Budda and his family traveled to Indianapolis in April to take part in a taping of American Ninja Warrior that aired Monday, June 13. His wild ride ended at nearly 3 a.m. – after a multi-hour rain delay – when he fell off a new obstacle called “The Fly Wheels.”
“I was super nervous about the first two obstacles because that’s where people were falling,” Budda said. “If I could get to the third it played to my strength. I got to the third, and I kept telling myself I would finish the course. I bounced off the trampoline and grabbed the spinning wheel. To this moment, I can feel the water in my left hand. I grabbed it. I had it. I think it was lack of focus. I was having fun, which is the whole point, but I wasn’t focused on completing the mission.”
Budda’s trip to Indianapolis was over, but he and his family made long-lasting memories. The rain delay made for a lengthy stay with other the other ninjas.
So how did this happen for Budda? Let’s go back to the beginning.
“I got into this a long, long time ago,” said Budda, who works at Liberty Carton. American Ninja Warrior started as a “Ninja Warrior,” a Japanese TV show. A now-defunct cable station called G4 showed a show of Americans training to make the Japanese show, and Budda was hooked.
“I remember watching and thinking ‘I could do that,’ he said. “Of course, I was 28 at the time. I thought I should build obstacles and try it, but I never did.”
American Ninja Warriors is in its eighth season overall, but only it’s fourth on NBC. Like many families, the entire Budda clan loves the show.
“My kids starting getting into a couple years ago watching it religiously. Who would you be starstruck if you met? They see these warriors and they are in awe. They love the backstory and the competition. I knew I could I do it if I put my mind to it if given the opportunity. I never had the opportunity to try it.
That is, until Conquer, a ninja-warrior training gym, opened In Eden Prairie.
“Jenna said it was time to stop talking and do it,” he said. “I was knocking it out of the park.”
He upped the ante by getting a membership at Vertical Endeavors. He put a pull-up bar in a doorway of his house for pull-ups, 2-by-4 over the bathroom door for finger-tip pull ups. He changing his diet: He cut back on beer, donuts and ice cream, paid attention to his diet, and rediscovered muscles he hadn’t seen since college. He brings his kids with him to the gym when he trains. He called on friend and videographer Aaron Gelperin to create his audition video and got permission from the Fiterman family to shoot some of it at work.
“We came up with a storyline that I wanted to tell America and NBC,” Budda said. “I’m 38. I have a full-time career and a family that I’m committed to. But I’m passionate about this. The end goal, I want to teach my kids to follow their dreams. The goal was to get on the show and it panned out. I was shock.”
Finding out he was on the show was also fun. At a Shabbat dinner out to watch the University of Wisconsin in the NCAA tournament, Budda’s father-in-law, Steve Gordon, got the call.
“The phone rings, it’s a Los Angeles number and Steve’s telling me to answer it. And he’s filming me,” he said. “I scream in the middle of the restaurant ‘I’m a ninja warrior!’ My kids are looking me and saying ‘Yeah, we know. In their mind I have been for a year. They thought that before we went to the show.
“This wasn’t what I set out for. I’m not that guy. I’m not a super hero or superstar. The thing I got most out of it was the motivation to do again. I can remember a time not so long ago that I was more content to sit and drink beer and smoke cigarettes. Now I’m in the best shape of my life. I’m committed to success.”