Introducing you to Sam Banola
Hello internet and welcome back to Unaired. Today we are talking about Sam Banola, a 43-year-old gym owner currently living in Longmont, Colorado.
Sam grew up and spent most of his life in Sparta, New Jersey: a small town about 30 miles northeast of Newark. He has been a personal trainer for the last 20 something years, and now he owns a gym in Longmont that has a more traditional training facility inside, but an awesome ninja playground outside.
American Ninja warrior is a relatively new thing for Sam. While he has always been an avid fitness advocate, it wasn’t until the summer of 2014, when he moved out to Colorado that he actually took the leap into American Ninja Warrior. He had been doing standard weight training and lifting for years, as well as: Spartan Races, triathlons, boxing, football, wrestling, mountain bike racing, snowboarding, climbing, and tons of other sports… Sam has done them all. When he first arrived in Colorado, however, he had a lot of free time available to him and he began watching American Ninja Warrior with his son. While watching, he saw Jon “Rockman” Stewart, the now 55-year-old ANW veteran with the distinction of being the oldest competitor to ever finish the course. That season, Jon had made it to the Warped Wall but wasn’t able to scale it during the first round. Luckily, he was fast enough to progress onto the second round, where on his third (and final attempt) he finally scaled the wall. Sam watched this happen live, and that was ‘the moment’ for him. “No offense to Jon, I was 10 years younger, and a little taller than him, so I have to try. I have to know if I could do this or not.” He immediately called Lorin Ball, a local ANW hero who has competed in every season of the show and began to train with him at his gym. He was hooked instantly. He would go and train nearly every day, every week for a year unless there was something of utmost importance in the way.
He loved the sport so much that he decided to make it his profession. Being a personal trainer, Sam knew how to effectively develop and train athletes and wanted to expand that knowledge into the Ninja world. He purchased a building in downtown Longmont and made the building itself into a traditional lifting and training gym where he could meet with your normal, everyday clients… But the backyard of the building is where the magic happened. He transformed a standard parking lot and backyard into a full-scale ninja training course, complete with warped walls, salmon ladders, body props, spider climbs and so much more. He aptly named his gym “Warrior Playground.” He wanted a place where he could build his own obstacles, and train how he wanted; “what gets you ready for ninja, is training on ninja obstacles.” His gym is now one of the most successful gyms of the genre in the state, rallying ninjas from all across Colorado (myself included) to come test, hone and develop their skills. Sam loves to train others in his passion; hosting tri-weekly classes for adults, teens, and kids, as well as open gyms for the ninja-hopefuls and many of the local stars such as the Wolfpack have been known to frequent.
He has applied to the show every year since finding his calling but has yet to make it. However, through his training and his incredible facility, many ninjas in the area who have made it to the show have done so with the help of Sam one way or another. He has competed in many of the smaller Ninja Warrior Circuits, such as the up and coming Ultimate Ninja Athlete Association, and various other competitions across the country. “It’s a fun way to test your skill, and to motivate you to keep your fitness level up.” Last year he made it to the national championship for the UNAA in New Mexico, but sadly he had a dislocated finger and was only able to make it through half of the course. He has hosted several tournaments through his gym, and in the month of May, he will host the Regional qualifier for the UNAA 2017 season.
Answering who his favorite ninja was a tough one for him. Being a prominent member of the ninja community himself, he knows nearly every ninja; both established and up-and-coming. Jake Murray and Brian Arnold have defiantly inspired him: when he designs an obstacle or a course, he does so with them in mind. “What would be challenging for them? Because that’s where I aspire to be.” But his real favorite (since he has to pick one) is Lorin Ball. He was the one he called first and he was the one who started him on his whole journey. Furthermore, when it was time for Sam to open his own gym, Lorin was there to help; “he’s just a good guy; an entertaining guy.”
As far as non-ninja hobbies go, he spends most of his time active; while books and movies “are great” he spends most of his time moving. If he isn’t ninja-ing or weight training, he either snowboarding or mountain biking. He loves getting out into the woods and having some peace and quiet by himself.
Ultimately, Sam represents everything that is right with the sport of Ninja. He is humble, encouraging, supportive and caring. He will go out of his way to make sure everyone of all ages feels like a winner in his gym. The kids who frequent the gym adore both him and the time they spend there, recreating moments from their favorite runs. Despite Sam having never made it to the show, everyone from the newest ninja to the elite members of the Wolfpack, treat Sam with the respect that he deserves. He is a fantastic Ninja, better than me and better than most; when his phone finally rings for ANW he will make a fantastic addition to the pantheon of elite Ninjas. I know a few hundred local ninjas, myself included, who can’t wait to watch that moment live.
Thanks everyone for making it to the end! Let me know how you like the article and wish Sam good luck in the comments below!
Favorite Pet: Lola, his 10-year-old yellow lab. “She is the best dog ever”
Super Power of Choice: Super Healing like Wolverine. It would really help for his line of work and hobbies!
Favorite Movie: Shawshank Redemption or Gladiator, but he likes to laugh and Step Brothers comes to mind: it’s always on and it always makes him laugh.