Hayden grad eyes Ninja Warrior challenge
June 8, 2015
Steamboat Springs — Mitch VeDepo said he can make it up the warped wall a little more than one out of every two chances, and when it came down to it, he had three chances.
That tricky jump was only one of the obstacles that awaited the 2009 Hayden High School graduate last month when he traveled to Orlando to compete on the American Ninja Warrior TV show.
The show airs Monday nights on NBC, and VeDepo said his competition, the Orlando qualifier, is the next one, set to air Monday at 7 p.m.
For VeDepo, American Ninja Warrior is an opportunity he didn't even know he relished until recently.
As a Hayden Tiger, he stood out on the football team and as a wrestler, and he expanded his list of sports after graduation, taking up rock climbing while working on a chemical engineering degree at Colorado School of Mines in Golden.
That interest eventually led him to Crossfit Lawrence, a gym in Lawrence, Kansas, where he was working on his Ph.D. in bioengineering at University of Kansas.
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The gym focuses on rock climbing and bouldering with its "Strength Lab," and for VeDepo, it was the birthplace of an idea.
Several other regulars at the facility had already tried their luck on American Ninja Warrior several times.
"I was having fun with them, playing around in the gym, and it would always turn into, 'Hey, let's try this crazy thing,' or, 'I bet you I can do this,'" he said. "They told me I should apply for the show, that I was a natural."
VeDepo began putting a video together for the application process, highlighting his work in the gym, but also mentioning his school work, which is currently focused on tissue engineered heart valves for children.
That caught the eyes of the casting department.
"They want to call me the science ninja," VeDepo said. "I did my whole video about Ph.D. research, and I was really nerdy and corny in it, and they ate that stuff up."
After he got the call that he'd get to compete, he began working even harder on his training. His friends at the gym built obstacles to help prepare for the show, from the salmon ladder — essentially a pull-up bar that contestants must jump — to the warped wall.
He was initially slated to compete in Kansas City, but had to postpone and was able to reschedule to the Orlando qualifier.
His mom and girlfriend made the trip to offer support, and he said the experience was everything he'd hoped: "an absolute blast."
"It's such a rush of adrenalin and nerves, and it was so much fun," he said.
He can't reveal whether he was successful on the complicated course. He said he got to look at the course ahead of time, so he had a day to try to fine tune his approach to accommodate exactly what he would encounter.
"I did my best to practice those particular things, but more than anything, it was a lot of visualization about how I would do each one," he said. "I spent a lot of time just imagining each step I would take on the course and how I would do each obstacle. When it came time to compete, there was a ton of nerves watching other people either fail or succeed before me."
VeDepo won't know until the rest of us whether his performance will actually get him on the show, as what makes the airwaves is edited down. If he did complete the course, this could only be his first step with American Ninja Warrior, as he would be able to advance to the next round.