Student to compete on ‘Ninja Warrior’


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Ever since he was in middle school, Jackson Twait has dreamed of becoming the next American Ninja Warrior.

Those hopes of competing have now become a reality for Twait, a junior at UNI studying actuarial science and economics.

“I knew right away,” Twait said, remembering when he first began watching the show, “this is something I want to do. This is my dream.”

In eighth grade, Twait began pushing his physical limits and catering workouts towards the show’s competitiveness. His workouts have included pull-ups, CrossFit and pilates.  Before the Ninja U gym opened in Cedar Falls, Twait also climbed the rock wall at UNI’s Wellness and Recreation Center several times a week. Now, he divides his time between the two gyms.

“I think rock-climbing probably is better for Ninja than Ninja is for Ninja,” Twait said. “I would come here and climb every route on the wall above a 5.8 and I would just be drenched in sweat at the end; my forearms would be dead.”

Trying out for “American Ninja Warrior” consists of filming and submitting a video that showcases the applicant’s talent and personality. A friend studying digital imaging at Hawkeye helped Twait with filming.

“Basically, you need to either be really ecstatic or have a sappy story,” Twait said.    

Twait said the acceptance rate is slim and that in 2016, only several hundred people out of roughly 80,000 applicants received a call.

Twait had originally applied to compete at the show’s Seattle location. When calls for Seattle had passed and he watched his friends from Wisconsin and Ninja U get accepted, Twait began looking forward to next year.

The next day, his phone rang.

“I slowly pulled it out and I’m like…” Twait made a skeptical face as he recalled the incident. “It was a Los Angeles area code, so I knew right away.”

Twait was helping run the scoreboard at a Hudson soccer tournament when he got the call.

“[I] was just, like, jumping up and down on my phone. Afterwards, I just started FaceTiming everyone,” Twait said. “I was just on top of the world. I thought it was just going to be a 30-second call  but it ended up being like a five-minute call — at least it felt like it.”

The Cincinnati competition includes six qualifying rounds. If Twait succeeds in all of those rounds, he progresses to four rounds in Las Vegas. The first round will consist of 120 competitors, with the top 30 progressing to the next night. From that group, the top 12 move on to Las Vegas.  

As he prepares to compete, Twait says he is sharpening his weaker skills. Of the six obstacles in the course, only two have remained consistent for him. He is most nervous for the balance obstacles.  

“Just thinking about the balance obstacles, my stomach just drops,” Twait said.  “It just feels like I have a lump in my stomach; some nights sleeping is kind of hard because I’ll just think about that forever.”

Last year, Twait tried to walk on the show in Minneapolis. For about three days he camped in a park, waiting.

When no one else showed up, Twait was not sure what to do, but for fear of losing his spot, stayed at the park.  A security guard eventually kicked him out, and he ended up sitting in a lawn chair overnight outside of U.S. Bank Stadium.

“[I] stayed awake the entire time because I was scared,” Twait said. “[I] had someone ask if I could bum them a cigarette and had another guy just walk up to me and be like, ‘You okay?’”  

What Twait had not understood was that walk-ons arrived at a given time to a specified location and were being checked in. When people started showing up to his location in the morning, Twait was told he was number 24.

“I was kind of mad for five minutes, then I got over it,” Twait said.

After years of both training and setbacks, Twait will finally be appearing on the show in May.

“It still hasn’t really hit me,” Twait said.  “I feel like it won’t really hit me until I’m standing there on the platform about to go.”

Twait’s competition will be in Cincinnati over Memorial Day weekend and will air on NBC on Wednesday, July 3.