Ask Benjamin Wilson which is more difficult, pharmacy school or being a ninja and he will tell you – both are challenging in their own right. The fourth-year pharmacy student was recently selected to compete in the regional competition of NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior” in Atlanta.
Wilson, a native of Jackson, Tennessee, has been a fan of the television series for years. “It was kind of a dream come true,” he said. “I’ve been watching the show since I was a kid. My brother and I would try and mimic the obstacles in our backyard, so it was kind of cool to finally be able to do that.”
“American Ninja Warrior” or “ANW”, is a spin-off from a Japanese television series in which athletes complete in a series of obstacles of increasing difficulty, in order to advance to the next round of the competition, based on how fast they complete the obstacles. The competition is held in cities throughout the country. Finalists from each regional competition then move on to compete in the national finals in Las Vegas, where the winner takes home a grand prize of $1 million.
Wilson applied for “ANW” twice. Once before starting in the University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Pharmacy, and again in December 2018. He recalls the day he received the callback.
“Normally I don’t pick up the phone for unknown blocked numbers,” Wilson said. “But I saw it and thought it could be a telemarketer, but it could also be “ANW” calling me back. My heart was kind of racing. ‘Hey this is Peter (casting producer) from “American Ninja Warrior,” and you’ve been selected to be on the show.’ It was kind of a surreal experience.” He said his wife, Juliana, who is the 2019 Mrs. Tennessee United States, filmed the entire telephone conversation.
According to Wilson, he was selected among more than 80,000-100,000 athletes who submit videos to be on the show. As a fourth-year student at the College of Pharmacy’s Nashville campus, Wilson’s schedule aligned so he could participate in the competition.
In February, he had an off month from pharmacy school in order to complete interviews for residency programs. In March, between his ICU clinical rotations and studying for the pre-NAPLEX, a practice test for student pharmacists prior to taking the national board exam, Wilson trained for the competition. “There were some pretty long days in March,” he said. “But I felt that it was only for that month leading up to the competition – you can do anything for a month.”
Wilson has always been into health and fitness, in addition to playing the guitar. And chose to focus his training on his passions, rocking climbing and calisthenics. He visited various indoor rock climbing gyms in Nashville and various gyms where mock obstacles, similar to the ones on the show, could be set up.
He said his busy schedule training for “American Ninja Warrior” actually helped him more than it hurt.
“There was a point in my pharmacy school career where I let go of working out and taking care of myself, and that was a really bad time for me,” Wilson said. “I was studying too much, staying up too late, and put on about 25-30 pounds. I was talking to my adviser and they told me, ‘You’ve got to get back to take some time for yourself, whether that is getting into the gym or doing whatever it is you enjoy doing, you’ve got to do something for yourself.’ So I think, training and working out actually helps me better with my time management, and also, with being disciplined and with it starting in one area and moving out to other areas in my life.”
Growing up with a physician as a father, Wilson always knew he wanted to do something in health care, having been exposed to the field while going on medical mission trips with his dad. “He always told me where your passions and your skills line up, that is where you should go.” Having a passion for helping people, coupled with strong skills in chemistry and math, pharmacy was a natural fit.
Wilson actually took his pre-NAPLEX exam hours before filming the episode of “American Ninja Warrior.” “The thing that actually fulfills me most about rock climbing and ninja training is it’s all about being the most efficient that you can be, while adhering to the workout and also problem solving,” Wilson said. “So I think pharmacy school, rock climbing, and ninja training actually go hand and hand in that aspect. It has that problem solving aspect that you don’t get from powerlifting or a lot of the other types of workouts.”
Asked how he did on the show, Wilson said, “The biggest thing that scared me was the balance obstacles. I did better than I expected to do.”
You can watch him on the 11th season of “American Ninja Warrior” airing on NBC June 5.