No Obstacle Too Great

Local plumber Bill Westrick flexes
his muscles on national show

By Alisa Advani   

There is no question Bill Westrick looks the part of a sleek, competitive athlete. The 48-year-old Greenwood resident got serious about fitness in his 30s, and now he spends ample time training his naturally athletic physique. It’s his dynamic personality, however, and ability to creatively turn his life into a highly relatable character that clinched his spot on Seasons 6 and 7 of the popular NBC-produced show “American Ninja Warrior.”

The series, which airs on NBC and Esquire channels, follows competitors as they tackle one daunting obstacle after another on courses designed for failure. Contestants participate in city qualifying and final rounds before competing in regional finals and moving on to the national final round in Las Vegas. The winner takes home $1 million. To date, no one has conquered the ultimate four-stage course.

Westrick, whose biceps are overpowered only by his faith in God and love of family, says it was after he marathon-watched the first four seasons that he began to consider trying out. When auditions for Season 6 came around, he got his tryout tape ready to roll. Professionally, Westrick works as a plumbing prefab manager at Deem LLC. He parlayed this personal tidbit into a “world’s greatest plumber” personality for the show. He wowed producers during tryouts for both seasons with snappy tapes that showcased both his over-the-top persona as well his ripped, ready build that belies his age.

“You have to get the producer’s attention in about 10 seconds,” he says. In the first minutes of his audition tapes, Westrick highlighted his strength, balance and overall grit by leaping from obstacle to obstacle in an attempt to win over the show’s producers.

“When Scott, the Indiana storyline producer, called (after Westrick’s Season 6 tryout), he asked, ‘So you’re the world’s greatest plumber?’ And I said, ‘There can only be one!’”

Scott was convinced, and so were the show’s viewers. Westrick says that he was chosen as a “rookie to watch” during his first season on the show. More than 3,000 people applied in 2014 for Season 6, and Westrick, then 46, was one of the 100 athletes chosen from Indiana for a shot at the St. Louis city qualifier. Despite intense preparation, he succumbed to the second obstacle, known as the Rolling Log, in St. Louis.

When asked to troubleshoot that performance, Westrick, who also races motorcycles, BMX and dirt bikes, and four-wheelers in his free time, said he felt no stage fright but rather extreme pressure to succeed. A pinched nerve in his back also stalled his performance.

Undaunted, Westrick recruited four friends to train alongside him for a shot at 2015’s Season 7 show. The team, known as “the Fast Five” and made up of Westrick, Danny Owens, 42, Joel McCall, 45, Gabe Dougherty, 41, and Daniel Niles, 29, met four to five days a week at 5 a.m. to pull, push, jump, dangle and climb their way into crushing physical shape at Mount Pleasant Christian Church’s Community Life Center in Greenwood. Westrick also teaches a boot camp class to parishioners there.

The group of men continues to follow this severe workout schedule in between seasons of the show to maintain conditioning. “I do boot camp-style training one day, power lifting another day, balance training one day, body weight training one day and speed training another day,” says Westrick. “Then we’ll do distance running, Murph training (a CrossFit workout) and the Iron Man training one day. And, of course, there’s the obstacle specific training. Essentially, I mix it up every week. It has to stay fun, or I get bored very quickly.”

Westrick says the key to his training is keeping his body in a constant state of learning and growing. He also credits his gym at Mount Pleasant as a key component to his success. “They have been very supportive, and their facility has provided the space and flexibility for the Fast Five’s training,” he says. “I have built over 25 obstacles and set up a new training course every week. My team and I run the course and make adjustments to it based on completion of each obstacle.”

For those who think they would love a good ninja work out, Westrick prompts someone to open an obstacle gym in the area. “I would love to see an obstacle gym open in Greenwood,” he says. “I think it would be very successful.” In the meantime, consistent cross-training and muscle confusion workouts are key.

Fast Fiver Danny Owens, who aspires to be on the show, too, says “working out with Bill is always a challenge. He’s not an in-your-face guy, but he holds you accountable if you decide to be challenged.”

For Season 7, ANW sent Westrick to the Kansas City qualifier, where his wife of 25 years, Monica, and his 24-year-old daughter, Erika, cheered him on from the audience. They are his biggest fans and supporters, and they both describe Westrick as passionately dedicated to his family and his sport. “He goes full speed or he’s asleep,” says Monica.

“My dad is fun, adventurous, caring and supportive,” adds Erika. “He lives life to the fullest and makes me want to strive to be like him. When he does something, he puts everything that he has into it.”

Westrick’s second attempt at the course again ended early, but that’s where this story of physical strength gains depth. Sure, Westrick knows what hurt his performance. “I ran at 2:30 a.m.,” he says. “I was out of my comfort zone because I hadn’t eaten in hours. Then the anxiety set in, and I choked.”

Initially, Westrick struggled after his second attempt on the show and says he “felt emotionally drained.” But within the depths of regret, he had an epiphany and, perhaps, a divine intervention.

On his way home from St. Louis, he reflected on his performance as Monica drove. “I was still frustrated, feeling cheated and sorry for myself, so I closed my eyes and started to pray again,” he says. “This time I asked God what he needed me to learn from this experience. I had trained so hard. I knew that I could conquer that course. I had full expectations of coming home a winner.”

Within 30 seconds of that prayer, Westrick says his phone chimed. It was a return text from a close friend that simply read: “Don’t let this get you. Your identity is in Christ alone.” With those words, the feelings of defeat lifted and a renewed purpose flowed.

“My identity is in nothing physical; it’s all spiritual,” he says. “God reminded me that it’s about him. It’s not about me. As a lifelong Christian I understand that, but it’s still easy to get caught up with winning, ego, success and recognition — all things our world has to offer. Spiritually speaking, those things mean nothing. I look at ANW as an opportunity for me to be a good example of a Christian. That’s how I want to be remembered. Not as a ninja warrior, but as a Christ follower.”

Moving forward, Westrick plans on trying out a third time for the show. Season 8 will air on the Esquire Network, but NBC has not yet released the premiere date. This time, Westrick hopes to appear with some of his team members from the Fast Five, while ultimately reaching the last obstacle and hitting that completion buzzer. But this time, with each challenge, he’ll honor his personal code.

“I am a follower of Christ first; a husband to Monica, second; a father and grandfather, third; a hard worker, fourth,” he says, “and maybe a racer, fitness guru or ninja — if God wants.”