What these famous American Ninja Warrior athletes do for work

American Ninja Warrior launched in 2009 as a spin-off of the popular Japanese sports entertainment obstacle course competition show Sasuke (broadcast as plain old Ninja Warrior in the U.S.) Athletes compete to go the fastest and furthest on a series of grueling obstacle courses in the hopes of attaining Total Victory by climbing to the top of Mount Midoriyama, which is not an actual mountain but basically some scaffolding. As of 2019, only three Americans have achieved Total Victory.

As with the Japanese version, American Ninja Warrior is full of colorful personalities who go by nicknames such as "the Island Ninja" or "the Potato Chip Ninja" or whatever, and who have become sports celebrities in their own right. If you've ever wanted to know more about the lives of the most famous athletes of American Ninja Warrior – especially if you've ever asked, "How do these people make money?" — read on.

Drew Drechsel has been"The Real Life Ninja" since childhood

Drew Drechsel is one of the most successful competitors in the history of American Ninja Warrior, becoming in 2019 only the second person to win the show's ultimate million dollar prize after Isaac Caldiero won in 2015. Drechsel gained the nickname "Real Life Ninja" as a teenager by impressing his friends with parkour tricks, and his accomplishments stand up to that reputation (well, figuratively, that is. He's not literally a mercenary spy and assassin from Japan's Sengoku period), as he holds multiple speed records for ANW and is one of the relatively few American competitors to have appeared on the original Japanese version of the course, where he made it to the third stage an impressive six times.

And as USA Today points out, he's a ninja as his day job, too (again, figuratively. Not literally doing hits on rival shogunates or whatever). Although in the earliest seasons of ANW Drechsel was listed as a used car salesman, he — as several other veterans of the show have done — opened his own gym, which he uses to train others in the arts necessary to do the world's most extra obstacle course. While Drechsel's original gym is in Connecticut, he told USA Today in 2019 he intended to use the prize money he had won by attaining Total Victory to move to Florida, where he planned to open more ninja gyms.

Joe Moravsky really is "The Weatherman"

Joe Moravsky is known as one of the most consistent competitors on American Ninja Warrior, having cleared stage one faster than any other rookie and ultimately making it to stage three in his debut season in 2013, and making it to the third stage all but twice as of 2019's season 11. He's also known as "the Weatherman," and it turns out that's not just a cute nickname. He actually is a meteorologist for News 12 Connecticut.

A native of Sherman, CT, Moravsky received a degree in meteorology from Western Connecticut State University in 2012. Moravsky told Men's Journal he doesn't find his interests in ninja sports and weather to be incongruous: both jumping off tiny trampolines and standing next to lightning strikes feed his hunger for adrenaline. Additionally, he claims the best weather for doing jumping spiders and warped walls is warm with low humidity, in case that's the kind of thing you wonder about. 

According to his home page, Moravsky also works teaching monthly ninja and parkour courses at his local Sky Zone, making special appearances around the country, touring with a group of other ninja athletes including several other ANW stars known as the Wolfpack Ninja Tour, previously partnered with Macy's for a men's clothing line, and appeared in a Weather Channel commercial.

Daniel Gil is "The Kingdom Ninja"

Although while watching American Ninja Warrior it might seem as if every other entrant is a youth pastor or worship leader hoping to illustrate to their young congregants how not to get ensnared in the cargo net of worldly concerns, this list should at least show the majority of the show's performers are not directly involved in ministering to the churchgoing youths of America. One major exception, though, is one of the show's breakout successes: Daniel Gil, the self-proclaimed "Kingdom Ninja."

Gil ran the course in his first eligible season in 2015, though he could be seen in the stands cheering on his mentor Sam Sann the year before. Since then, Gil has been known for his long, curly hair and his explosive performances. In 2019, he was the only competitor besides Drew Drechsel to make it to the final stage, but he became the first person ever to time out on that stage as he failed to beat Drechsel's pace, leaving Total Victory just out of reach.

As Gil himself explains on his homepage, charmingly (or annoyingly, depending on your point of view) located at DanielGil dot Ninja, in addition to being a five-time ANW finalist, Gil has also worked as a worship leader, singing and playing bass in the worship band at his home church, Dwelling Place Church in Houston, Texas. Since appearing on ANW, though, he has also begun traveling as a motivational speaker.

Jesse "Flex" Labreck was a carer

Jesse Labreck, perhaps better known by the pretty sweet moniker "Flex" Labreck, made her debut on American Ninja Warrior in 2016 and has since gone on to be one of the most dominant female competitors on the show, advancing to the national finals every time she's competed, and having been the last woman standing in two different seasons as of 2019. In her debut season, she was one of only four women to advance to the city finals round that year, earning the group the appropriate nickname the Fantastic Four. Notably, however, Labreck was the only one of the four to advance to the national finals, becoming the first female rookie to do so. In the 2019 season, Labreck performed better than her fiance, fellow ANW competitor Chris DiGangi, finishing sixth on the qualifying course and tying Meagan Martin for the record for most consecutive qualifying buzzers.

