Northeastern graduate heads to ‘American Ninja Warrior’ finals

man swinging from trapeze
Josh Levin, class of ’17, is ready to take more risks in his fourth “American Ninja Warrior” finals appearance, even after falling and breaking his nose earlier in the show’s 14th season. Photo by: Elizabeth Morris/NBC

After a four-year hiatus, 2017 Northeastern graduate Josh Levin is headed back to the Las Vegas finals for “American Ninja Warrior,” the NBC obstacle course competition show.

The episode that airs on Aug. 29 will be Levin’s fourth time competing in the finals in the four seasons he’s been on the show. In the past, Levin has not made it past the second of four stages in the finals. This year, Levin, a self-defined “conservative athlete” who typically runs the obstacle courses with a slow and steady approach, is done with his second stage stumbling block and ready to take more risks.

“I’m sick and tired of being the athlete who makes it to stage two every time and falls there every single time,” Levin says. “I realized if that’s the case, I’m going to have to take some risks. What that meant for me was, heading into Las Vegas, accepting the fact that if I play it safe, it doesn’t actually always work for me.”

It’s an approach that the 28-year-old Bay Area native tried to embrace earlier in the show’s 14th season but didn’t truly click into place until after his performance in the semifinal round. There, Levin “reverted back to Josh 1.0,” he says, which resulted in his first ever fall in a semifinal round and a broken nose.

After seven hours in the hospital, Levin was back in the gym with a plastic face shield—and a new resolve to go further than he ever has.

“That fall in the semifinal round really woke me up to that,” Levin says. “This is a totally new game. I’m going to have to evolve myself to be even further ahead of the curve than I have in the past.”

Levin’s other major motivation going into the “American Ninja Warrior” finals is to spread the word about accessibility in athletics, specifically obstacle courses. The mechanical engineering major worked with students at the Synapse School, a K-8 independent school in the Bay Area, to design obstacles for athletes with disabilities.

Throughout the season Levin has been open about the need for shows like “American Ninja Warrior” to be more inclusive and accessible for all kinds of athletes. Levin says the response to his message on the show has already been overwhelmingly positive, but that the work doesn’t end when the show is over.

“There are so many ways that we as able-bodied athletes take for granted pieces of sport that may be inaccessible to athletes with different types of disabilities,” Levin says. “But at the same time as well it’s really exciting to see ways in which athletes with disabilities are pushing the boundaries of sport in ways that we would not have imagined as able-bodied athletes.”

Going into the finals, Levin says he wants to do well by his family and students—who were watching him compete live in person and virtually—but more than anything he wants to leave the season having made himself proud.

“A huge part of American Ninja Warrior is doing better than how you’ve done in the past,” Levin said. “It’s you versus the course, not versus somebody else. So, if I want to beat stage two, I can’t just take it easy.”

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