By Laura Cergoll
Update as of June 9: While Harrison’s run didn’t make it into the episode, she ranked third among the women competing. Harrison fell after the block run when she landed with one leg on the platform and one in the water. “It sucks to have went out on something that seemed so simple, but I think everyone knows balance isn’t my strong suit,” she said in a Facebook post last night. She plans to continue training and participating in ninja warrior competitions this summer.
What does it take to compete on the national television show American Ninja Warrior?
For avid CrossFitter and senior exercise science major Lauren Harrison, 22, it took three years of waiting before she reached the show’s age requirement of 21, weeks of self-coaching and a lifelong desire to conquer whatever challenges came her way.
Harrison will compete in the Atlanta qualifier round of American Ninja Warrior, an obstacle course race that tests competitors’ agility, strength and climbing ability. The episode airs this Wednesday, June 8, 2016, at 8 p.m. (EST) on NBC.
If you’ve never seen the show, imagine the heart-pounding foot chase from your favorite action film, with the hero scaling walls and leaping between buildings. Now imagine real athletes performing the same feats for the chance to win $1 million.
Watch the trailer for American Ninja Warrior season 8:
Participating in the competition has been on Harrison’s bucket list since she started watching the show three years ago, shortly after she had begun training at a CrossFit gym.
Harrison had applied to compete after reaching the show’s age requirement almost a year ago, not realizing how long it would be before she heard back. After not receiving any news, she put the show out of her mind.
Then, after nearly a year of waiting, she finally got the call — two weeks before the day of the competition.
With no “ninja gym” in Charleston and no one to coach her, Harrison often had to improvise. A friend from her CrossFit gym built a structure she could use for grip strength exercises, and she would often find obstacles on quiet streets in Charleston, such as hanging by her arms underneath the steps of a metal staircase instead of walking up.
Harrison was amazed that she had the opportunity to compete alongside Olympic athletes, stuntpeople and military veterans. As someone who grew up in a small town, being chosen for a national TV show just doesn’t happen, Harrison said.
“No matter how I did, being able to be there felt like a movie,” she said.
CrossFit provided the body strength that Harrison needed to be a contender on American Ninja Warrior, while her study of the physics of the human body gave her insight during training.
“If I’m not strong in a movement or have a limited range of motion, I can help myself improve. It’s like a puzzle,” she said.
Harrison came to the College of Charleston in 2013 with the intent of fulfilling her general education requirements, then transferring to study criminology and forensics. She decided to stay when she learned about the exercise science program.
“It was like, ‘Holy crap, I can do this for a living?’ It was a passion from the start, I just didn’t find it until later,” Harrison said.
After graduating this December, Harrison plans to attend Georgia Tech to study prosthetics and orthotics. She hopes to work with amputee athletes and help them get back into sports.
Harrison, now an employee at the College’s George Street Fitness Center, doesn’t look like the kind of person you would expect to see scaling a building or deadlifting massive weights, but the barbell charm on her necklace hints at the importance of fitness in her day-to-day life.
Harrison has been an athlete her whole life. She played several sports, including tennis, basketball and soccer, from early childhood through high school. She was going to play tennis in college, but a shoulder injury forced her to change her plans.
With no sports to play, Harrison knew she had to find some other way to stay active in college. After watching YouTube videos of women doing CrossFit, she realized there was more she could do with her body than she thought.
“I didn’t know that women could be that physically strong. They were flipping tires and pulling sleds. I knew I wanted to do something like that,” she said.
To date, only four women on American Ninja Warrior have successfully scaled the Warped Wall, a 15-foot concave wall with a ledge on top that contestants must run up to grab. This is the final obstacle contestants must overcome to complete the city finals course.
Harrison admires the show’s female competitors for breaking down gender barriers and showing that there is more to women’s health and fitness than being skinny and looking good.
“For me personally, I’m glad to see female inspirations that are actually strong, and not just a stereotype,” she said.
Harrison recently scaled the Warped Wall at a backyard ninja competition. She hopes to join the ranks of women who have overcome the Warped Wall and completed the finals course on national television.
“I want to have a goal and conquer it, and be strong and badass while doing it.”
This article was written by Laura Cergol, a senior from Frederick, Md. studying communication and linguistics in the Honors College at the College of Charleston. She is also a William Aiken Fellow and a member of the Global Scholars program.