With Dan Eiskant ’19, media and communication studies
Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings at a singlebound! It’s…a Mama’s Boy?
Most of us are guilty of saying “I could do that” while watching feats of strength on TV from the comfort of the couch (possibly with a snack in hand). But Dan Eiskant ’19, media and communication studies, took the challenge head-on and started his journey to become the next American Ninja Warrior.
American Ninja Warrior is a competition where athletes race against the clock to conquer various obstacles. At each qualifying stage, the playing field is whittled down and competitors (often with larger-than-life personas) advance as they complete increasingly grueling courses. The pinnacle for any American Ninja Warrior is making it the final stage—a rope climb. But this is not your gym class rope climb. Competitors must claw their way to the top of a 75-foot rope within 30 seconds to take home the cash prize and bragging rights. So how do you even begin to train for something like this? We decided to ask the expert.
Tools of the Trade 1. Determination and humility 2. Several gym memberships 3. Ability to rest 4. Vocal fans to cheer you on 5. Camera to capture these gravity-defying feats
Step 1 – Find someone who will catch you when you fall
Even though American Ninja Warrior is a solo competition, it’s impossible to do well without support from the sidelines. “It’s important to surround yourself with friends who will encourage you and push you to be your very best,” says Eiskant, whose entourage includes some pint-sized fans and campus crooners.
Eiskant works at a local Ninja gym teaching school-aged kids the ropes…and jumps…and climbs. “When I came back after the episode aired, I had a bunch of my students coming up saying they watched me on TV and they were so excited,” he says. “I love helping them develop these techniques early on because they’re good at it! They have no fear.”
In addition to this legion of little fans, Eiskant relies heavily the friends he made as part of UMBC’s all-male a capella group, the Mama’s Boys. On air, the group joined Eiskant at the starting line, sending him off with their own rendition of “Danny Boy.”
“I actually had stage fright before I joined the group and they helped me get over that, so getting to sing with them like we normally do, but at the starting line of the qualifiers, just helped me get rid of all of my nerves,” says Eiskant.
Step 2 – Make the world your jungle gym
A lot of hard work goes a little way when it comes to training for American Ninja Warrior. Eiskant is in the gym up to six days a week training and the end result is running a course that sometimes is the length of a commercial break. But you still have to give it your all to get there, and that means thinking outside the box for fitness.
“More so than grip strength and finger strength, it’s a mental game,” explains Eiskant. “Rock climbing provides a lot of real-time problem solving skills that you don’t get in other workouts. It helps when you’re tackling a course you’re not familiar with.”
Since competitors don’t see the course until they get to qualifying, Eiskant suggests that ANW-hopefuls check out different gyms, pursue other athletic hobbies, and familiarize themselves with various challenges to improve their odds on the ever-changing course.
Step 3 – Sing for your supper
Now that you have the skills to run up a nearly vertical Warped Wall and propel your body up a Salmon Ladder, what do you do with them? Time to put it all in action and apply for American Ninja Warrior.
Eiskant has been a fan of the show since he was 15, but the rules require all contestants to be a certain age. He took his cues and started working out with an eye toward landing on a spot. He started rock climbing with a group and, once he turned 21, he felt like he was ready to compete.
It’s a highly selective process to be chosen to run on American Ninja Warrior. All hopefuls have to fill out an extensive questionnaire and submit a video showing their personality and what sets them apart. Eiskant kept it in the family and leaned on the Mama’s Boys to help out.
“I focused on my music and singing and being part of the Mama’s Boys. You have to be interesting and engaging and be sure you have a story to tell.”
Step 4 – Don’t let the odds deter you
Eiskant was one of the lucky ones selected the very first year he submitted in 2018 to run in Philadelphia. Even though he was eliminated, he tried out again and had his run featured in our own Baltimore backyard in 2019. He advanced to city finals and fell short but hasn’t let that discourage him.
“Watching everyone compete, you realize this person is no better than me just because they can do that. Anything can happen, you just have to keep pushing at it,” he reflects.
The Ninja community is a supportive one and Eiskant emphasizes that, even though it’s a competition, “it’s more like a family environment. Everyone is just helping each other be better versions of themselves.”
In fact, Eiskant has been so encouraging and determined, he’s even inspired someone very close to him to try out next year—his dad.
If you missed it, catch Dan’s episode online now or check out the teaser clip below!
All photos by Marlayna Demond ’11 unless otherwise noted.