2 Austin athletes share their stories ahead of American Ninja Warrior’s 11th season

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Damir Okanovic and Rick Hinnant may differ in appearance and age but do have at least one thing in common. They both sat in front of their TVs, watched “American Ninja Warrior” and thought, “Oh, I can probably do that.”

Okanovic was hooked from season seven. Obsessed with competing, he went to Home Depot, bought materials and started building a course.

“There were no gyms around,” he said. “I was just from a small upstate New York town.”

But his dad was not thrilled.

“My father thought I was crazy, and investing so much money into lumber, he thought it was a waste of time,” Okanovic said.

Practice favored him over time, and he slowly improved. His father adjusted, too.

“He saw how passionate I was about it and started helping out,” Okanovic said.

Training was tough at first, but Okanovic says the community he discovered was very supportive. 

The first time he tried to compete, Okanovic submitted a video and filled out applications for season seven. But he didn’t get through. He tried again in season eight, but still nothing.

Then finally, when he applied for season nine, he got the call he’s been waiting for. Okanovic made it through to the national finals in Las Vegas, “as a rookie, first year.” 

“It was incredible,” he said. “I would definitely encourage everyone to try it.”

Seasons later, Rick Hinnant sat on the couch with his family watching that same show. 

“I was a fan from the couch,” Hinnant said. “It’s amazing to watch and see the athletes… see the inspiring stories.” 

Training proved tougher for him, however.

“Right off the very bat, I got a micro-tear in my shoulder and was out for a month,” he said.

Since the injury, he’s been more strategic and intentional in his training. Within months, he too got the call, too.

“When you get called to the show, completely different story. Nerves pop up. A little bit of fear… but super fun,” he said.

He, along with Okanovic, will be featured on the eleventh season of American Ninja Warrior premiering Wednesday on NBC at 8pm/7pm Central.

While an injury didn’t stop him, he does credit adversity as being key to success.

Holding up his shirt, Hinnant showed off the lettering on it.

“Number one, you see my shirt,” he said. “‘Tragedy 2 Triumph.’ American Ninja Warrior will cover that story and it’s a story everyone on the planet can resonate with, because everyone has been through a difficulty. No question about it. With that difficulty, you can make a decision. You can choose to be mad, upset, bitter, be the victim or you can choose to use your pain, which I recommend, to do something good.”

Okanovic agrees.

“Failure is everything. We learn from it. If I was good at everything, I wouldn’t be able to have any room for improvement,” he said. “So just failing constantly, you kind of build yourself up. You don’t just start from the beginning. You continue where you fell off and you work towards becoming a better person. Overcoming those obstacles and hopefully doing better each year.”

Last week, Okanovic and Hinnant gave KXAN a live demonstration of their abilities at the Austin Ninja’s gym. You can watch the Facebook Live here and if you or your family members are interested in training at Austin Ninjas gym, you can get more information on their website

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