Atlanta-based ExpressJet First Officer Brandon Arrington is a dedicated athlete, so when he got the call that he had been chosen to appear on the NBC reality show “American Ninja Warrior,” an athletic competition show in which contestants compete in a series of increasingly difficult obstacle courses, he was certainly excited.
“My friends and colleagues insisted I apply,” said Brandon. “When I got the call, I was pumped – no, ecstatic. Everyone high-fived me.”
Thousands of applicants applied for the show’s Southeast regional competition. Only 120 contestants are chosen to run the course, and of those, the top 30 finishers are featured on the show. Brandon first competed on American Ninja Warrior in 2013, and was selected to return the following season in 2014. Now he’s up for his third appearance, and will soon know if he is selected.
“I was caught up in the excitement of getting chosen,” he said. “Then reality hit, and I realized I had two weeks to train.”
As a pilot, Brandon is no stranger to training, but this time he was preparing physically for an athletic competition on national television. In spite of the brief preparation time, Brandon was more than ready to compete. He’d been physically active his whole life and had a regular exercise routine.
“The show tests your upper body strength, balance, jumping and sprinting. I’d been doing CrossFit for a few years, and it’s worked really great for training,” he explained.
His first time on the show, Brandon tore his triceps muscle a week before filming. Despite this setback, he was given the green light to compete and made it through the first course easily. The second night, he fell on the pipe slider obstacle which requires the competitor to hang from a metal bar and slide along a track while gaining enough momentum to leap from the pipe to a cargo net obstacle.
Brandon says the best part of the competition is spending time with his family: his wife Kala and their young son, Connor.
“They are my inspiration and support during the competition. At one point, I was climbing the Warped Wall, and I had to get over this ledge. I didn’t know how I was going to get my arm over my head because of the injury but my adrenaline was pumping, and I could hear my wife and mother-in-law cheering me on. I looked and saw Kala holding up my son, dressed in a ninja outfit. She was yelling ‘do it for your little ninja!’ It was cheesy, but I was able to get up over that wall.”
NBC asked Brandon to return the following year. Two months before filming, he endured another training injury – this time tearing his middle deltoid and part of his rotator cuff. Again, his family helped him get past the setback.
“The first night, I blew through the course and thought I could take on the second night with no problem, but the other contestants and I all failed. It was disappointing, but it served as my motivation for coming back next year.”
The second night’s obstacle course required contestants to jump from giant, bouncy balls – a tough challenge made even more difficult by the pouring rain.
Brandon inherited his love for exercise and sports from his father, who passed away in 2010.
“My dad was an amazing athlete,” he said. “We played sports together. He worked two jobs but always made time for me and my brother.”
Although his training physically prepared him for the competition, his career as a pilot prepared him mentally.
“My job as a pilot helped me learn to not get worked up in stressful situations. It helps with handling pressure, being able to control your heartbeat and being comfortable in front of people.”
Outside of work and the show, Brandon constantly stays physically active.
“It’s a conscious decision, and you’ve got to stick with it. Find something you’re passionate about that’s fun for you. That’s also why I love my job as a pilot – I get to do something I love and have fun doing it.”
Though he’s waiting for the official word from NBC, Brandon looks forward to returning to American Ninja Warrior. The next season will film in Orlando, and it would give him a chance to take his son to Disney World.
“I’m just a big kid at heart,” he said. “I love to do anything that tests my physical and mental abilities.”
Brandon on the American Ninja Warriors obstacle course
Brandon with his wife Kala and his “little ninja” Connor at the American Ninja Warrior competition