Zhanique Lovett’s run on “American Ninja Warrior” could be a metaphor for life.
Obstacles are presented, and then overcome.
Lovett was 30 when she first visited a “ninja warrior” style training gym that had just opened in Visalia in 2016. She’d been strong and athletic in junior high and high school, but this ... this was something different, she says.
“I went and humbly failed at every obstacle I tried.”
But she kept training and six months later, she was on television and became the breakout rookie in season nine of the NBC competition show. Lovett has been featured on five seasons of the show and made it to the finals four times, including this year in Las Vegas.
Her episode airs 8 p.m. Monday (Aug. 28 )on NBC.
“American Ninja Warrior” (ANW to fans and media) is a reality competition show where ultra-fit competitors race through an increasingly difficult series of obstacles that test their balance, agility and strength.
Competitors “lache” from one obstacle to the next by throwing their bodies through the air like a whip. They run across a thin free-spinning log and up a 14.5-foot curved wall.
Lovett failed to get up the so-called “warped wall” in her first season on the show. So, she had one built in her backyard, a foot and half taller than what they used on the show.
“I never wanted to fail it again,” she says.
Travels to train during ninja season
Aside from being a mother of three, Lovett trains as a bodybuilder in the off season, and works as a personal trainer. She opened her own gym, Z-Mode Fitness, in January. She’s also an entrepreneur who developed a line of vegan protein bars called Z-Fit Bars (now offered in 15 flavors).
But during ninja season, which starts in November and runs through summer, the schedule is particularly packed.
She works out twice a day, five days a week. Once or twice a week she makes a nearly eight-hour roundtrip drive to the Bay Area to train at Traverse Fitness. It is the largest such training facility in the country and allows Lovett time with some of ANW’s top competitors, such as David Campbell. He goes by @ninjagodfather on Instragram and is considered the original ninja coach.
The rest of the week, Lovett splits time between Rise gym in Fresno and the obstacles she’s built in her yard.
“Every year, it gets harder. Every year there are obstacles we’ve never seen before.”
There’s also an influx of young competitors, teenagers, who grew up on the show and have access to specifically designed training and facilities in ways she never did.
If you live on the East Coast, there’s probably a ninja gym an hour away from wherever you live, Lovett says.
“We just had your backyard,” she says, “You do what you can with it.”
Lovett says she didn’t exactly have a consistent home life as a child. That taught her a kind of resilience she carries into her life and also the competition.
“I want to make something better for my life, and my kids,” she says.
“I want my kids to see that and I want my kids to know that.”
So, when the show debuts a new obstacle (there were several this season, including a literal pole vault), “I don’t let that get in my head,” she says.
“I don’t let things gets to me.”