4 Southern Utah residents compete in regional ‘American Ninja Warrior’ qualifier; St. George nurse advances

Madyson Howard of St. George competes on "American Ninja Warrior" episode filmed in Tacoma, Wash., May 11-12, 2019 | Photo courtesy of American Ninja Warrior, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Four athletes from Southern Utah — two women and two men — were among the contestants featured on Monday night’s episode of “American Ninja Warrior.”

Group of photos from a social media post shows “American Ninja Warrior” contestants Philip Wintch, Holly Beckstrand and Madyson Howard, who competed in Tacoma, Wash., May 11-12, 2019 | Photos courtesy of Holly Beckstrand, St. George News

The popular television program, now in its 11th season, features competitors trying to navigate a series of physically challenging obstacles within a time limit.

Monday night’s episode, which was filmed last month inside the Tacoma Dome, featured the qualifying competition for the Seattle/Tacoma area, one of six host sites nationwide.

Madyson Blake Howard, a graduate of Southern Utah University who now works as an ICU nurse in St. George, was the only contestant from Southern Utah to make it past the qualifier, finishing among the top five female finishers and advancing to the city finals round.

Howard told St. George News Tuesday afternoon the Seattle/Tacoma city finals were actually filmed the very next day after the qualifier, but she’s not allowed to say how she did in the finals until that episode airs on NBC in early August.

Howard, who competed for SUU’s gymnastics team while a student at the university, graduated in December 2017 with a Bachelor of Science in nursing.

Having excelled in gymnastics during her college career, Howard said she missed training and competing at that level after moving to St. George.

“I had been done with gymnastics for about a year and a half and I was just kind of bored, like I was missing competing and not having a way to work out with friends,” she said, adding that she then found The Grip fitness center operated by Brian and Holly Beckstrand, and began working out with them about 10 months ago. The gym, located in Washington City, specializes in training using various Ninja Warrior type obstacles.

Holly Beckstrand also was a contestant at the Tacoma qualifier. Both she and Howard made it through the first four obstacles before faltering on the fifth, a challenge called “lightning bolts,” which involved gripping a bar and moving along a series of notches without falling into the water below.

Despite not finishing the course, Howard said she was pleased with the experience.

“Although I really wanted to complete the course and hit a buzzer, I was happy to make it to the end of the lightning bolts,” she said. “My goal was to take it one obstacle at a time and just have fun while doing it.” 

Holly Beckstrand competes on “American Ninja Warrior” episode filmed in Tacoma, Wash., May 11-12, 2019 | Photo courtesy of American Ninja Warrior, St. George News

Howard also noted how her gymnastics background prepared her for the competition.

“I feel like competing as a gymnast prepared me for the nerves that come with competing on a big stage and helped me stay in the moment before I stepped on the course,” she said.

Although both Howard and Beckstrand were eliminated by the same obstacle, Howard advanced to the city finals due to getting higher scores in the earlier rounds, while Beckstrand just missed the cut.

Beckstrand’s role as a “ninja mom” was highlighted during the program, as her husband and two of her children have also competed in previous American Ninja contests. Her son Kai won his age group on the season finale of “American Ninja Junior” last year.

Read more: Family of ‘Ninja Warriors’ sees sport’s popularity growing; 2 kids to appear on TV show

Holly Beckstrand’s whole family was on hand in Tacoma to cheer her from the audience. They were seen in several reaction shots during Monday night’s episode, all wearing matching neon yellow T-shirts like Holly’s.

The two St. George area men who competed were Philip Wintch and Jon Stewart, both of whom were knocked out of the competition by the second obstacle.

Wintch, who was competing in his first-ever Ninja Warrior competition, told St. George News he enjoyed being part of the community of competitors.

Audience members during taping of an “American Ninja Warrior” episode filmed inside the Tacoma Dome, Tacoma, Wash., May 11-12, 2019 | Photo courtesy of Holly Beckstrand, St. George News

“Even for obscure guys like me, it’s just a great community. It’s really positive and everybody cheers everybody on. Everybody feels the pain of defeat for everyone who falls,” Wintch said. 

“Going up there and actually getting to meet some of the famous ninjas and be a part of that community was really fun and exciting. I just got super nervous and serious, because, yeah, it was a big deal. I wish I would have just let loose a little bit more. But anyway, it was fun.”

The obstacle that thwarted Wintch was a double pendulum challenge known as Lunatic Ledges, which ultimately sent him splashing into the pool below.

“I was super disappointed, but, you know, I guess that’s just kind of the way it turned out for me,” he said. “I feel like I took two swings on the first pendulum when I should’ve just taken one and gone with the momentum that I had.”

Lunatic Ledges also spelled doom for fellow St. George area resident Jon Stewart, who got stuck on the obstacle. 

Jon Stewart of St. George competes on “American Ninja Warrior” episode filmed in Tacoma, Wash., May 11-12, 2019 | Photo courtesy of American Ninja Warrior, St. George News

A recap of the evening’s episode posted on the American Ninja Warrior Nation official website noted how Stewart is known for breaking the record he set as the oldest man to finish a qualifying course but also that Stewart had announced it was his last season as a Ninja Warrior.

“He gave his final run everything he had, even when he was hopelessly stuck on Lunatic Ledges,” the recap stated. “He spent over three minutes trying various methods to build up the lost momentum before taking an unsuccessful leap towards the pads.”

Stewart may have decided to close out his Ninja Warrior career, but Howard says she is just getting started with hers.

“I think I’m hooked now that I have gotten into it,” she said. “ I just keep wanting to get further and get past obstacles that I haven’t been able to get past. I can see myself doing it in the future.”

If Howard finishes among in the top 12 women in the city finals, she’ll advance to the national finals in Las Vegas later this year.

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Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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