ST. GEORGE — Brian Beckstrand has been an athlete all his life. But he’d never been a Ninja Warrior — until now.
The 36-year-old Beckstrand, who played basketball for Dixie College in the late 1990s when it was still a junior college, has participated in all kinds of athletic events in an effort to keep his body in peak condition. After Dixie, he played three years of hoops for Southern Virginia University and has since participated in marathons, Spartan races, basketball tournaments and other life sports.
But the father of five admits he was getting bored.
“Motivation is always a big thing when working out and I will say that working out and going to gym every day was getting monotonous,” he said. “Then I got a new goal, something that re-sparked my interest.”
Two years ago, Beckstrand’s oldest son, Taye, asked if he could have an “American Ninja Warrior” party for his birthday. The Beckstrand family had been a fan of the NBC prime time show, which pits superb athletes against a series of challenging obstacle courses, for a couple of years. Taye not only got his birthday party, but his dad decided to build an entire ANW course in the backyard.
“I decided if I was going to build it, I was going to make it something big,” Brian Beckstrand said. “I wanted it to be to scale, big enough for adults to train on as well as kids.”
When Beckstrand finished the first portion of the course in his yard, kids were lined up after school to give it a try. But this was no mere big-kid playground. Beckstrand had something else in mind.
“I decided I wanted to be on the show,” he said. “I think that everyone that watches the show thinks to themselves, ‘I could do that,’ or ‘That doesn’t look that hard.’ I wanted to see if I could really do it.”
So Beckstrand started training hard and exploring the process of getting on the show. He missed the deadline last season, but was on top of it this year, putting together a video (with a lot of help from videographer friend Adam Mathews). In mid-March, Beckstrand’s phone rang, an area code he didn’t recognize flashing on the caller-ID.
“They said they wanted me and I would be trying out in Kansas City just a month later,” he said. “It was short notice — not physically, because I was ready — but mentally. I was like ‘Wow, this is a real thing.'”
With wife Holly and their three sons in tow (the two Beckstrand girls stayed home), Beckstrand went to Kansas City Apr. 17.
“It was so fun and exciting,” said Brian’s wife, Holly. “The kids were starstruck with all the Ninjas they had seen on TV. It was really nerve-wracking when Brian was on the course, but he was in the zone and incredibly focused.”
Also with the Beckstrands were three other competitors from southern Utah — Jon Stewart, Dakota Elder and Rick Pitcher. Elder is a family friend who had played basketball with Brian’s brother Jaden and Stewart is a veteran of ANW who became the oldest competitor (at age 52) to complete the course and make the finals during last season’s show.
“It was really nice having those guys along,” Beckstrand said. “Jon’s experience in telling us what to expect was huge.”
The “American Ninja Warrior” program, which airs 7 p.m. Monday nights on NBC, is in its seventh season. The show features regional stages, including the Kansas City one, before moving on to the national finals round in Las Vegas.
Beckstrand’s regional is due to air next Monday night (Jun. 1), though it’s anyone’s guess how much air time Beckstrand will actually get.
“It’s really all up to the producers of the show and what they’re looking for, but I tried to give it everything I’ve got and make it a memorable run,” Beckstrand said. “I’m not allowed to say how I did. You’ll just have to watch on Monday.”
A few of Beckstrand’s co-workers at Lowe’s (where he is the receiving manager) are putting together a watch party. They may put up a screen and watch it in the Beckstrand’s back yard.
Whether or not Beckstrand, Stewart or any of the other southern Utahns advance to Las Vegas, Beckstrand said it was a great experience.
“I’ll definitely be back next year,” he said. “We love it and it’s a part of our lives now.”
Holly Beckstrand agrees, adding that it has been a big positive in their lives.
“The kids were kind of sedentary, kind of sitting around playing video games,” she said. “This for sure has been good for our family. We spend a lot of time out there together. We cheer each other on all the time. We’re a Ninja family now.”
One of the great things — and problems — of having a huge obstacle course for a backyard is the constant flow of young people wanting to try the course.
“It’s every day,” Holly Beckstrand said. “I worry a little because some of the smaller kids come and they don’t realize how high it is and how hard it is. But every day we have so many kids that want to come and try it. Adults, too. One of the fun things is to see Jon and Brian say basically, ‘Let’s go play in the backyard together.'”
The cost for the backyard Ninja course and the trip to regionals in Kansas City all come right out of the Beckstrand’s back pocket, but Brian and Holly both say it is worth it.
“We all want to stay in shape and so that’s important,” Holly Beckstrand said. “Plus, it’s been so good for our family. The other day our 9-year-old (Kai) did the salmon ladder for the first time. He was so excited and happy and couldn’t wait for his dad to get home so he could show him.”
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