Military News

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Face of Defense: Air Guardsman Competes on ‘American Ninja Warrior’

By Air Force Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen, 108th Wing DoD News Features, Defense Media Activity

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J., September 3, 2015 — New Jersey Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Justin B. Gielski may not be the next “American Ninja Warrior,” but he provided an inspiring athletic performance on the popular TV show.

Gielski was in Las Vegas in June to compete alongside those who made it through the city qualifying rounds to the four-stage finals of the television show that requires strength, agility, endurance and more than a little grit. The episode aired Aug. 31, and Gielski was not among the 16 who finished the obstacle course to earn a spot in the second stage.

Gielski, a loadmaster with the 150th Special Operations Squadron of the 108th Wing here, took part in an all-military preliminary competition and placed fifth. His performance in that competition aired Aug. 17. In all, 30 military members competed and the top 15 were invited to the finals.

Following his elimination from the finals, Gielski said on his Facebook page that he had learned a valuable lesson in the competition. “The course isn't finished until it's finished,” he said. “I was very confident about the coin flip and was looking at the next obstacle before I finished it. A costly mistake.” But, he added, he plans to be back again next year to summit Mount Midoriyama, the name given to the final obstacle course on the show.

Difficult Obstacle Course

"I think it reflects well on the New Jersey Guard and the Air Force because there are not that many Air Force or Guard members that made it through to this level," Gielski said.

Gielski also gives credit to the creators of "American Ninja Warrior" for creating a diabolically difficult obstacle course.

"Lot of bizarre obstacles, the people who engineer these things have to be partially insane, but they're fun, they definitely test your abilities," he said.

This is Gielski’s first season competing on "American Ninja Warrior," but his interest started long before the American version of the show came out.

"I used to watch the Japanese version of Ninja Warrior when I was younger and I thought to myself, ‘This looks really fun, I think I could do this,’" Gielski said. "I found a parkour gym in Cherry Hill [N.J.] ... I actually really enjoyed it and I had a lot of fun and saw the potential that I could be good at it."

It is not an easy road; the training is intensive -- an hour during lunch and then another one to three hours in the evening.

Grateful for Unit’s Support

"I have definitely gotten a lot of support from the wing in this adventure, which I thought has been really cool; it's been neat that they've allowed me to do this," Gielski said. "I'm glad I could represent them well in return for their sacrifices to help me with my dreams."

There was also an unforeseen benefit from preparing for the competition: Gielski's family got interested in working out.

"My kids kind of started taking an interest in it ... as they saw me doing it, so we started building some things in our backyard like bar setups and stuff and they really love it," Gielski said. "We just have a blast and I've noticed it has actually brought our family a lot closer together."

Strives to Improve

He added, "Every day is different -- we're not just working out. We're always striving to meet a new goal, to accomplish some new flip, hang longer, swing farther, things like that. We get really excited when someone in the family does something new that's awesome; we take a lot of videos and post a lot of video."

One of the show's hash tags for Gielski was #MagicFingers.

"We're a Seahawks family and when the Seahawks are close to the end zone, we'll send magic to them,” he said, demonstrating by extending his hands and wiggling his fingers toward the television screen. “We try to will them to score,” Gielski said. “So it just became something that we do. [If] my son is having a hard time with this obstacle, [we'll say,] 'You're really close, let's give him some magic' and we give him magic and it kind of motivates you to do well.”

"I got up there the first night [of the show] and I saw my kids there [and I said] 'Alright kids give me magic, it's going to be tough,’” he continued. “So it became a thing I talked about [on the show] and they gave me the hash tag #MagicFingers."

He added, "I hear stories of, 'Hey, my kids were giving you magic through the TV, rooting you on.' and it's pretty cool to hear that. I'm glad our family could share something like that."

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