Hard work is no obstacle

When UNI student Nick Kostner broke both of his ankles in a motocross accident, he wasn't sure how his injury would affect his ability to participate in athletics. But when he began working with a personal trainer to rehab his ankles, he ended up pushing himself further than he ever had before. Kostner's trainer, Drew Whitehead, used "nontraditional" exercise equipment, like BOSU balls and Indo Boards, to help Kostner improve his strength, balance and self-control. Kostner didn't know it then, but he would soon end up putting these skills to use in a new way.

Nick Kostner
Nick tackles one of the obstacles on American Ninja Warrior.

One day, after a regular workout with Whitehead, Kostner received a phone call. Whitehead, a previous competitor in the American Ninja Warrior (ANW) competition, had just received an invitation to participate in the show's fourth season. But he wasn't calling Kostner to celebrate. "He said, 'The producer is looking for one more guy. Can you fly to Dallas next week?'" said Kostner.

ANW is a televised sports entertainment competition that puts participants through some of the world's most difficult obstacle courses. Kostner knew this was the opportunity of a lifetime. He accepted a spot on the show and flew to Dallas for the first round of the competition, where he watched Whitehead fail the first obstacle. "I was like, 'I have no chance. I've never trained for this. I don't know what I'm doing,'" Kostner said.

He made it through the obstacle course on his first try.

Kostner advanced to finals in Las Vegas, where he devoted his time to training for the competition and hanging out with other "progressive athletes" who were passionate about pushing themselves and each other. Unfortunately, Kostner didn't pass the first stage of finals. Though he cleared the obstacle course, he didn't meet the time limit and was not eligible to move forward.

When Kostner transferred from Harper College in his home state of Illinois to UNI in fall 2013, majoring in business management: supply chain and operations management, he had to ease up on the intense training he had gotten used to back home. "It's always a challenge to find time to keep yourself in that shape," he said. "I'm here for school, ANW comes second. I've had to figure out where my line is. How far can I push myself and keep on the track that I'm here for?"

UNI's Wellness and Recreation Center makes it easier for Kostner to fit quick workouts into his schedule, and he especially enjoys climbing the rock wall when he has the time, but these days school is his priority. Still, coming to UNI didn't make him give up on his ANW dreams. He planned to try out for the competition again in 2013 but inclement weather prevented him from doing so. But he still ended up going to Vegas.

The producers knew Kostner could make it through the obstacles, so they invited him to try them out as they were set up in Vegas. Several producers and NBC executives were present, so Kostner used the opportunity to ask them about what they look for in a contestant. He used that information when he made his audition tape for this year's competition. 

Though Kostner didn't get a chance to participate in the competition this year, he ended up going to regionals anyway. His brother Ryan got a spot on the show and recently participated in the first round in St. Louis. Kostner was there to cheer Ryan on and plans to follow him as he progresses to the next round.

While Kostner doesn't know if he'll participate in ANW again, he is open to whatever opportunities he may be exposed to, something he learned to do through his experience in the competition. "ANW has taught me more about how to approach life and tackle more than just athletics," he said. "It happened so organically that I really couldn't have planned any part of it. If things happen the way I think they should, I'll be happy with whatever I will be doing."

The season premiere for American Ninja Warrior was May 26. You can watch new episodes every Monday at 8 p.m. on NBC.