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Column: Native to display physical talents on show

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Like most people, I can’t run up walls, leap from spinning platforms or use only my fingertips to scale a wall. Newbern native Dan Kelly has set his sights on defeating those challenges and more difficult ones on national television.

Kelly, 35, is one of just a few hundred athletes selected to compete in this season’s NBC television show, “American Ninja Warriors.”

A firefighter in Franklin, Kelly is a self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie. He has raced motorcycles and stunt bikes, but his latest challenge will be broadcast for the world to see. The competition tests the country’s best athletes in a series of extreme obstacle courses that require physical and mental strength, balance, endurance and grip strength.

Kelly will take part in the St. Louis regional competition. According to the “American Ninja Warrior” website, regional qualifiers and finals are being conducted in four additional cities: Los Angeles, Miami, Dallas and Denver. Competitors who successfully complete the regional finals course will earn a spot in the national finals, to be held in Las Vegas. The show premieres May 26.

Kelly said he is excited for this “competition of a lifetime.” He has been training for the past 10 months in the workout room at his fire station in Franklin. Because he does not know what the course will be like, he has not built any specific training equipment.

“I know what kind of strength I will need to complete the obstacles, so I created a workout that focuses on balance and a lot of upper body strength,” Kelly said. “Nobody gets to practice on the real course. You get one shot, and if you fall, you’re out.”

Since beginning his training, he has lost 40 pounds. “I’m in better shape now than I was in high school,” he said.

Kelly sent an application and introduction video to the show’s producers in January. The video showed him completing strength challenges both at his fire station in Franklin and at Mill Race Park in Columbus.

“I’m the type of person that likes to try stuff. I like to challenge myself,” he said.

His biggest inspiration is his 2-year-old daughter, Samantha. “I want to show her that if you put your mind to it, anything is possible,” he said.

While he’s not “going into it to lose,” Kelly said he is already thinking about next year. “I know once I do it, I will probably be hooked,” he said. “I will probably build some obstacles when I get back so that I can practice for next year.”

I am excited to watch Kelly compete in his television debut. He already has made Columbus and Newbern proud just by qualifying as our “American Ninja Warrior.”

Paige Harden Langenderfer is a resident of Columbus. She is a freelance writer and public relations consultant. She can be reached by email at

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