Fitness junkie aims to be next American Ninja Warrior

The Cranston Herald ·

In less than two weeks, Angela Gargano will be scaling walls, jumping across water, and climbing ropes on her quest to become the next American Ninja Warrior.

That’s because she got “the call.”

“It’s the 818 number,” she said about receiving a call telling her she had made a regional qualifier for the NBC television show. “When I got it, I’m like oh my god, am I getting the call? And the guy was like, no. And I say really? And he’s like, no you got it.”

Gargano, possibly the only Rhode Islander going to the competition, is a former pharmacist and Brown researcher with a degree from Rhode Island College in biological chemistry.

She has always had a passion for fitness, however, as she was a captain for RIC’s gymnastics team before graduating in 2012, and she said she was a key part of getting that team back to RIC, as it had previously been cut from the school.

She never lost that passion for fitness, even when she was working full-time in a lab at Brown. So, she decided a few years ago to quit that job and instead devote herself to fitness. Thus began AG Athletics, a gym she runs out of one of a warehouse-like building on Freeway Drive, near Sockanosset Crossroad.

She first built up her business through recruiting the parents of children she taught gymnastics to at a nearby gym in Cranston. She said that the parents saw her training their kids and were attracted to her style.

Gargano also said that unlike some other personal trainers she doesn’t just train athletes.

“I’m training people who have back problems, knee problems, people who just want to get a little bit stronger,” she said. “It’s super cool to see people progress in their training.”

She said that her training focuses more on strength than anything else, and she has now built up a larger clientele that has allowed her to hire a couple extra trainers, though she solely runs the day-to-day operations of the business. She now teaches a range of classes to her clients, including grip strength, endurance, cardio, and “ninja.”

This “ninja” refers to the obstacle-course-on-steroids competition that has been made famous by a primetime NBC show called American Ninja Warrior.

Gargano began her relationship with the competition three years ago, when she submitted to get onto the show “kind of on a whim.”

The application process, she said, includes a bunch of paperwork and, most importantly, a submission video that showcases the applicant’s fitness skills. Gargano said that nearly 70,000 people apply nationwide, but only around 100 will be competing at the upcoming regional competition.

She first competed in a regional competition three years ago, discovering the behind-the-scenes truths about the show. Although her run didn’t end up making it on the TV broadcast and she didn’t make it any further, she said it was a learning experience and motivated her to get back on this year.

In the past three years, she’s been “amping up” her training for Ninja Warrior, doing Spartan obstacle course races, training at gyms dedicated to Ninja courses, doing local competitions, and even focusing some of her personal training classes at her gym on the competition.

She said that as a competitor, you have to be ready for all kinds of obstacles, as the show doesn’t tell them beforehand what it’ll be like. She’ll be heading to Philadelphia on May 11, where the course will be set up at an old power plant.

Gargano said that the process is much more grueling than it seems on television. All of the contestants run the course overnight, from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. She said that last time she competed she was one of the last to go and they didn’t have enough time for her. So, she waited up all night to run at 6:00 a.m., then they told her that she had to wait until the next night to go.

“It’s not as glamorous as it looks on TV,” she said. “But it’s definitely an experience.”

She said that more than 100 people compete during the regional semifinals on the first night. Of those, 30 will make it to the regional finals, which are the very next night. She said that at least 5 have of those have to be women, so she doesn’t necessarily have to make top-30 to advance. During the finals, the top-15 finishers will move on to the national competition in Las Vegas to “do the big course and try to tackle Mount Midoriyama.”

As for cash prizes, there is a $10,000 payout for getting up an 18-foot wall during the regional competition (which Gargano said she probably won’t even try because it’s very dangerous), and larger prizes if you advance further. Gargano also said that she has to pay her way to the regional competition, including taking days off of work for it. If it’s raining when she’s supposed to go, she may have to be moved to a different competition location, which would cost her time and money.

She also said they only select certain runs to televise when they show it on NBC – only the ones with the most eye-catching stories.

But she isn’t doing it to get on television.

“Being able to say, ‘hey, I did American Ninja Warrior,’ that doesn’t happen for a lot of people, so I already feel super pumped,” she said. “I just want to do well and prove to my clients I didn’t give up. These three years I kind of felt that way, but I didn’t stop training.”

Gargano also realizes the risk she took when she quit her steady job to devote her life to fitness. She said that she sometimes thinks that it may be easier to have done that, but she also said it’s much less rewarding – and that she may not have ever done American Ninja Warrior if she hadn’t made the move.

Now, over the next few days before she heads down to Philadelphia, Gargano will be ramping up her strength and cardio training to be as ready as she can be, all the while continuing her AG Athletics business in Cranston, which she said she wants to build into its own little community.

And as for American Ninja Warrior, maybe she’ll even make it onto the TV broadcast. But for her, it’s fine if she doesn’t.