Hayden’s Science Ninja rocks NBC
Mitchell VeDepo advances on American Ninja Warrior
Steamboat Springs — Mitchell VeDepo looked to his left and his right earlier this year as he waited his turn to compete in the eighth season of American Ninja Warrior.
All he saw were incredibly fit men and women with swollen arms and eye-popping flexibility.
Despite the fact that it was his second year competing in the NBC-televised obstacle course game show, despite the fact that he’d dedicated months to training for the hurdles he would face and despite the fact that he had already advanced through one round of the competition and was now waiting to compete in the city finals, the Hayden High School graduate felt inadequate.
“I was freaking out,” VeDepo said. “I was thinking I was not up to the level of all of these strong people around me, that I wasn’t good enough to be there.”
A few calming words from his girlfriend of five years, Maggie Hunt, made a difference.
“She said, ‘You’re not competing against these people. You’re competing against the course. You just have to beat the course, and that’s doable,’” he said. “All of the sudden, it clicked. ‘You’re right.’”
VeDepo didn’t quite do that, but he came a lot closer than most of those around him. His family and friends packed the stands, cheering as he took on that course, and he did well enough to advance from the Oklahoma City finals to the next round of the competition in Las Vegas.
VeDepo’s run aired on NBC Monday. Not only did he record one of the night’s best runs, allowing him to advance, but he also received a bunch of airtime in the process. A video before his run centered on his work pursuing a doctorate degree at University of Kansas. There, VeDepo is entering his fourth year in a bioengineering program focusing on pediatric patients with heart valve disease.
On the show, he was shown working on his studies in a lab and at another point ripping off his goggles and lab coat while proclaiming himself the “science ninja.”
“A lot of work went into that, actually,” VeDepo said.
He came up with the “science ninja” shtick while preparing an application video for last year’s show. He was selected for the competition, but his run didn’t make the TV show and he wasn’t guaranteed a spot this year.
With that in mind, he put extra care into his newest application video.
“I tried to really play up my role as a scientist,” he said. “I showed them what I’m really trying to do and talked about how hopefully some day my work will be saving lives.
“You need to convince the network it’s worth it for them to give you a shot.”
The American Ninja Warrior producers ate it up, and VeDepo was invited to the Oklahoma City taping.
They kept calling back after the show during the editing process, too, asking for more video of both VeDepo’s training and lab work.
He was happy to oblige.
On the course, he wasn’t perfect but was good enough.
He said filming started at 11 p.m. for the qualifying round, and his spot didn’t come up until 5:30 a.m.
He made it about 90 percent of the way through the course, but a minor mistake at the “bar hop” obstacle ended his run. Contestants dangled from a bar and had to leap with it from one overhang to catch it on another. He did that successfully but mistimed his jump off the obstacle. One of his feet brushed the water, and he was eliminated just short of the “warped wall,” which was the night’s final obstacle.
His time and progress on the course still qualified him 21st and allowed him to advance to the finals, scheduled for one night later.
There, he was better.
The audience was packed with friends and family, all wearing “Science Ninja” T-shirts VeDepo had printed. His parents, long-time Hayden residents Chuck and Lynn VeDepo, cheered alongside the course with his girlfriend, Hunt, while younger sister Delanie VeDepo was in the stands with a huge “That’s my brother” poster.
Mitchell flew through the course. He got past a section of rolling logs that he said doomed many of the night’s competitors — “quick, light feet,” he said — and even mastering the bar hop that had stymied him in qualifying.
He came to another tough section involving hanging from bungie cords and got past those, too. After that, he said he knew he’d gone far enough to qualify for Vegas, but he completed another obstacle all the same.
Finally, he fell into the water as he was trying to make his away across “the window hang,” another grueling section that challenged contestants to cling to narrow ledges. He made it halfway before his grip slipped.
“I was really close,” he said. “A simple little error cost me.”
It didn’t cost him that trip to Las Vegas, however. VeDepo was still one of the best of the night, fourth of all OKC finals qualifiers, earning him that trip.
The only flaw?
VeDepo said something was lost in translation between him, the producers and the announcers, and they said he attended and played football at a Kansas high school, when in fact he was a key athlete in both football and wrestling as a Hayden Tiger.
He competed in the Las Vegas finals on a yet-to-be aired episode. He couldn’t comment on those results but said the trip was great.
The series takes a break for the Olympics but returns to the air Aug. 22 with the Philadelphia finals before showing the Las Vegas episodes on Monday nights where VeDepo was again a competitor.
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