Little Rock, Ark., May 22, 2018 / 23:45 pm
Among the contestants on season 10 of NBC’s American Ninja Warrior, there’s one who stands out.
In addition to being a physical trainer, Father Stephen Gadberry is also a Catholic priest. He hopes that his participation in the upcoming season of American Ninja Warrior will make the clergy appear more human and available.
Physical activity can be a “simple way to start a conversation with a spiritual leader, with a pastor, where [people] may be too nervous or hesitant to start [deeper] conversations right off the bat,” he told CNA.
Contestants on the hit NBC show compete in obstacles courses of increasing difficulty, testing their strength, agility, and skill for a shot at $1 million and the title of “American Ninja Warrior.” The final round takes place on the Las Vegas strip, where participants must complete – among other obstacles – a 75-foot rope climb in under 30 seconds.
Fr. Gadberry was challenged to apply for the show by Sean Bryan, a two-time previous contestant who drew attention for donning a shirt bearing the colors of the papal flag and words “Papal Ninja.”
The Arkansas priest applied for the show in December and two months later received an invitation to participate in the preliminary round in Dallas. Fr. Gadberry said he “would be a bad steward of God’s gifts if [he] didn’t humbly and gratefully accept this opportunity as a moment” to proclaim the Gospel.
“[Evangelizing] is the primary reason for me doing this. The Lord tells us to go out and make disciples of all nations,” he said. “As this platform has stumbled into my lap…I can further deliver the message of the Gospel that I am supposed to as a priest.”
The priest serves as pastor for two parishes in the Arkansas Delta: St. Cecilia Church in Newport and St. Mary Church in Batesville. Having been raised on a farm, Gadberry said he grew up loving hard physical labor. Later in the military, he said he was introduced to the fitness regimen CrossFit.