Summer 2022
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The Warrior’s Path

Kiana Rasubala fulfills a childhood dream of competing on American Ninja Warrior By Andrew Shaughnessy

Ever since she was a child, Kiana Rasubala (B20) dreamed of becoming a ninja. But it wasn’t the sword-wielding, masked assassins of yore that captured the George Fox alumna’s imagination. Instead, it was the high-flying obstacle course athletes of the reality show American Ninja Warrior.

The TV series, now in its 14th season, features competitors from across the U.S. who attempt to complete challenging obstacle courses in front of a live audience and commentators. They run across balance beams, leap from precarious platforms high in the air, clamber over moving walls, swing from rope to rope over chasms of foam or water, and perform devilishly difficult feats of strength and dexterity. Those who succeed with fast-enough times advance to progressively more demanding stages of the competition, ultimately culminating in a notoriously difficult finale in which the victor wins a $1 million prize and the coveted title of “American Ninja Warrior.”

The whole production looks both incredibly fun and absurdly difficult, requiring a rare combination of agility, strength and skill. For a longtime fan and athlete like Rasubala – a devoted viewer for the last 10 years – seeing other women quite literally overcoming obstacles proved inspiring.

“In the earlier seasons there were a ton of guys who really excelled, but just a few girls, and they weren’t quite at the same level,” she says. “But then in Season 6, Kacy Catanzaro became the first woman to ever complete a qualifier course. That was the moment where I was like, ‘Wow, girls really do have a shot at this. We can compete at the same level as the guys.’”

From that moment on, Rasubala knew she wanted to be on the show, to find out what she was capable of and have her moment in the spotlight.

After high school, she studied health and human performance at George Fox, spending her days training and running with the track and field team while making memories and forging friendships. Not long after graduating in 2020, Rasubala moved to southern Colorado. While the move was primarily a step forward in her budding career in campus recreation and fitness, she admits that part of her motivation was to be closer to many of the country’s top “ninja gyms” – obstacle course facilities built specifically for athletes to train for American Ninja Warrior-style competitions.

“Honestly, I’ve made quite a few life choices because of American Ninja Warrior,” Rasubala says.

Rasubala began structuring her life around training for the show. On weekdays she rock climbed, built up her core and upper-body strength with bodyweight circuits, and even trained on local playgrounds to simulate obstacles. Every weekend she hopped in her car and drove three or more hours to reach the closest ninja gyms, alternating facilities to explore new cities and vary her training. Within just three months she had driven 4,000 miles to train at 10 different ninja gyms in nine cities across four states.

Kiana Rasubala in the obstacle gym

When it came time to apply for the show, Rasubala was ready. She filled her application video with clips of her swinging, leaping and climbing her way through seemingly every obstacle course in the American Southwest and played up her story of dedication and grit – the miles traveled and hours logged, all for a singular goal.

In January 2022, Rasubala got the call. She had been chosen to compete on American Ninja Warrior.

Two months later, she was in San Antonio, Texas, walking through a hotel lobby filled with athletes she had admired for years. The next week was a blur: meetings with story producers and filmmakers capturing B-roll, connecting with fellow competitors, and even attending a prayer and worship session hosted by fellow athletes.

“That was awesome,” she says. “I was pretty nervous, but it really put me at peace.”

Kiana Rasubala in the obstacle gym

On day three, it was Rasubala’s turn to take on the obstacle course in the Alamodome. This was the moment she had trained for, the culmination of a childhood dream. There was just one problem. On her very last training session, the day before she was scheduled to fly to Texas, Rasubala had fallen in an attempt to run up the “warped wall” obstacle at a ninja gym, injuring her foot.

“I was freaking out, so I immediately called Mary Imboden, one of my exercise science professors at Fox, and said, ‘Hey, this just happened. What can I do?’”

Imboden helped as much as she could, advising ice, rest and tape for the injured foot, but when Rasubala stepped up to the stage to make her first official American Ninja Warrior attempt, she could still feel that her foot wasn’t doing well. The very first obstacle was a lower-body intensive balancing act, involving running up a series of steps, grabbing onto a rope and swinging onto a platform.

Rasubala took off. At first, it seemed that things were going well, but as she made it across the final steps, she started to lose her balance. Catching the rope too low, her momentum was gone and her trajectory off-kilter. She jumped, stretching to reach the platform, but came just short, falling back onto the water below and failing to complete the first obstacle.

Though disappointed, she remains undeterred.

“I’m definitely going to keep training and go for it again next year,” says Rasubala, who one day hopes to open her own ninja gym, sharing her love for the sport and the lessons she’s learned with others. “I only had six months of training under my belt, while others have been doing this for years, so I know that there is still tons of room for growth.”

The way she sees it, this isn’t the end of a dream, but rather just another chapter in her lifelong story of athletic pursuit and personal growth.

“My whole sports and fitness journey has been one of growing in self-confidence and pushing past my self-doubt and the fears that creep in,” she says. “In track I would compare myself to others a lot. Even if I had a good day at a track meet, I would always think, ‘Oh but this other person did so much better.’ Completing these physical obstacle courses builds me up to feel more confident in my daily life. I see it as, if I can tackle that, then I can do anything.”

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