On why he stopped doing Ninja Warrior

(This question is part of the “Story Time!” project.)

Craig: One of the things that I am passionate about is collecting other people’s stories because I think having people share something they’re passionate about really gives people a glimpse into who you really are. Is there a story you would care to share?

Elet: Maybe the story of why I stopped doing Ninja Warrior.

I was filming for my submission video for what would have been my fifth season on American Ninja Warrior. I had a very, very surprising [00:18:00] experience. I went out to a woods near where I was staying at the time, it was along a river in Laurel, Maryland and there was an old dam there, this used to be a mill town and that dam had a tower on the one side of it that’s maybe 40 feet tall. It’s a man made wall, off to the right hand side is the wall of the dam itself, which is about half the height, about 20 feet.

It was something I messed around on bouldering on before and [00:18:30] man made walls are great to climb because they got a lot of big handholds but they’re also interesting because a lot of times, especially with old walls, the grout disintegrates and makes a lot of sand on all these holds.

I was up there for the day and I was gonna film and I just set my phone up to film this one climbing route and I just started bouldering up and I got to a point where I was like, “Alright, this is high enough, I’m gonna exit right out onto that dam wall.” And as I start to traverse off to that side, I caught a bad handhold with a lot of sand on it. My hand [00:19:00] popped and I’m 25 feet off the ground and down below me is a boulder field of rocks. Ankle breakers, back breakers I mean some serious stuff and I started to barn-door off and I just said, “Nope.” So I just pushed off the wall.

I’ve got a video of it, I’ll have to send it to you. Ended up falling 25 feet. Landed straddling a rock, full compression on the landing, my tailbone was probably an inch and a half off of this giant limestone boulder and I came within an inch and a half of paralyzing myself and walked [00:19:30] away absolutely fine, not a scratch, not an ache.

In the shock that followed as I walked back to the apartment and as I sat there by myself thinking about what the hell was I doing, what happened, what took me there, I got into the idea of why was I filming that? What prompted me to get up into that, what was motivating me. I realized I put my life on the line for something that I didn’t necessarily believe in 100 percent. I’ve been doing [00:20:00] Ninja Warrior for years and years and it was a big production and there was good and bad. I met a lot of great people through it, I had good experiences but then at the same time, we weren’t getting paid. We were helping a show that last year made 750 odd million dollars and we didn’t see a penny. I was perpetuating that. I was involved in something that didn’t necessarily represent what I wanted to represent and here I was risking my life to get back on it.

I [00:20:30] kind of just had to balance that and that was the day I kind of decided I’m not gonna do that for a while. I backed away from it. It was just a really interesting thing because I always talk about analyzing risk and consequence. Consequence exist all of the time. Being alive implies the consequence of possible death. Parkour implies the consequence of possible injury, death, always.

There are a lot of people that like to say, “Oh, parkour’s safe.” Parkour is not safe. It’s not safe and it will never be safe. We can make good decisions. We can manage [00:21:00] risk, we can mitigate risk but its not safe. If it was, it’d be boring. We enjoy that dance. There’s consequences that’s real, which is the juxtaposition to the majority of things we do in our day to day life. The reason we don’t care about them, the reason we’re disenfranchised is because it’s not real.

If we lose it, that’s fine. Oh I’ll keep going, I can still put food in my mouth, I’ll still be alive. How many of us have been in a situation where we’re facing off with death, where we’re facing off [00:21:30] with real consequence, where we’re facing off with real social consequences. Because if this goes, I lose my job, I can’t feed myself. Mostly none of us and we avoid those places as much as we can.

Parkour is our way to play with that and that’s fun because it’s as high or low a stakes as you want to make it. We got this analogy of risk versus consequence here and we interact with that daily in parkour. Your decision making abilities, your technical training abilities, your ability to reiterate a jump again and again and again is [00:22:00] your ability to manage and mitigate risk.

I went and I took on this climb that always, a climb has a consequence of falling and I thought I could mitigate that risk and I was wrong because that’s the game you’re playing and occasionally you come up wrong and man, I walked away from it okay. I don’t know what it is, 15 years of parkour training helped me take a 20 foot, 5 foot drop straddling a boulder, inches a way from the goods and the end of my spine. That was a very serious day. [00:22:30] That’s something I just always like to talk about is this risk versus consequence idea with all things in life. It’s the game we’re always playing whether it’s social, whether it’s physical, whether it’s putting food on our table with our jobs or anything like this. We are always playing that game.

When you can separate that idea and say, “Well here are the possible consequences, here’s how I’m gonna mitigate the risk,” and you can begin to formulate a plan around things. Kind of ties us back into the begging of being very particular about the way that I train. It’s always that analysis of, here’s possible consequences, they [00:23:00] could be good or bad consequences of course.

Craig: I choose this challenge or do I move …

Elet: Or do I move to another one. That’s just kind of my take on how we approach challenge, how we approach life’s issues, obstacles, actual obstacles, because what we do in parkour is not interaction with actual obstacles. None of those are obstacles. You can go around them, we put them there, it’s a challenge, it’s our own choice.

Real [00:23:30] life obstacles, real life problems, it’s the same analysis and that’s one of the fantastic things about parkour is it gives you the tools to manage that, so you can approach it with the same mentality that you do these situations that have the consequence of life and death. You are more well equipped.