"Even during my regular workouts, guys would tell me they were impressed by how many pull ups I could do. I always refrained from making snide remarks back."
Joyce Shahboz is one of the first women to compete on American Ninja Warriorand has been participating since season four. At 44 years old, she is also the oldest woman “to make it to Vegas and to the 5th obstacle.” She’s a role model for everyone.
I had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with her when she stood right next to me at Team Ninja Warrior. I was there for the taping to watch the competition live and cheer on all the ninjas! Joyce was grounded, calm, and down-to-earth, like many of the ninjas. We talked about when she first got on the show, how she gets nervous before competing and how facing the obstacles has helped her conquer her fear of heights. I was too engrossed in the experience of being there that I didn't even think about asking Joyce the questions that had really been on my mind since I became a fan of the show. But I was able to connect with her via email afterward. Reading her responses inspired me to get back into doing pull-ups again, which she continues to encourage me to do. Thanks, Joyce!
What’s the hardest part of an American Ninja Warrior Course?
The ongoing joke amongst the guys is that the hardest part is getting casted. For me, one of the hardest parts has been the late night hours and long hours of the overnight shoots. As for the actual obstacles, seeing them for the first time and trying to figure out your game plan without freaking out is one of my biggest challenges.
Why do you think a woman has not completed stage 1 in Vegas yet?
Numbers…I've been competing since ANW4. I knew at that time, that eventually, more woman would give it a try and sooner or later, a female will make it. Women are starting to train more, compete in more local competitions and give it a shot. We just haven’t had enough of us trying it out or training at the necessary level until now. Of course, now the course is getting harder.
One of the reasons why I love American Ninja Warrior is that the women and the men are competing on the same course with the same rules making gender seem irrelevant to one’s athletic ability. Does this appeal to you about the show too, why or why not?
From the beginning. Those of us females that were in Las Vegas for stage 1 in ANW4 (there were 4 of us gals, and 96 guys), all shared the same sentiment…we wanted that course. The upper body challenges were appealing to us. In Japan, the Women of Ninja Warrior course isn’t as upper body intensive, and we all felt that was our forte and we wanted more of the physical strength challenge instead of the balance challenges.
Do you believe that you are smashing all kinds of gender stereotypes by competing on American Ninja Warrior? If so, how?
I think in the beginning I was. Michelle Warnky told me she paused that first Vegas episode to see if she could see any women in the competition. Even during my regular workouts, guys would tell me they were impressed by how many pull ups I could do. I always refrained from making snide remarks back. I do think that with ANW and events like Cross fit, people are getting more accustomed to seeing strong woman. For most of us, it’s nothing new. But for the average television audience, seeing women compete on the same platform as men, and in some cases doing better than them, that’s a different experience. My first year, my husband also competed. I ended up going farther than him. People who didn't know us would occasionally comment to him about getting beat by his wife. People would ask me, “how’d your husband take it?” It’s still amazing to me that people still have a notion that “getting beat by a girl” is an issue. Luckily for me, as I would tell people, my husband knew what he was getting into when he married me. On a side note, I never had any fellow competitors say anything at all. My fellow ninjas have always been encouraging and supportive, it’s never been a guy v/s gal thing.
At this point, the ninjas make the show. I even argue that the women boost the ratings more. I’ve heard a lot of ninjas say they don’t do it for the money, but do you think the veterans, at least, should get paid for it?
Almost all of us have definitely started this journey for the challenge. But as the show gets more popular, even in reruns, I can see how some of these folks who have dedicated themselves to the competition, and can see the amount of money the network is making, might feel like they should be getting compensated. Especially when we spend our own money for training, competing, traveling, taking time off work, etc. It’s all out of pocket for us. It’s the same argument NCAA athletes make. There is an organization making money off athletes and the athletes aren’t getting compensated. It’s definitely an interesting dilemma that I don't have an answer for.
What is your advice for women who are inspired to train for American Ninja Warrior?
Set short term and long term goals. Train with others when possible. Don’t be discouraged. Most of the obstacles can be accomplished with dedicated practice. There are things I can do now that I couldn't do 3-4 years ago, and I'm 44 (as of today)!