By Ben Pobjie
Saxon Johnstone is one of the younger generation tackling the Australian Ninja Warrior course this season. At just 17, he will be taking on a host of more experienced ninjas.
You’re 17 now, but how old were you when you decided that a ninja warrior was what you wanted to be?
I’ve been watching the show since season one, and I decided to actually pursue it as a sport about four years ago, so about 13.
When you do decide to pursue it as a sport, how do you go about that? I mean, where do you go to start training as a ninja warrior?
There’s a few ninja-specific gyms around Sydney – well, around Australia, really. I go there and practise the exact obstacles – plus at home I’ve built myself a bit of a course, so I use that to do body weight training mainly.
That’s impressive. When it comes to the show – getting onto it – what do you have to go through to get that spot?
You go through a bit of an application first, and obviously you’ve got to prepare yourself to go through that mentally.
Is the mental side a big part of it for you?
The mental side is definitely a big part. A lot of people don’t really think of that side of it, but if you’re gonna be up on stage, you’ve got all these cameras and people looking at you, so it can become really overwhelming. I think trying to prepare yourself for that, getting as much exposure to that as you can, definitely helps your performance.
When it comes to the cameras and the crowds, do you try to block all that out when you’re on the course, or does their presence help you?
I think everyone’s different, but I try to block it out whenever I’m running a course. There’ll be one or two people on the sideline who give me good advice and try to help me through it, but other than that I try to block everything else out.
Do you think there’s any advantage to your youth in the competition? Is there an edge you’ve got over older competitors?
The advantage is that most of us have been training for several years, we’re hungry, we’re here, we’re ready to give it a go and give it our all. The disadvantage being that we haven’t had that experience up on stage yet.
Do you play any other sports besides … is it just called ninja warrior?
Yeah, it’s Ninja Warrior. I do a bit of obstacle course racing. Similar to ninja, except it’s long-distance, from five kilometres to 25 kilometres, with about 30 obstacles each race.
So endurance must be a strength of yours.
Is there any particular part of the Ninja Warrior course that you dread?
To be honest, balance has never been one of my strong points. Not looking forward to any balance-style obstacles.
So negotiating the narrow beams and stuff like that. But are you good at swinging, from the ring and the bars?
Yeah, so the swinging – we call it lache – that’s probably one of my strongest points, I reckon. I’m better at the upper body than the lower body.
It’s obviously an athletic endeavour, and it’s a genuine sport. But is the on-screen aspect, being a TV star, something you’re comfortable with?
For me, it’s more the sport. I can hopefully use being on TV to promote the sport and grow it. Because as it is, it’s a reasonably small community.
But a lot of people probably aren’t aware that it’s a sport played outside the bounds of this specific show.
There’s lots of ninja-specific gyms across Australia, they hold local competitions and national competitions.
Could an incredibly unfit person like myself turn up and start getting into it, or is it something you can’t start without being reasonably fit?
You can definitely come with no experience, having no exercise before. That’s how I started. When I started, I could barely run a kilometre without being out of breath. But the coaches at the local gym helped me out and taught me to get to where I am today.
Is there a lot of pain involved in the sport? Do you hurt?
I am younger, so I guess I might not feel the muscle pain the next day yet.
The next day is one thing, but do you feel the burn while you’re doing it?
You definitely feel yourself fatiguing if you’ve been hanging on something for a while. But not so much actual pains.
In the process of doing the show, is there a community of athletes? Is there camaraderie?
Yeah, definitely. We all obviously know each other and compete against each other in competitions outside the show, so there’s always going to be a bit of camaraderie.
It’s not just pure hatred of your enemies.
No, at the end of the day, we’re all up against the same course, so we all just help each other out, really.
Australian Ninja Warrior is on Nine (which publishes this masthead) on Monday at 7.30pm.
Find out the next TV, streaming series and movies to add to your must-sees. Get The Watchlist delivered every Thursday.