Brett Hernandez Strong loves obstacle courses. He used to pretend he was competing on his favorite game show, Wipeout, while on the playground.
Soon after he joined Cub Scouts as a Bear at his grandmother’s church, she introduced him to another TV show, Sasuke, a Japanese obstacle course competition. Then, she showed him the American version, American Ninja Warrior.
“I instantly fell in love with it,” Strong says. “I was like, ‘Grandma, for starters, I could do that. And I’m going to do that someday.'”
This season’s national finals of American Ninja Warrior will begin airing Aug. 30 on NBC, and Strong is one of the finalists.
Growing up, the playground wasn’t the only place where Strong played. He also participated in baseball, cross country, indoor track, football, wakeboarding, karate and cheerleading. He discovered Ninja Warrior-style contests in 2017 via the National Ninja League. These challenging contests require full-body strength, focus and balance as competitors tackle complex obstacles. In his first competition, he finished second.
“The staff at Camp Durant made a really good first impression on me. I said, ‘Man, one day, I want to work here as a staff member.’ I was 12 years old at the time,” Strong says.
He joined as a staff member and has worked there every summer since. He has served as a lifeguard, a Sports and Athletics merit badge instructor and most recently, the camp sports director.
Strong, now 20, a business management major at Wingate University, from Wendell, N.C., recently finished working at camp, where Scouts watched him compete in the qualifying round from the dining hall.
“We had 200 Scouts watching in there,” he says. “It was awesome.”
One side note: Ninja Warrior-type activities and parkour are prohibited within Scouting.
Watch his electrifying run through the qualifying course here:
Strong applied to compete on American Ninja Warrior twice. He didn’t get a call back the first year. When he tried again earlier this year, he received a phone call from a number he didn’t recognize.
“I get this call and I’m like, ‘Man, these spam calls are just relentless this week,'” he says. “Twenty seconds later, I get a call back from the same number. Maybe it isn’t a spam call.”
Sure enough, it was his confirmation that he’d been cast for the show. His family filmed his reaction.
“You can see the 9-year-old me and the 20-year-old me clash all at once,” he says. “You have the side of me feeling relieved, but another side just crying because it’s a dream I’ve had since I was 9.”
He was flown out to Tacoma, Wash., in March for filming his qualifying round. Once there, he felt like a “chipmunk that had drunk a 5-hour energy drink.” He was excited to run the course.
“Everything felt so good,” he says. “It was just awesome. For a moment, I forgot I was doing something for a TV show.”
He flawlessly conquered the obstacles, ending at an 18-foot “Mega Wall” that he had to run up. If he could do it and press a button at the end of the course, he would win $10,000.
“The moment my right hand grabbed the top of the warped wall, my eyes popped out of my head for a split-second,” he says. “I hit that buzzer, and the joy on my face just says it all. It felt so surreal.”
Strong didn’t finish the semifinal course, but he made it far enough to qualify for the national finals, which were held in Las Vegas. A $1 million top prize awaits a competitor who completes all four stages of the national finals.
“The bare minimum for an athlete to compete is being able to knock out 10 pull-ups, balance on one leg for a good 30 seconds on each leg and hold their body weight on a bar with their fingertips for at least 45 seconds,” Strong says. “Parkour athletes and gymnasts tend to have the best success.”
You can catch Strong, who announcers nicknamed him “B. Strong,” compete in one of the finals episodes, which start Monday at 8 p.m. EDT.
Unfortunately, Strong’s grandmother Lorrie died a few years ago. But her encouragement, along with his mother Elizabeth’s support, fueled his journey to compete in Ninja contests, advance in Scouting and seek ways to become a professional baseball player.
“I think it paved this path that set me up for a great lifestyle and great life,” he says.