Marijke Rowland

Not everyone gets a second shot at being a ninja, but not everyone is Sam Pierstorff

Host Sam Pierstorff lays out the ground rules during the Slam on Rye poetry competition at Prospect Theater in Modesto, Calif., on Thursday, April, 21, 2016.
Host Sam Pierstorff lays out the ground rules during the Slam on Rye poetry competition at Prospect Theater in Modesto, Calif., on Thursday, April, 21, 2016. Modesto Bee file

If at first you don’t succeed try, run, climb, swing, hang, jump and lift again.

Sam Pierstorff is proving nothing is impossible with practice, hard work and lots and lots of exercise. The longtime Modesto Junior College English professor and former city poet laureate has earned a second shot at being a contestant on the popular reality competition “American Ninja Warrior.” The NBC show pits athletic men and women against an extreme obstacle course. He will compete in the show’s ninth season.

This isn’t Pierstorff’s first shot at “American Ninja Warrior” fame. He was selected for the show’s sixth season in 2014, but failed to complete the course in his opening regionals run. At first, the father of three said he was devastated by his fall in the first round. He also didn’t make the television cut and was not shown on air.

But then Pierstorff, who is an active member of the area’s arts community through his The Ill List and Slam on Rye poetry shows, redoubled his efforts and refocused himself. He built an “American Ninja Warrior” gym in his backyard. He trained at “American Ninja Warrior” gyms in the region. He participated in “American Ninja Warrior” official events. And he reapplied to be on the show. And re-reapplied to be on the show.

But he was rejected the past two years. And the number of applicants kept growing. There were 20,000 to 25,000 his first year, then 75,000 last year. And this year, some 80,000 to 85,000 people applied to have a chance to run the grueling course.

And, finally, that third retry was the charm.

“It’s about not giving up. I was devastated when I fell in the first attempt. And even more devastated year after year as I continued to audition and fill out gigantic applications and get rejected,” said Pierstorff, who calls himself the Ninja Poet. “But out of habit and hope, I just continued to try, and lo and behold, I got the call.”

Pierstorff will go to Southern California to compete in the Los Angeles regionals March 7. Contestants who successfully complete the course move on to the city finals, and then the top finishers head to Las Vegas to tackle Mount Midoriyama, the multipart finals course for the show. The winner takes home a $1 million. So far, only two people have conquered Mount Midoriyama, with one taking home the title and prize money.

Pierstorff, 41, has two weeks to prepare for his next appearance. He works out twice a day and has increased his grip strength, balance and endurance. Last year, he ran the “Team American Ninja Warrior” courses as a tester.

So why has he kept working out, pushing himself and applying again to be part of the show?

“It’s because I haven’t grown up,” he said. “And I refuse to. It’s just utterly, utterly fun. It’s just completely ridiculous, obnoxiously fun. I am addicted to that fun.

“I love being 41 and throwing myself around like I’m 14. I don’t have any expectations of winning $1 million. I also don’t have expectations of growing up. It’s really great to stay young and feel young. Also, I get to have my kids look at this experience, whether it’s the perseverance or actual physical feats, and say, ‘My dad is kind of cool.’ That’s a huge factor, the light in my kids’ eyes.”

And while some may raise their eyebrows at the thought of someone being both a poet and an athlete, Pierstorff said the two skills aren’t actually all that different.

“It’s the balance I try to achieve in life. That’s what Ninja Poet is about. It is striking a balance between art and athleticism,” he said. “It’s persistence and perseverance. The discipline of writing perfectly correlates with the discipline of working out. The outcome is just different – one is a poem, one is a push-up.”