Meet the amazing Latter-day Saints who hopped, swung, and climbed their way to the highest levels of ninja competition this summer.
In NBC’s competition reality show American Ninja Warrior, contestants race to complete complex obstacle courses for the chance to win a cash prize. This summer’s season 14 featured several Latter-day Saint competitors—here’s a look at four members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we got to watch compete this summer.
Gary Weiland is a Latter-day Saint from Denton, Texas, who wowed spectators on his run by nimbly surpassing obstacles that require elite levels of balance and stability—all with a prosthetic left leg.
“Balance obstacles are super tough for me,” Weiland told LDS Living. “You just need both of your feet and both of your hands to really compete at the highest level. And so I do the best that I can with what I’ve got. I try to make up for that [missing] leg with my other leg and my upper body.”
Weiland was working as a firefighter in 2018 when he lost his leg to a fluke complication of a routine knee surgery. But he was determined to get back to fighting fires, despite the skepticism of some medical providers. “There [were] a lot of doctors [who] said I need to try something else,” he recalls. “[They said] there’s no way I can be a firefighter. … I respected their opinion, but at the end of the day, this is my body, my life.”
Incredibly, just ten months after his life-altering amputation, Weiland was back on the job.
Weiland now trains on the US High Performance team for sitting volleyball and beach volleyball, and he hopes to be able to compete on Team USA in the Paralympic Games in the future.
Weiland’s perspective on his experiences is one of both acceptance and determination. “This is just a situation that is part of my journey,” he told LDS Living. “And if people say it’s a bump in the road, I say it’s not a bump in the road—it is the road. It’s my road, and so I want to make the best of it.
Read more about Weiland’s incredible recovery and inspiring story here: “Fighting back: How a Latter-day Saint amputee became an elite Ninja Warrior”
Watch Weiland’s run on the show here:
Jenedy Paige is an acclaimed artist whose paintings have been featured in Latter-day Saint temples and in the Church’s international art competition. Her paintings, including Coming Full Circle, have been shared on the Church’s official Instagram account.
She’s also competed on three seasons of American Ninja Warrior—seasons 11, 13, and 14. She was motivated to begin training for the sport after the tragic death of her young son—an experience she shared in a video in a YouTube video posted last month.
In the video, Paige recalls, “I remember the morning after he passed away. I got up, and I wrote in my journal, and I said a prayer. I put my shoes on; I went outside—and I ran. I cried. I just remember my tears flying as I’m running, and just all this grit inside me. I watched the sun come up, and as I’m running I just knew that I was going to keep going. I really think that that’s the day I became a warrior.”
Although none of Paige’s three runs on the show were televised, she feels there’s more to her experience than that. “I’ve been invited to compete every year [since season 11],” she wrote on her website. “They still haven’t aired my run. But I’m learning that it’s more than 30 seconds of fame on a TV show. God didn’t ask me to just compete on a show, He had in mind to turn me into a ninja. It has become a part of who I am. It’s increased my tenacity and persistence. It has taught me that I’m more capable than the version of myself I’ve seen in my head. It has helped me to realize that God sees more in us than we could ever see in ourselves.”
At age 13, Evan Andrews of Butte, Montana, began training to become a ninja warrior. But to pursue his dream, according to Church News, Andrews had to get creative since Montana is not exactly a hotspot for ninja communities or gyms with ninja obstacle courses. The nearest ninja training gym is seven hours away from his home, so he created a small ninja training course in his backyard. And when he was driven indoors by the harsh Montana winter, he trained on a bar in his bedroom.
Eventually Andrews’ father and grandfather helped him build a much more sophisticated training gym in the family’s garage, according to KXLF News.
This year, at age 17, Andrew was invited to compete for a spot on the show. He qualified for a spot in the untelevised preliminary semifinals, and he took home a $5,000 prize, which he plans to save for his Latter-day Saint mission.
On the show, he cruised through the qualifying round and was among the top 60 to make it to the next round in Las Vegas. Watch his first run here:
Advancing to Las Vegas, Andrews was one of 25 to complete the first course—and even had the fourth-fastest finishing time—but was eliminated near the end of the second course. He finished in the top 15 overall.
“My main takeaway is there was just a lot of incredible experiences, a lot of them gospel-related,” Andrews told Church News. “It was the closest I’ve ever felt to the gospel because ... I’ve had the most touching experiences with people outside of the Church that I’ve ever had in my life.”
Jonas Harmer and his wife, MyKayla Skinner, are no strangers to elite competition. Skinner, a former competitive gymnast, became a household name in 2020 when she won a silver medal against all odds in the Tokyo Olympic games. Despite her huge achievements in her sport, she told LDS Living that her “the greatest experience” was being sealed to Harmer in the Gilbert Arizona Temple.
Harmer agrees, adding, “It was always a goal of hers to get married in the temple, and it was always a goal of mine. Finally when it was the right time and it happened, it was just a great moment: a lot of things coming together. It meant a lot to us.”
Since their marriage, the couple has run a popular YouTube channel documenting their lives and experiences, including training for American Ninja Warrior.
This season, Harmer made his debut on the show, and Skinner, of course, came along to watch. But the producers didn’t just let her observe from the sidelines; instead, she joined the show hosts in their announcers’ box to help give commentary on her husband’s run. You can watch Harmer’s run below:
The couple posted a reaction video to their YouTube channel in which they rewatched the episode and shared additional thoughts.
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