Montana teen hopes to fund his mission with winnings from NBC’s ‘American Ninja Warrior’
Latter-day Saint teen Evan Andrews was introduced to NBC’s ‘American Ninja Warrior’ at age 10. Seven years later he finished in the top 15 of the finals
As a 10-year-old, Evan Andrews was known for his boundless energy.
“I was just a really climby, jumpy, acrobatic kid,” he said.
Around that age, his cousins introduced him to a television reality show called “American Ninja Warrior,” which features thousands of competitors attempting to complete a series of obstacle courses of increasing difficulty.
Qualifying to compete in the sport quickly became his life’s aspiration.
“I thought it was awesome,” Andrews said. “I loved every part of it.”
Andrews, now a 17-year-old member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Butte, Montana, achieved that dream in a matter of only a few years.
Of the 500 selected to compete in this season of the program, the athletic teen was among the top 60 who reached the finals in Las Vegas, Nevada, in August. He was one of 25 to complete the first course (with the fourth-fastest time) but was eliminated when he fell 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 the 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.”
Years of training
Once Andrews knew he wanted to compete on “American Ninja Warrior,” he had to get creative because Montana is not exactly a hotspot for ninja communities of elite competitors or gyms with ninja obstacle courses. The nearest ninja training gym is seven hours away from his home.
Andrews started by creating a little training course in his backyard but it didn’t last because of the harsh Montana winters. He moved to training on a bar in his bedroom.
At first his parents appeared doubtful. They didn’t go all-in when he was 10 years old because it seemed like a “pipe dream,” Andrews said.
But he stuck with it for a few years. The more he devoted himself, the more his parents supported him. For the last four years the young man has trained in his customized, warrior-style garage, featured earlier this year by a local television station.
“The more I put in the work, the more I devoted myself to it, the more they believed in me,” he said.
It was easy for Laurie Andrews, Evan’s mother, to be impressed when she realized her son was rising early to train before school and then returning for hours after school and workout all by himself.
“It’s that discipline that I’m so impressed by,” she said. “Being on a few shows is cool, that’s neat. But the person that Evan is, that he has become through discipline, hard work and determination, that’s who I am proud of.”
Receiving the call
Andrews got his foot in the door for “American Ninja Warrior” through another show called “American Ninja Warrior Junior,” which is aimed at kids ages 9-14. That’s where he established himself as an athlete and possible competitor for the show.
“That’s where I laid the groundwork,” he said.
Last year “American Ninja Warrior” started accepting competitors as young as age 15, including some of Andrews’ peers. He created an audition tape that he submitted in October 2021. Three months later in January he received the call with an invitation to join the main show. He likened his jubilant reaction to riding a roller coaster.
“It’s kind of like being on a roller coaster and then suddenly you are at the top of a 100-foot drop,” he said with a smile. “Once you are in it, you can’t actually believe it. It was like that for a few days because I couldn’t believe it.”
Competing on ‘American Ninja Warrior’
Andrews reached the finals after surviving a qualifying round and a semifinal round.
The show had to narrow 500 competitors down to 120. They separated the 500 into regional groups of 100 in which the top 30 moved on. Andrews finished 19th in his group of 30.
Those who advanced were organized into groups of 40 for the semifinals in Los Angeles. Andrews claimed the top spot in his group to qualify for the finals in Las Vegas. He took home a $5,000 prize for winning the semis, which he plans to save for his Latter-day Saint mission.
Seeing their son as a 10-year-old, swinging on things, parents Curtis and Laurie Andrews never imagined what he would accomplish in just a few short years.
“It’s a cute thing to watch your kid have big dreams,” his mother Laurie said. “But then as time went on, he just worked toward them and worked toward them. When opportunities came up, he went for them. It’s amazing.”
Although disappointed that he didn’t win the competition, Andrews is grateful for the experience and excited for future opportunities. Andrews said his faith has been strengthened and his desire to serve a mission has increased.
He’s traveling to North Carolina for a competition the first weekend in September and in six months he will return to competition with “American Ninja Warrior.”
His parents are also pleased to see how their son has maintained a spiritual balance in his life with his faith and values. His friends and other parents are surprised when they learn he is planning to step away from the sport in his prime to serve a mission.
“We know our faith is in the Lord and that if we are obedient, that good things will come. He will not have lost out on anything that was meant for him, if he’s obedient. I believe that he feels that too.”
Bishop Phillip Borup, bishop of the Butte Montana 2nd Ward, believes the young man has a bright future. He said Andrews is dutiful in his priesthood responsibilities and dependable at all times.
“I remember when he was only 10 years old, climbing up and around the basketball backboard like it was nothing,” the bishop said. “When he sets his mind to something, he commits. ... I have a great deal of respect for this young man. His commitment to serving a mission is unshakable. He plans to have his mission fully funded through ‘American Ninja Warrior’ and to go as soon as he is able.”