SALT LAKE CITY — Utahn Karson Voiles has made it through Stage 1 in the Las Vegas Finals of NBC's "American Ninja Warrior" three times now, including on the episode aired Aug. 27. But in past years, he's always failed on the second to last obstacle in Stage 2.
It's yet to be seen how Voiles will do on Stage 2 this season — which will take place on Monday, Sept. 10 — but the West Haven gym owner said he felt confident going into Stage 1. The only issue with being a returning veteran to "ANW's" competitive obstacle courses is that viewers now expect him to do well, and that puts the pressure on, Voiles said.
But even though he's no stranger to "ANW," every year and every course bring with it its own set of challenges, and this year brought one that Voiles never expected: While Voiles' wife, Kami, supported him in the audience as always, this time she did so with a tumor in her head. Although not cancerous, the tumor is sitting on her pituitary gland and causes headaches and hormonal imbalances. For the most part, Kami Voiles is able to function normally and is, for now, taking medications to see if the tumor will go away without radiation or surgery.
"It's always tricky to try and balance home life and training, especially on a competitive level," Karson Voiles said in an interview. "At the same time, it's extra motivation for me too."
By channeling the stresses of his home life into his training, Voiles has so far been able to compete on "ANW" without a hitch.
When Voiles first started competing on "ANW," he built a big training obstacle course in his backyard. Then, his home course was featured on the show and random strangers started showing up at his house asking to train with him.
"I'm not that hard to find. It's a landmark," Voiles said. "Anybody in West Haven can tell you where I live, where the ninja course is. They all know."
People's interest in his home course led to Voiles opening up a gym in his town, which he called Ninja Warehouse. He used money from his financial education company to fund his gym since, he said, back then no one wanted to give out a loan for a ninja gym. One of the earliest gyms to open exclusively for ninja obstacles, Voiles' gym has since become a mecca for "ANW" devotees.
Surprisingly, most of Ninja Warehouse's patrons are children, although Voiles said that's largely because "adults are lazy. They have excuses." He's found his gym attracts the kids who don't fit in to traditional sports, and often they show up reserved and low on confidence.
"After coming to Ninja (Warehouse) for a while, they realize, 'I'm worth something. I am valuable. I am awesome. I can do this obstacle,'" he said. "Their confidence goes up and that's a reward for me to see that transformation."
And because Ninja Warehouse is "one of the best places to train in the country," according to Voiles, he has young athletes who come from as far as Minnesota to experience the place "where the big boys train," he said.
Those adults who do commit to training are a "special kind of crazy," Voiles said.
Voiles isn't the only one "crazy" enough in Utah to compete on "ANW." His fellow Utahn and "ANW" competitor Eric Middleton also completed the Stage 1 course this season. Middleton, who is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota studying entomology, has a record of completing his Stage 1 courses, much to the consternation of the "ANW" hosts. It's not that they don't want Middleton to do well, but when Middleton completes a course, they have to eat bugs. And true to form, when Middleton hit the buzzer with 16.16 seconds left on the clock, hosts Akbar Gbajabiamila and Matt Iseman both crunched their way through crunchy scorpions.
"ANW" is about people willing to push themselves to do seemingly impossible things — even if that means the hosts have to eat bugs — but Voiles loves it. He called himself "forever a competitor," stating that he doesn't like to be defeated by anything. With that kind of grit, viewers can expect that as long as he can, Voiles will keep returning to conquer "ANW's" nearly impossible obstacle course.
"American Ninja Warrior" airs on NBC Mondays at 7 p.m. Stages 2, 3 and 4 will air Sept. 10.