As Labreck told ESPN in 2016, during her early appearances on the show, she was working as a live-in caregiver for a 20-year-old woman with cerebral palsy named Emeline Sterpe. Sterpe can often be seen cheering on Labreck from the sidelines during her ANW runs. However, since becoming engaged to fellow Ninja competitor Chris DiGangi in 2019, the two have opened and run the Ultimate Ninja Gym in Naperville, Illinois, as the Chicago Tribune reports. Labreck's official title is "General Manager of Course Operations," meaning she oversees safety, curriculum, course development, and more.

Meagan Martin had it in her blood

Meagan Martin made her debut on American Ninja Warrior in season six in 2014, the same year Kacy Catanzaro made headlines as the first woman to complete a qualifying course. Martin would go on to become the third woman to do so that same season, conquering the Warped Wall on her third attempt and becoming the first woman ever to complete the Devil Steps. Since then, Martin made it to the national finals either as a qualifier or a wild card every year until 2019, when she did not make the top 30.

As ESPN explains, Martin has athletics in her background. Her father competed in the 1984 Olympic trials as a gymnast, and her mother is a gymnastics coach who trained her daughter starting at age five. She gave up on gymnastics as a child due to a fear of tumbling backwards, and so, weirdly, took up a succession of other sports where falling backwards seems like a much higher risk. She first gained attention as a competitive pole vaulter at Vanderbilt University, but her real love was climbing trees, which she managed to parlay into a career as a competitive rock climber, a job that set her up nicely for success on ANW. She has also worked together with an athletic apparel line and acted as a teacher and mentor to help girls get into sports.

Jessie Graff is all about the stunts

Debuting in 2013's season five, Jessie Graff is one of American Ninja Warrior's biggest stars, being the first woman to attempt a city finals course, the second woman to qualify for the national finals, the first woman to clear stage one of the final course, the first woman to clear stage two of the final course, and the highest ranking ever of any woman in a city final, among many other achievements. She is also the first woman ever to clear the second stage and attempt the third stage on the original Japanese Sasuke course.

Despite all of these accomplishments, American Ninja Warrior is probably not where most people in the world have seen Jessie Graff, even if they don't actually know they were seeing her. Graff's day job is as a stuntwoman, and as she explains on her homepage, she has worked on a number of incredibly well-known projects, including Supergirl, Wonder Woman, Transformers, The Dark Knight, and Agents of SHIELD, among others. Her many projects in the superhero genre have been reflected in her tendency to wear superhero-themed costumes while running the ANW course. Her work on Wonder Woman 1984 caused her to have to miss running the national finals course in season 10, but she returned for season 11, again qualifying for the national finals. Additionally, Graff has black belts in Taekwondo and Kung Fu, as well as degrees in theater, and — yes, you guessed it — aerospace engineering.

David "Flip" Rodriguez flipped his pain around

David "Flip" Rodriguez is one of ANW's standout competitors, known for the blazing speed with which he finishes courses, often taking the fastest time of any night on which he competes. He first competed in season four in 2012, the first season that really began to distinguish the American version of the show from the Japanese original, and he has competed in every season since, making the national finals in all but one season as of 2019. He was also one of the first Americans to compete on Sasuke, making it to the second stage.

In his first several seasons, in addition to his dynamic speed, Rodriguez was known for the trademark mask he would wear while running the course. As PAVE explains, he eventually removed the mask, explaining it represented the pain he bore from being abused as a child. Now he works as an ambassador for PAVE, advocating for victims' rights and educating others. He also works as a Hollywood stuntman, appearing in such films as Star Trek Beyond and the Transformers franchise. And if all that weren't enough, he is also a competitor and instructor in the art of freerunning, which is basically like parkour, except when you pull off a wicked cool stunt, you shout "freerunning!" instead of "parkour!" A fine distinction, but definitely one worth learning.

Allyssa Beird didn't get a silly teacher nickname

Despite not wearing a flashy costume or having a silly nickname like "The Highlighter Ninja" or whatever, Allyssa Beird has become a breakout star on American Ninja Warrior thanks to her stellar and reliable performance. In her debut season she managed to advance to the city finals, earning her spot as one of the "Fantastic Four" women to do so. In 2017, she became the second woman ever to hit a buzzer on stage one after Jessie Graff, as well as being the first woman (along with Flex Labreck) to complete a city qualifying course, and the first woman to be the first overall finisher of any course. As of 2019, she has been to the national finals every time she has run the course.

