At 31, Najee Richardson returns to ANW with renewed vigor. His childhood upbringing paved the way for his success on the show.
Knocked off his game by back-to-back seasons of poor performances and bad decision-making in his personal life, American Ninja Warrior’s Najee Richardson, a.k.a ‘The Phoenix’, is now living up to his nickname. He attributes his rise from the ashes to a stronger mental state.
After spending the past two seasons of the show rebuilding his physical and mental prowess, the 31-year-old former elite gymnast from North Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is headed into American Ninja Warrior’s first-stage finals next week. Najee, an actor-stuntman-athlete, who also is the American Lung Association’s 2019 National Fight For Air Climb Ambassador, attributes his improved ninja performance to a newfound perspective. He said he’s more level-headed, content with his place in life, enjoying what he’s doing, and relishing motivating other people to find a similar outlook. He’s also appreciating the opportunity to use his profile and platform to champion social justice issues. Through his association with Ninjas For Black Lives, Najee is helping Black people and individuals in marginalized communities triumph over systemic oppression.
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Last May, Najee used his Instagram to post his concerns about two recent high-profile murders of Black men in America: Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. In a May 29 Instagram post, he recorded a video about his dismay at what is taking place in America. He said that he never uses his platform or his voice for political agendas, but what he was witnessing in the country compelled him to speak out. “Been really struggling with the events of Evil that are on full display in this country. I’m Angry and I’m hurt and I’m frustrated and I’m tired of seeing human beings slaughtered and not receiving immediate justice simply because of their race. When does it end? We have to stand, we have to unite, we have to take action. Turning a blind eye to evil is not okay. Enough is enough,” he wrote.
In his biography, on his website, Najee wrote that growing up in Philadelphia’s turbulent North Philly section was challenging. During his elementary school years, Najee said because of his slight stature, shyness, and asthma, he needed to find alternate routes home from school, because he was an ideal target for bullies. It was during those times, he recounted, he found his ninja passion through the Jackie Chan films he watched. He said by studying the films over and over, he learned to do flips and climb, which helped him outmaneuver the bullies. Conversely, it was the many visits to the emergency room caused by his self-taught Jackie Chan-inspired acrobatics that led his parents to enroll him in self-defense and weekend gymnastics classes at Temple University.
As he entered middle school, wary of the influence of gangs in the neighborhood, Najee’s parents decided Najee would be homeschooled. His parents also signed him up for the Temple Boys Gymnastics team. During his time with TBG, Najee trained 24 hours a week, for the next seven years. After suffering a career-ending injury to his lateral meniscus, he retired from the sport when he was 21 years of age. Over the next several years, Najee said his life seemingly spiraled – no college education, no money in his bank account, and no prospects for something better in life. But fortunately he re-tuned his thought processes, which fueled the turnaround in his life. The road to his current success was also paved with the help of a former gymnastics teammate who introduced him to the American Ninja Warrior television competition. A fan favorite who also was a Top 3 finisher in the competition’s national finals in 2017 and 2018, Najee also competed in American Ninja Warrior other show brands – American Ninja Warrior USA vs. The World, All Stars, and Ninja Vs. Ninja. Soon, acting roles came his way with small parts in How To Get Away With Murder, on ABC and CBS television’s The Code.
As the finals loom over the horizon for the American Ninja Warrior competition, it’s no surprise Najee’s improved mental attitude is helping his performance. After all, he’s a ninja; overcoming obstacles is what warriors do.
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