Senior Ben Martin competes on American Ninja Warrior, allowing him to raise awareness for international adoption.
By Makenzi Johnson
The smell of rubber and sweat hangs in the air as the sounds of grunting and clanging metal as students lift weights float through the Wellness Center. Ben Martin grabs a hurdle and places it in an open spot on the gym floor. Taking a few steps back, he breaks into a run at the hurdle. At the last second, Martin launches into a front flip over the hurdle, landing back on his feet.
Martin, a senior communications and media production major, never intended to get involved with American Ninja Warrior. As a junior in high school, Martin would spend his free time doing parkour outside the school, but that was the extent of any obstacles. He then started working at a local ninja gym instead of staying at his neighborhood Culver’s.
“I wasn’t really interested in the sport aspect of it,” Martin said. “I just wanted a job that wasn’t flipping burgers.”
He hosted birthday parties and taught classes at the ninja gym, so he thought he should be more familiar with the obstacles at the course. His journey with American Ninja Warrior began there.
Martin’s parents, Deb and Dan Martin, paid for training at ninja gyms, accompanied him to local competitions and watched as he ran the ANW courses. As Martin completed his first and second ANW courses in 2019, his family and friends watched firsthand with the hundreds of other audience members in Los Angeles. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Martin traveled alone to compete in two 2021 competitions. With the exception of other competitors present, he ran the course without the cheers of an audience. His family watched through a phone screen over FaceTime as he pressed the button at the end of the course. This silence allowed him to be mindful of everything around him, a tunnel vision focus.
“I felt more present, and I felt it was just more enjoyable because at the end of the course, I wasn’t wondering what just happened,” Martin said. “As opposed to the first time, I just blew through it and was like, ‘holy cow, what happened,’ but it just felt like a really fun playground run for me.”
Being more present as he competes and trains has been one of Martin’s goals over the past year. The ANW community has also been a focus for him. Most of the people he trains with are not Christians, but Martin says this allows him more opportunities to learn about other’s perspectives and reflect Christ’s love.
“It’s allowed me to kind of gain a better understanding of some of that sacrificial love… I feel called to continue investing in those people in my circles,” Martin said.
These relationships are a key part of why Martin loves what he does, as they help him stay focused and encouraged as he trains. Martin claims that one of the biggest misconceptions about competing on ANW is that only grip strength is needed so someone does not fall from the rope swing, salmon ladder, monkey peg and more — but Martin says it’s not all just grip work. It’s also high intensity workouts, weight lifting, rock climbing and more. Mental training is another crucial aspect of the process, and Martin has found the community has been a great help in staying focused and passionate.
“Minnesota is kind of known as the land of 10,000 Ninjas. There’s a big community here.”– Ben Martin
“Minnesota is kind of known as the land of 10,000 Ninjas. There’s a big community here… You would think that they’re kind of out for themselves, but everyone cheers each other on. Everyone coaches each other during their own runs,” Martin said.
The largest reason Martin puts in the countless hours of training amongst being a full-time student is to use his platform for something greater. As an international adoptee from Korea, Martin knows firsthand the struggles some adoptees face growing up in America.
“I think a lot of times there’s that kind of ‘not feeling like you belong anywhere’ vibe,” Martin said. “I never felt like I was Korean because I didn’t speak it. I didn’t really recognize any of the foods, the culture or tradition.”
Martin knew what it was like to not fit in and this is not uncommon for adoptees.
“The early years of being an international adoptee can be quite treacherous,” Martin said.
But Martin has found his community among American Ninja Warriors. From flipping burgers on a grill in the back of a Culver’s kitchen to flipping onto the black ANW platform on television, Martin has been able to use his experience as an international adoptee to raise awareness on a national stage.