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Student and Navy vet Alex Panyasiri competes on popular NBC show
Story by Janis Nichols. Photo by Brandon Hickman.
Alex Panyasiri holds a lot of titles. He’s a Portland Community College student, a veteran and former jet mechanic, an assistant high school wrestling coach, a husband, a dad and an American Ninja Warrior. The warrior title was earned on July 6 when he competed on the NBC program American Ninja Warrior, a night to honor men and women in the military. While his segment didn’t air, he did advance to the next round which will be broadcast in about six weeks.
For people unfamiliar with the show, it challenges men and women to tame a ridiculously difficult obstacle course while burning the fewest seconds possible. The five to six obstacles demand upper body and superior grip strength and balance. In the seven years the show has aired, no one has ever won the four-stage challenge. This season’s top prize is $1 million.
“I started watching ‘Sasuke,’ the Japanese version of this show in 2007 and I was hooked immediately,” Panyasiri said. “When NBC picked it up, I knew I wanted to compete, but I would have to wait seven years before I was finally selected. I submitted my first audition tape in December 2013 and I was rejected. I continued to train and submitted a second tape in December 2014 and was selected to compete in the military-themed segment.”
According to Panyasiri, the show receives 50,000 applications per season and from that group, 400 are selected for shows produced in six cities: Venus Beach, Calif., Pittsburgh, Penn., Orlando, Fla., Houston, Texas, San Pedro, Calif., and Kansas City, Mo. His segment was taped in San Pedro, within spitting distance of the USS Iowa.
The training program he designed for himself evolved over the years. Part of it meant studying more than 100 hours of video tape of other competitors on the course. In his first training phase, he concentrated on body building two hours a day, six days a week. For this year’s competition, he has focused on climbing, body control and grip strength. His strategy? Go as fast as you can.
One of the most difficult challenges for the American Ninja participants is the secrecy the show demands. Panyasiri could only tell his wife he had been selected and even though he finished taping the July 6 program weeks ago, his wife was the only person who knew the outcome. It’s a rather small accommodation compared to what Panyasiri has taken away from the experience.
“One of the best things this experience gave me was learning about other ways to train and stay fit,” he said. “I fell in love with climbing and because I got so much support from family and my military friends, I’m now more supportive of others who are committed to fitness.”
When he is not engaged in Ninja fitness training, Panyasiri is at PCC’s Rock Creek Campus where he studies in the Aviation Maintenance Technology Program. He said he was surprised by how well he was doing after being out of school for so long. In 2007, he graduated from Century High School in Hillsboro which is where he now works as an assistant wrestling coach. After graduation, he served as a jet mechanic in the Navy from 2008-13.
He said, “Maturity and focus are there for me now. I know when to take advantage of what’s available, to seek balance in my life and to always know where I’m going. I left the military because I have a family now. My wife and I have a three-year-old boy and a six-month-old daughter. Balance and structure will help me provide of them. I’m here for them.”