As an unheralded runner out of Pikesville High School, Grossman helped UMBC’s track and field program find success as a sprinter and member of the relay teams – and eventually earned a spot in the university’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2011.
Five years after his last track meet, this former Retriever has found another – and even more high profile – way to continue his passion to compete.
He’s a ninja.
Grossman discovered the TV show American Ninja Warrior by accident one night and quickly grew enamored with it. A video submission earned Grossman a spot on the NBC show in 2011, and he has made the competition cut for three straight years, earning his way through mandatory regional rounds to the show’s final round in Las Vegas in both 2012 and 2013.
The show’s grand prize is $500,000, but Grossman – who works for the U.S. Navy as an engineer with a focus on pollution prevention – doesn’t really expect to see that money.
“I do it for the camaraderie and the competition,” he says. “Even though I’m in shape and I’m pretty good at this, I see winning the $500,000 as kind of like winning the Lotto. I just like doing the things [on the show]. It’s so much fun.”
One of the centerpieces of American Ninja Warrior is a brutal four-stage obstacle course testing the strength and endurance of competitors in numerous ways. There are usually six to eight obstacles per stage with names such as “Quintuple Step,” “Warped Wall” and “Cliffhanger,” each of which requires a different skill set and approach. Contestants need to be well-rounded athletes, because failure in any single obstacle results in elimination.
Not surprisingly, finishing the obstacle course without failure for the first time in competition is Grossman’s favorite American Ninja Warrior memory. He did so in Miami last year during the preliminary round of the regional tryouts. Grossman had been eliminated the previous year when he lost his battle with the Warped Wall, and he’d been looking forward to a rematch. The wall loomed as the final obstacle in Miami and he was elated when made it to the top and hit the red buzzer signifying his completion of the course.
“It seemed pretty surreal,” Grossman said. “I got to do an interview with Angela Sun, the show’s sideline reporter, and then got to run by the audience and high-five everyone.”
Grossman now trains for American Ninja Warrior year-round at his home in Northern Virginia, teaming up with Mike Bernardo, another regular participant in the show whom he met at the finals in Las Vegas. They have jointly stepped up the intensity of their training and even go to local gyms that have elements found in various obstacles courses on the show. It is a specialized training that Grossman credits with improving his competition skills over the past year.
Being a ninja warrior has its costs, however. Grossman has to balance his job with his training and travel – and contestants must pay for expenses they incur at the regional level out of their own pocket. But Grossman doesn’t see himself quitting anytime soon.
“As long as the show gets renewed, I’m going back,” he says.
– Jeff Seidel ’85