Novice to Ninja: An Unquenchable Drive

Novice to Ninja: An Unquenchable Drive
American Gladiator and Ninja Warrior Evan Dollard conquering the ring dips.
American Gladiator and Ninja Warrior Evan Dollard conquering the ring dips.

A persistent tickle of anxiety flutters at the center of my chest. I bounce rhythmically left to right on the balls of my feet as the sun falls toward the Pacific. Behind my icy gaze I’m already launching from the starter’s platform to the first angled step. Three quick steps and I leap to the next. I fire off another round of fast footwork and blast over the water below.

“Get ready, Evan.”

The set director’s mandate shakes me back to reality. My heart rate spikes and I remind myself to breath.

“Here we go. Five, four, three…”

His fingers count down from two. As his fist clenches “zero” an air horn blasts my feet into action, and I jump forward.

As a three-season competitor on NBC’s American Ninja Warrior, I’ve stepped up to the starter’s platform several times. Every time I stare down the course I envision success. It’s as much strategy as it is confidence, and life experience has taught me to train for both.

I grew up on a dude-centric suburban street. On any given day our energetic, mischievous crew would be racing around playing roller hockey, basketball or ghost in the graveyard. I didn’t excel at any one thing. I was never the tallest, strongest or most athletic. Instead I was adaptable and ready to try anything. I pushed myself to be ahead of the curve.

Beneath the overture of action sports and emotional extremes was a bold, persuasive undertone of something less tangible. I believed something. Whether this conviction is woven into the cosmic fates or simply a cerebral evolution of childhood imagination, it has been a pervasive, driving force to this day.

I believe I can have an extraordinary life.

Five years ago I was cast in the series reboot of NBC’s American Gladiators. I won Season One in honor my late mother and became the Gladiator known as Rocket. It was my first glimpse of what I always thought was possible. And just as I felt the momentum shifting in my life something terribly distracting happened.

I fell in love.

After Season 2 I chased a girl around the country for a couple years before landing back in Chicago heartbroken. I secured a desk job at a web development company and snagged a one-bedroom in the burbs. Plagued by an inescapable brokenness, I spent many an evening chasing frozen pizzas with heaping spoonfuls of Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby.

“You’re looking a bit soft,” a friend confessed.

He was right. My dedication to nutrition and fitness had lapsed for one reason. I had lost my vision. I had become complacent, apathetic… content with ordinary. It was during this season of life a co-worker pulled me aside and showed me some clips of American Ninja Warrior on YouTube.

“I think you could do this,” he affirmed. “You should audition.”

I recruited MMA fighter Carson Beebe to be my personal trainer and he whipped my ass back into shape. We focused on High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) with moderate weight at high reps for extended circuits. I upped my lean proteins and minimized traditional carb and processed sugar intake. At the auditions in Venice I blasted through two qualifying rounds and four brutal days of boot camp to earn a spot on Team America.

I travelled to Japan, won the Southwest Region last year, and now host Esquire Network’s Well-Trained Warrior. In short, my vision is renewed.

Life is a series of obstacles not unlike those I face on the course. It takes a great deal of persistence, hard work and personal vision to live at one’s full potential. I’m training for—and chasing after—an extraordinary life. I encourage you to do the same for one reason.

You have the capacity for greatness.

Allow nutrition and fitness to empower you as a tangible representation—a physical manifestation—of your inner greatness. With it will come confidence, inner health and a clearer vision of extraordinary possibilities.

No American has ever conquered the American Ninja Warrior course. This year I’m training future ninjas toward that ultimate achievement. Still, something tells me I haven’t stepped up to the starter’s platform for the last time…

Let Evan Dollard teach you how to become a Well-Trained Warrior by watching the links below: