By Jason Zasky
“I had no idea it would happen. It was so surprising,” says Elijah ‘The Boss’ Browning about getting a ‘completely out of the blue’ call from Matt Iseman, who hosts American Ninja Warrior, the popular NBC show that the then-15-year-old had been watching for nearly his entire life. “He called last year and said, ‘You are competing on American Ninja Warrior!’ I was like, ‘No way,’” relates Elijah, noting that appearing on the show is “something I have been dreaming of since I was five years old.”
As it turns out, the coronavirus outbreak prevented Elijah from competing right away. Still, he subsequently got the chance to apply for Season 13, a process that included making a so-called submission video, a la, “Hey, I’m Elijah Browning, I’m 16 years old, and I’m from Thompson’s Station, Tennessee….”
Long story short, Elijah competed earlier this year in Tacoma, Washington, and posted the second-fastest time, more than good enough to qualify him for this year’s semifinals in Los Angeles. Even though things went spectacularly well, it was a nerve-wracking experience.
“A month or more before Tacoma, I would wake up in the middle of the night, and my heart rate would be up, and my hands would be all sweaty,” he admits. “I had been thinking about this for so long, and it had been my goal for so long…. I’d get my chance, but you have one shot,” he adds, meaning one chance to successfully complete an obstacle course that typically features all manner of challenging jumps, swings, and hangs.
Fortunately, by virtue of qualifying for Los Angeles, Elijah will get another chance to compete, and if he advances to the finals (to be held later this year in Las Vegas), he will have the opportunity to potentially win a million dollars.
In the meantime, Elijah continues to train and pursue all of his other interests, including operating a sports cards business.
“It sounds funny, but I try to train just six days a week,” he says. “I’m really bad about taking a rest day sometimes because I love working out, and I love training.”
His workout routine consists of four days of calisthenics and two days of working through American Ninja-style course runs, which he completes in his backyard, using obstacles he constructs with his grandfather, who has more than 40 years of residential and commercial building experience.
American Ninja: A Family Effort
In fact, American Ninja has developed into something of a family enterprise for the Browning’s. Elijah’s younger brother, Julian, who will be 12 in July, also competes in American Ninja leagues, and like his older sibling, has appeared on American Ninja Warrior Junior.
Meanwhile, their mom, Renee, a makeup artist, is charged with chauffeuring Elijah and Julian to competitions around the United States, while their dad, David, works as a music producer.
“We have been to 30 different states and 81 different Ninja gyms around the country,” says Renee, which has engendered an even greater appreciation for the quality of life offered by Thompson’s Station and the rest of Williamson County.
“There are lots of places that we really like to go, but we always enjoy coming home because it’s the best place that we have found in all our travels,” she continues.
Ditto for Elijah, who loves the energy of the local community, saying, “I have so many amazing friends that are super-driven and super-motivated.”
Living in Williamson County also allows him to run cross country and track for local schools, even though he is home-schooled. Sports and American Ninja also help keep him connected to friends, who he says are all “super-supportive and love Ninja.”
American Ninja: The Family Business?
As for his goals for the near future, Elijah says he loves business and plans to continue focusing on running Boss Sports Cards, which buys and sells collectible football, baseball, and basketball cards.
He also plans to continue teaching other kids how to do Ninja right in his own backyard.
“I’m passionate about that because I love seeing kids come over who are fans of Ninja but don’t know how to do it and then seeing how much progress they can make in a one-hour session. I hope to inspire the next generation and to help kids learn,” he says.
More and more kids are getting into the sport, too, not just because it’s fun but because it provides a good all-around workout, one that can benefit just about any athlete, regardless of the sport(s) they play.
“It works your whole body, builds cardio, and improves hand-eye coordination,” says Elijah, before noting that the wide variety of obstacles provides a mental challenge too.
One little-known fact about American Ninja Warrior is that the competitors aren’t provided with advance notice about what obstacles are on the course and don’t get any practice runs.
“What you see is our first time being on the course,” explains Elijah, who says that’s one reason he does calisthenics four days a week. “You don’t know what they are going to throw at you, and you have to have the strength to get through obstacles you may have never seen before. Even if they were used in past years, you don’t get to practice them.”
But that’s all part of the fun of American Ninja, and part of the inspiration for the Browning family’s latest Ninja-related endeavor.
“My dad and Elijah have been building Ninja obstacles for years, and they are now launching a business called Boss Ninja Builds, so other Williamson County families can have Ninja rigs in their own backyards,” reveals Renee.
“I love inventing obstacles,” adds Elijah, not to mention re-creating obstacles from past seasons.
His ultimate ambition, though, is to win American Ninja Warrior multiple times, a goal Elijah seems well-suited to pursue, both mentally and physically.
“Before Tacoma, I was really nervous and asked for advice from the Ninjas who had been there for many years. They all told me that the nerves never really go away,” he concludes. “But when I stepped up to the starting line, the nerves went away. When you are on the course, it’s just you and the course, and it’s all focus.”
"It sounds funny, but I try to train just six days a week,” he says. “I’m really bad about taking a rest day sometimes because I love working out, and I love training.”