By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (June 6, 2016) — Brittany Hanks had watched American Ninja Warrior on NBC and admits she was interested from the start.
But it wasn’t until she happened to spot a ninja training course and equipment at a gym in Dallas that she actually began dreaming of participating in such a daunting physical challenge.
“I always had an interest since I started watching the show. I knew I would love to do this, and I believed I’m capable, but I had no idea where to start,” says Hanks, a Zephyr native, Tarleton graduate and gymnastics coach. “I found a gym in Dallas by accident and ended up going in to play dodge ball, and that’s when I saw the ninja equipment.”
She was soon hooked on ninja.
“I gave it a try and I was instantly hooked,” said Hanks, who was a cheerleader and competed in cross country, track and basketball at Zephyr and even ran track her first semester at Tarleton. “I couldn’t do everything at that point, but it opened a door for me.”
A door full of many challenges before ever filling out an application for American Ninja Warrior. But no challenge has deterred Hanks, who says overcoming obstacles is what drives her.
“For me it’s all about conquering challenges. It’s amazing to notice your body progressing, like something you couldn’t do a month before, now you do like it’s a piece of cake,” said Hanks. “It’s cool to see what you’re really capable of when you push yourself.”
Hanks had the right kind of background for American Ninja Warrior. As a gymnast, she says her biggest strength is body control, especially in the air.
“There are big, strong guys out there, but they don’t have any body control,” she said. “I know where I’m at in the air and can remain in control of myself, that’s a big advantage in this.”
She even taught at InZone Fitness in Stephenville for two-and-a-half years.
“It’s a small gym, but I was able to tumble there,” said Hanks. “What InZone did most was give me a better perspective showing kids they can achieve anything they want if they put their minds to it and dedicate themselves to it.”
And Hanks, 22, has dedicated herself to her ninja training. Enough so that she was one of 500 competitors selected for American Ninja Warrior out of 70,000 applicants. Those are 140-1 odds.
“I applied and everyone told me to keep watch for an 818 number because that’s the area code they would call from,” said Hanks. “I got the call standing right outside the rec center at Tarleton and I just busted out crying. Everyone was staring at me like I was nuts, but I didn’t care.”
Hanks was selected for the Oklahoma City qualifying rounds and competed there on May 13. She’s not allowed to discuss the competition, but everyone can watch for her on American Ninja Warrior on NBC at 7 p.m. Monday, June 20.
Regardless her fate as a rookie ninja, Hanks says the experience has been priceless.
“Probably the most rewarding part is meeting all the people who are into the sport like you, especially other females who are into it because it’s such a male-dominated sport,” she said. “Even some of the really successful ones, it was neat just to see how ordinary they are. I mean, they’re extremely gifted, but they’re just like the rest of us. They work hard to overcome challenges and push the limits of their body.”
Hanks said all the competitors support one another.
“It’s nice to see all the individuals come together like one big ninja family,” she said. “It’s not like basketball where you boo for the other team and cheer for your team. Everyone in this sport roots for each other and that’s just epic, I love that.”
She loves the ninja lifestyle so much, she’s trying to expand to other forms of competition. On her Facebook page, she is promoting a college edition of American Ninja Warrior.
“It’s a brand new spinoff, like they are just now planning the first season for it,” she explained. “They are teaming up two guys and one girl. They encouraged me to apply for it, so I hunted and found some prospects at Tarleton. I applied, but I don’t know yet. It would be super sweet to get on there and show everybody where Tarleton State is and what we can accomplish.”
Hanks already has her own ninja nickname – The Blue Ninja.
“My grandfather was a biomedical science major like me, so we would talk about all kinds of science and chemistry and he understood my struggles. Professors and others used to tell him he wasn’t smart enough to be a dentist and he would never get into school, and I have had teachers tell me the same,” Hanks explained. “He ended up graduating from Baylor with honors and always told me no matter who told me I couldn’t do something to always believe in myself and I could accomplish anything.
“He was a Navy man and his favorite color was blue, so that is why I call myself that and have a blue strip in my hair is for the memory of my grandfather. Every time I look at that strip, when I have doubt, I know what he would tell me – that I can do it.”
And she has done it. While fans will have to wait and see on June 20 if Hanks moved on to the city finals in Oklahoma City, she is already back to focusing on her bright future.
“I’m at a crossroads right now,” says Hanks, who graduated in May with a biomedical sciences degree from Tarleton. “Sometimes i feel like going back to pre-med, sometimes I want to go pre-vet. Right now I’m taking a year to get some experience in both then decide. I’m leaning more toward the vet route right now, but we’ll see.”
Whether she becomes the Blue Doctor Ninja or the Blue Vet Ninja remains Hanks is certain ninja training will always be a big part of her life.
“Once you start something like this, you can’t get enough of it,” she said. “It’s addicting, you just always want to make it harder and keep accomplishing new things. There are no limits out there if you just keep working and pushing yourself.”