While such accomplishments might be expected from other competitors who are pro rock climbers or freerunners or NCAA pole vaulters or what have you, you might be surprised to hear of them coming from an otherwise unassuming fifth grade teacher. As she told ESPN in 2017, every day Beird commutes an hour to her job as a teacher in Middleborough, Massachusetts, stays after school to do administrative work, then hits the ninja gym, balancing five hours of training with five hours of sleep. And if that's not enough to keep her busy, according to her homepage, she also does web development work for her dad's company.

Grant McCartney is "The Island Ninja"

Despite being a native of Knoxville, Tennessee, Grant McCartney is known as "The Island Ninja" thanks to his current home of Honolulu, Hawaii, a location which seems to fit his bombastic personality and laid-back attitude. It has certainly influenced his sense of fashion, which includes many tropical-themed tank tops and fanny packs, and a personal logo featuring a pineapple and a pair of sai. He's also known for dancing his way through the course, though according to Knox News, a letter from a 4-year-old fan inspired him to take the competition more seriously. As of 2019, McCartney has made the national finals three times, being eliminated on the second stage each time. His colorful performance style and unique sense of showmanship saw him invited to compete on Ninja Warrior Germany's celebrity edition, where he came in first place, winning the maximum prize of €250,000 for charity.

In his earliest appearances on ANW, McCartney was working as a flight attendant for Hawaiian Airlines, but as with many other top-level competitors, his success on the show has allowed him to branch out into other avenues, and he has since been working as a trainer, motivational speaker, and professional runner of obstacle courses. He also told Knox News he is writing a children's book called Everyone Knows Flamingos Like to Party about bears and presumably flamingos having a party.

Mathis "Kid" Owhadi is very young

For its first nine seasons, the minimum age for competitors on American Ninja Warrior was 21, but in season 10 it was dropped to 19, which allowed then-19-year-old Mathis "Kid" Owhadi to make a run for Mount Midoriyama. However, by then, Owhadi had already competed on a college version of the show and as a member of Daniel Gil's crew on a team competition version of the course. Due to this experience, Owhadi has been able to dominate the course since 2018, despite that technically being his rookie season. He finished his rookie season by qualifying for the national finals in fifth place and becoming the second-youngest person ever to clear stage one of the final course before failing on stage two. In season 11, Owhadi defeated his mentor Daniel Gil on the Power Tower and made his way to stage three of the final course before falling from the Ultimate Cliffhanger.

As he is one of ANW's youngest competitors, it won't surprise most people to learn Owhadi is still in college as of 2019. As reported by American Ninja Warrior Nation, he studies at the University of Houston's Bauer College of Business, where he studies, well, business. When he graduates, will he start some kind of ninja-related business? Will he be able to advise his ninja friends on how best to monetize doing flips in public? Only time will tell.

Michelle Warnky owns a gym

In 2019, Michelle Warnky made American Ninja Warrior history as the second woman ever to hit a buzzer on a city finals course after Kacy Catanzaro's landmark run in 2014. That season was also notable for being the one in which Warnky was smashed in the face on the Ring Swing during her qualifying run and finished the course with blood streaming down from above her eye. She also is tied for the record for most city finals qualifications for a woman with Meagan Martin and held the record for most wildcard appearances in the Vegas finals before the wildcard rule was abolished. As such, she has competed in all but one national final since season five, as she was outpaced by other female competitors in season nine. She has nevertheless remained one of the most dominant women in American Ninja Warrior.

As reported by NBC 4 News in Columbus, Ohio, Warnky is the co-owner of Movement Lab Ohio, a gym in Columbus where she also works as an event coordinator. Warnky co-owns the gym with brothers Chris and Brian Wilczewski, fellow ANW competitors who created the original Movement Lab in New Jersey. The gym is described as "an elite training facility for Parkour, Ninja Warrior, Obstacle Course Racing and general fitness," and Warnky is advertised as being available for hire as a motivational speaker.

Barclay Stockett is "The Sparkly Ninja"

Barclay Stockett made her debut on the ANW stage not on the main show, but on Team Ninja Warrior as a member of Daniel Gil's Team Iron Grip together with Nate Burkhalter. Despite losing to Michelle Warnky in her first race of that season, Stockett managed to find success in a later round, where she helped her team advance to the finals. Since then, Stockett — known as "the Sparkly Ninja" both for her personality and the fact her first name kind of sounds like "sparkly" — has made a strong showing on the main ANW series, appearing in the national finals three times as of 2019. At five foot nothing, she also notably holds the record for shortest person to successfully complete both the Jumping Spider and the Warped Wall obstacles, both of which are easier for longer-limbed people.

As reported by the Houston Chronicle, Stockett, a longtime gymnast and gymnastics coach in the Houston area, was actually living and working as a volunteer in South Africa in 2014 and had never heard of American Ninja Warrior until everyone started sending her video of Kacy Catanzaro's historic run that year. Thankfully she returned home to Houston and its apparently thriving ninja scene, where she met Daniel Gil, who would invite her to his ninja team. She currently works as a pro athlete and coach for Alpha Warrior, an obstacle race training company.