Champion rock climber Josh Levin stepped to the platform, moments away from facing the Los Angeles finals course on American Ninja Warrior. The “nerves and jitters” he felt while competing on the popular NBC reality show a year ago were gone; this year, he was confident, calm, and relaxed.
New season. Same result.
On the most recent episode, which aired July 24, Levin maneuvered through each obstacle with deft precision and completed the course, advancing—for the second consecutive year—to compete in the Las Vegas finals on American Ninja Warrior.
“I think at that point it was physical and instinctual,” Levin said by phone last week, while on a climbing trip in South Africa. “I trusted my training, went for it, and got to the end.”
Levin, who graduated from Northeastern in May with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, is co-founder of the Northeastern Climbing Team. He won his first national championship at age 9 in speed climbing and over the next decade captured numerous championships and records while competing in the U.S. and more than 20 countries.
On American Ninja Warrior, now in its ninth season, contestants navigate challenging obstacle courses that test their physical and mental strength. Levin said he was excited to attack and anticipate the challenges the course offered the first time he competed on the show, but he was humbled by how difficult it truly was. Last year, he made it as far as stage two of four in the Las Vegas finals. “It was a lot harder than I expected it to be—physically, mentally, emotionally,” he said.
To train for his sophomore campaign on the show, Levin focused on improving the weaknesses he’d identified on the first go-around, among them his balance and agility. But he focused primarily on building up his bicep strength, an area he unexpectedly struggled with as last year’s competition wore on.
A driving motivation throughout last season’s competition was his rock climbing mentor, Stacey Li Collver, who is on a wait list for a second double-lung transplant, and she’s still at the front of Levin’s mind. This season, Levin gained even more motivation by training with longtime friend and Massachusetts Institute of Technology student Charlie Andrews, who Levin has known since he was 10.
Levin and Andrews were both selected to compete this season—Andrews’ first—and they trained together in Boston this past winter, building up their cardio by running in the snow and visiting American Ninja Warrior gyms up and down the East Coast.
Levin said competing alongside his friend through the L.A. qualifier and finals actually made the experience much more relaxing. He admitted he felt much more excitement and nerves pulling for Andrews as he maneuvered through the courses than when he himself was doing so.
Watching his friend conquer the L.A. finals and hit the buzzer at the end of the course was “one of best moments of my own life,” Levin said. “I felt like I was on the course with him. That for me was the pinnacle of my night.”
Levin’s turn to take on the course came shortly after Andrews competed, and seeing his friend’s success also put him at ease. “I was the least nervous I’d ever been for a major competition,” he said. “I just remember having a huge smile on my face.”
Levin said he’s been blown away by the outpouring of support from family and friends—including the Northeastern community—throughout his American Ninja Warrior journey, and reflected back fondly on the watch party the university threw for him during one of last year’s episodes.
“It’s been great to share this experience with my classmates, as well as my family back in Sunnyvale, California,” he said.