Wisconsin native competes on American Ninja Warrior
By Kat Halfman
WISCONSIN – Andrew Stoinski said he has been watching NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior” (ANW) since he was 12 years old, but never really considered competing on it himself.
It wasn’t until he was rehabbing from his second ACL reconstructive knee surgery that it seemed like a possibility.
As a passionate junior college basketball player in Wausau, Stoinski said his repeated knee injuries forced him to find a sport that focused more on upper body strength – ninja training seemed like a good fit.
Finding a new passion
“After my second (injury), I thought it would be good to find a sport that didn’t rely so much on my knees, and that’s why I decided to do (ANW),” he said. “I mean, I love playing basketball, but sometimes you just gotta know when to cut back on it.”
Though ninja training was new to him, Stoinski said that he has loved to climb his whole life.
“My sister always used to say when she went to other people’s houses and she couldn’t find me, the first place she would look was up in a tree,” he said.
Even with his passion for climbing, love of the show and his new-found ninja training, Stoinski didn’t really think he would be able to compete on the show.
“I guess I always kind of fantasized about it,” he said. “I didn’t think I could actually do it until after my second injury. I was like, ‘You know what? Why not? I should try and go for this.’”
Though the decision to give it a shot was made, Stoinski said there are no Ninja Warrior training courses in Wittenberg, where Stoinski lives, so he and his father started to build some of the obstacles in their backyard.
Stoinski began making the approximately one-hour trip to Green Bay to work out in area YMCAs, eventually finding Warrior Jungle, a Ninja Warrior and obstacle course fitness facility located in De Pere.
“When I (became) more serious about training, I (made the decision) to go to the Warrior Jungle in Green Bay and train there,” he said.
Warrior Jungle is owned and operated by Bay Port graduate and Ninja Warrior himself, Drew Knapp.
Not only did Warrior Jungle give Stoinski an American Ninja Warrior kind of experience within a short car ride away, it also provided mentors who went through the same training.
Sharing his story
Despite training harder than ever, Stoinski said he knew that alone wouldn’t be enough to land him a spot on the show – he had to share his story as well.
Cue the YouTube channel he started with his father.
“It had been something that we’ve talked about and kind of joked around about, just the thought of it,” he said. “He built a couple things in the past that I thought were cool, because they have a hidden drawer somewhere, and I was like, ‘We should start one of those channels one day.’ A couple years down the road when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and we were all kind of stuck at home, we’re like, ‘Well, there’s no better time than now since we’re all home, might as well start making some videos.’ And that’s what we did.”
Between building furniture with hidden compartments and Ninja Warrior obstacles with his dad, Stoinksi said their relationship grew even stronger.
“Obviously, you have little arguments here and there about how to do a certain project or how to build something a certain way,” he said. “But I think it strengthened our relationship. We spend countless hours working together, joking around and we got it on camera so we can sit back 20 years from now and laugh about all the cool stuff.”
Armed with his training, his rehabbed knee and the strengthened bond with his father, Stoinski submitted his audition tape.
In 2021, his improbable dream of competing on the show he spent years watching came true.
Stoinski took to the course for his second year June 20, for the qualifier round – advancing to the show’s semifinals set for later this month and early next month.
When asked what goes through his head while he competes, Stoinski laughed and said, “Not much.”
“I mean, honestly, there’s excitement, but I kind of just get in the zone and I don’t really think about anything except completing the obstacles and hitting that buzzer,” he said.
Stoinski said his favorite part about competing is the people he’s gotten to meet through the process from all across the country.
“You get to hear their stories, their quirks and things that make them special, and they always have such amazing backstories and they’re all super nice,” he said.
Stoinski said some of the competitors he’s built a friendship with include Knapp, Megan Rowe, twin brothers Nathan and Marquez Green and Yari Breunig.
He said during his ANW appearances, the balancing obstacles have been the most difficult for him – knocking him out two years in a row.
“It’s quite exhausting when you go out there, because even though your run only lasts a few minutes, you spend all that energy and several days getting hyped up about it,” Stoinski said. “And so when your run is over, you really just feel tired. I mean, obviously, when you hit the water, you’re slightly disappointed, but everyone else is so cheerful there and you’re always rooting for someone, so you’re not too upset. It’s usually the day afterward on the plane ride back where you’re like, ‘Oh, you got that close. If you just would have done something different, you probably could have gone farther.’ But you gotta learn from your mistakes. And you can’t get too down on yourself.”
Supported by faith
Stoinski said while competing, he does what he can to represent his Christian faith.
“It’s about good sportsmanship and cheering on others,” he said. “You know, without (Christ) I really wouldn’t be anything, and I just want to show him to others, because he’s the most important person to me, and I think the most important person to ever exist. So it’s impacted the way I compete in every way, for sure,” he said.
As far as advice for others, whether they are ninjas or not, Stoinski said dedication is key.
“I want people to know to never, never give up, no matter how many setbacks you have,” he said. “If you have a goal, just keep working toward it, even when the days get dark. You don’t think you’re going to make it – just keep going for it. You never know when you might reach it.”