Longmont’s Paul Kasemir can do something we can’t. In just two minutes. That’s because he’s an American Ninja Warrior – and we’re not.
Have you seen NBC’s American Ninja Warrior? As a crowd cheers wildly, competitors jump, swing, climb and zip line through an incredible obstacle course of giant wheels, rope nets, a spinning bridge and the dreaded Warped Wall, racing against the clock to hit the big red button at the end. One bad move and you’re in the drink, game over. It’s fast, it’s unforgiving, and it’s addictive to watch.
Kasemir, 27, has been a finalist in the past four seasons and has quite a following on Facebook. And now he’s getting asked for autographs. “I was in Sprouts the other day and a lady stopped me in the doorway, and said, ‘You’re the Ninja! You’re Paul!’ She got an autograph for her children and took a selfie with her cell phone. But I don’t care that much about the hype and attention. I do this for myself, to have fun.”
ANW completed its fifth season in 2013, but added something new: a competition between a USA team and a team from Japan, where the series originated as “Sasuke.” Paul Kasemir and four other team members competed against Japan’s finest, including two-time grand champion Yuji Urushihara. Although the competition was filmed last summer, the show wasn’t aired until January – and participants had to sign an agreement to not disclose the results: USA shut out Team Japan, 6-0.
“Actually, I almost forgot about it,” says Kasemir, who works at Qualcomm as a software engineer. “Then I remembered… ‘Oh yeah, that’s coming right up. It’ll be fun to watch what I actually did six months ago.
“Being one of the top five Americans was a pretty cool honor. It’s awesome, because I don’t really feel like I’m that good, but I guess I was good enough to be chosen. It gave me a lot of pride.”
Although the actual courses take competitors just minutes to complete, filming each show takes hours. Athletes may be sitting around for extended periods before they get into action.
“The show is taped at night,” Kasemir explains. “We’d get there around 6 or 7 p.m., and wait for it to get dark. Then around 9 or 10 p.m. they start taping. Usually they have the less experienced guys go through first. That way we can see how well they do on the course. The more experienced guys like me typically run the course between 2 and 4 a.m.”
The challenge is to keep your muscles warm and stay ready, he says. “In the Denver regional competition, it was really cold, so I brought a sleeping bag and a coat and hat to keep warm and conserve my energy.”
Once he’s on the course, everything else fades away. “I’m so focused. It’s almost like a meditation, like a zoned-in type feeling. Which for athletes is fun, because you’re so in the moment, nothing else matters.
“Most of the time when I’m running, there’s the whole crowd there in the bleachers all along the course. Everyone is screaming and cheering and clapping, and I almost never hear them until I’m at the end. I completely zone out everything. Sometimes when I’m between the obstacles I’ll hear someone shout something, but usually I just don’t hear any of it.”
To keep in top Ninja condition, Kasemir spends an hour-and-a-half on the climbing wall at Spot Bouldering gym in Boulder, twice a week. “I also take one Parkour class every week, and sometimes I get out for a hike, mountain biking or snowshoeing. I like being outdoors; I don’t really think of it as training, it’s just fun.”
Paul Kasemir also enjoys a less conventional form of physical training: he’s an avid fan of Argentine tango dancing. What’s the connection? “You learn very fine body control and balance,” he explains. “When you’re dancing with a partner, they can feel if you’re off balance. Learning to dance tango well means you can control very finely which way you move, and maintain balance.”
Competition for a slot in the new season starts soon, and it begins with submitting a video entry. Everyone has to start each year from the beginning – newbies and veteran Ninjas alike, Kasemir says. “They haven’t told us where the regionals will be held yet. It would be great if they held them in Denver again, of course.”
Wherever the regional competitions are held, Paul can count on his family’s avid support. “My parents came to Las Vegas to watch last season’s competition. They are of course very proud of me. But at home… I’m just Paul. I have dinner with them; I borrow tools from my dad… I’m just Paul.”
Spoken like a true American Ninja Warrior, we say.
By L. L. Charles, Photos by Jonathan Castner