Meet Penn State’s ‘American Ninja Warrior’ Contestants

Since the inception of the TV show American Ninja Warrior (ANW) in 2009, a handful of Penn Staters have attempted the course. Sometimes they did it with ease, other times they struggled to even pass the first obstacle. This year, there are two Nittany Lion contestants preparing to tackle the nearly impossible course. The first is a seasoned pro and three time ANW finalist, Dan “Gravity Forged” Galiczynski, and the second is a newcomer to the show, Devon “Air” Saunders.

Galiczynski graduated from Penn State in 2010 with a degree in kinesiology. While at Penn State he was a member of Penn State Club Gymnastics. In his senior year, he was President of the Club and the National Champion for his floor exercise. After this accomplishment, he decided to find another outlet for his competitive spirit and started legitimately training for ANW with a teammate.

Saunders graduated in 2013 with a masters degree in architectural engineering. During his time at Penn State he was on RAM squad, a breakdancing team. Being on this team helped him to tune himself in with his body, an important quality for a Ninja Warrior contestant.

To enter the show, both contestants had to audition. The audition required a video audition as well as answering 19 essay questions. From there, the producers of the show choose around 100 contestants to compete at each city. Galiczynski posted his audition video on Youtube to share with friends and other competitors.

Before auditioning, both had to first train like a Ninja Warrior. For Galiczynski, it was all about weight training.

“Ninety-nine percent of my training is body weight training,” he said. “For strength I still stick with gymnastics. I also do a lot of dead hangs and grip intensive obstacles to increase my forearm endurance and strength. Now that I own my own gymnastic and Ninja Warrior gym, I really spend most of my time on really tough sequences of obstacles. You have to specifically train for what you want to be good at. That means if I want to do well on the show I have to spend my time on the obstacles,” he said. The gym he is referring to is The Gravity Forge in Hatboro, PA.

American Ninja Warrior (Galiczynski)
Photo: Dan “GravityForged” Galiczynski Facebook

Saunders, on the other hand, focused on a wide variety of training exercises.

“The main thing I did was rock climbing,” he said. “As the stages progress, good stamina and strength are definitely a key factor. I also did closed circuits, because throughout the course it’s about giving one-hundred percent and you have to do what you gotta do to make it through. So I had to get my body used to that. As part of RAM Squad, I would do breakdancing every day and it definitely built up my stamina and helped me be in tune with my body. Aside from those three, I would go to the park and do workout strength with a lot of body weight exercises to get in touch with my body.”

The training wasn’t easy for either one of them. Galiczynski had a hard time pacing himself, and Saunders had a hard time getting used to working out alone.

“I am in the gym all day everyday, and there is a big balance between getting good work in and overworking. I always try to make sure I am not at risk of getting an over-training injury,” Galiczynski said.

“Keeping the motivation to work out alone and to push myself 110% when I do my workouts was hard,” Saunders said.

Other than the training, the duo also came up with nicknames to be used as hashtags or just an easy way for people to remember them. Saunders chose Devon Air, a pun off of the word debonair which means charming, confident, and stylish. Galiczynski’s nickname of “Gravity Forged” has some interesting Penn State roots.

“I use to play Humans Vs. Zombies at Penn State,” he said. “I am sure many have heard of it around campus. In that game you need a code name, so I took Forge (which means to create). After I graduated I needed a new email address since my Penn State one was going to expire. Well, I pulled from the word forge and created GravityForged. The name means “Created by Gravity”, which was exactly the type of athlete I was. All of my athletic endeavors were me using my own body weight to increase strength.”

In May, both competitors took to the obstacle course for the show’s taping. The day before shooting, the two were invited to Pittsburgh a day early. While there, they met the show’s producers and did interviews and gave background stories that may appear on the show’s live episode. During this time, contestants also posed for pictures that would be used promotional posters and pictures for ANW. One of Saunders’ pictures was used on ANW’s official Instagram account. He also added that his family now thinks he’s famous, and it’s hard to deny it.

ANW Instagram
Photo: American Ninja Warrior Instagram

On the actual day of competition, both athletes were nervous. Saunders was nervous about taking on the course itself. “When you’re there it’s a different world and of course you want to do well but you don’t really know what’s going to happen until you step on that course,” he said.

Galiczynski was nervous too, but his experience on the show put him at ease. “Gymnastics really prepared me to compete in front of a crowd. I don’t really have too much nerves during a tryout since I have always fed off of competition. I think the most nervous I have gotten was last year on Stage 1 in the Las Vegas finals. I had fallen on the same obstacle the two previous years, and I did not want to make the same mistake a 3rd time. You train for a whole year for only a couple minutes on the course. You don’t want that to be cut short,” he explained.

Having competed on the show so many times has given Galiczynski a boost in confidence. “I get a clear understanding of how the show works, how the obstacles should work, and to control my emotions on the course,” he said. “As competitors we need to remember that this is a show that survives on ratings like any other show. If you do not preform well or fail to hype up the crowd then you are not a valuable asset to the show. A good personality is just as good as a strong competitor. The obstacles are also very tricky and without years of understanding the physics of them then it is hard to understand what you are getting yourself into. Years of experience really help.”

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Galiczynski competing in 2014. (Photo: American Ninja Warrior)

Above all, both athletes agreed this show was a big competition and felt that they themselves were good and dangerous competitors. For Saunders, it all started back when he was in kindergarten. “I was always the one to stay on the jungle-gym the longest,” he said. “I would always invite other kids to play certain ninja-esque games on that and even now whenever I get the chance, I climb on things. This also helped push me toward breakdancing as well, it was my closest thing to being a ninja athlete that I could do. Doing things like that have catered my mind and body into doing things like this.”

Galiczynski cites his gymnastics background and work ethic as keys to his success. “The thing that makes me a good competitor is the lack of distractions and a clear motivation,” he said. “I have always been able to work out without getting sucked into talk or ‘goofing off.’ There was even a point when the Penn State Gymnastic club team thought I disliked them because all I would do is work. When I am in the gym, I am there to work. I will talk and have goof around outside the gym. Also I have a clear motivation to inspire my own gymnasts and little ninjas that I coach. If you show people that amazing things can come from hard work then I think you have done a great job.”

If you’re interested in starting training for ANW yourself, both contestents offered advice.

“Stay diligent all year just like you’re going to be on the show,” Saunders said.

“The #1 most important rule for training is to get started on rock climbing and obstacle training as soon as possible. Grip training is a lot of tendon strength, and as such it takes a long time to build up that endurance and strength. As far as the obstacles there are a lot of techniques, so to learn them you need to try and fail a lot before you can succeed,” Galiczynski said.

You can follow Galiczynski on his ANW journey on his athlete Facebook , and Instagram while Saunders can be followed on Instagram.

The episode will air on Monday, June 22 at 8/7c on NBC. The show will also feature the contestants tackling new obstacles such as “Snake Crossing” and “Wind Chimes.” While it is unknown if either contestant will make it onto the actual live show due to directing choices, both tease that it will be a sight to see.

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About the Author

Brandilyn Heckman

is a junior majoring in Secondary Education (English). Though she commutes to class from her home in Penns Valley, she refuses to be called a 'townie.' Along with Onward State, she currently interns with the Centre Daily Times. In her spare time, she is unafraid to show her love for Penn State, Landon Donovan, and Captain America. You can follow her on twitter at @Brandilynh or contact her via email with [email protected]

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