine College, where he played football. He later played arena football for the Salina Bombers. He works as an account manager for Enterprise Fleet Management in Merriam. He has four kids, including 4-year-old twins.
Stephen Young, 32, of Kansas City has worked in construction, as an arborist trimming and removing trees and as a cellphone tower climber. Originally from New York City, he is now studying pre-med and business at the University of Kansas and plans to go into emergency medicine or orthopedic surgery.
To reach Tim Engle, call 816-234-4779 or follow him on Twitter @tim_engle.
TWO ‘NINJA’ NIGHTS
“American Ninja Warrior” will film Friday and Saturday nights in the parking lot in front of Union Station. Start time should be about 8 p.m., but your best bet for getting tickets (which are free) might be the late-night (2:30 a.m.) audience seatings. Register at on-camera-audiences.com.
The show’s Season 7 debuts May 25 on NBC.