DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR
MARBLE FALLS — At 57, Brian Magerkurth could spend his free time taking on 18 holes of golf. But then, that just wouldn’t be him. As a student-athlete at Marble Falls High School, Magerkurth loved to throw himself skyward in the pole vault.
“I love pole vaulting,” he said. “You get to combine sprinting, gymnastics and everything.”
Even today, Magerkurth maintains a high level of physical fitness and activity. In fact, he’s never really allowed himself to get out of shape. As a physical fitness instructor at West Point, he had to keep himself fit.
“It’s just part of who I am,” he said.
But when a colleague urged him to try out for the NBC show “American Ninja Warrior,” Magerkurth balked. He admitted he didn’t know much about the show, and when he did look it over, he wasn’t sure it was up his alley. But after a bit more urging, Magerkurth caved and submitted his application along with a video he and his son, Tyler, produced for consideration.
Then, Magerkurth got the word: He was in.
“I think they had somewhere around 50,000 applicants and picked only 400 for this season, so that’s why I think I’ve already won,” he said.
But he’s not saying entering is good enough.
“I want to be the oldest person to complete the course,” Magerkurth said.
In “American Ninja Warrior,” contestants race along an obstacle course featuring challenges such as the Warped Wall, the Salmon Ladder, the Spinning Bridge and the Jumping Spider. They race for the best time as well as getting the farthest if they don’t complete the course.
Magerkurth will compete June 5-6 in San Pedro, California, in a special military edition. The battleship USS Iowa will be brought in to serve as a backdrop for this episode, which will be televised at a later date. Magerkurth and the other contestants will attempt to qualify for the city finals. Those who finish in the top rankings of the city finals advance to the national finals in Las Vegas. Each round brings more challenging obstacles.
But Magerkurth has never been one to shy away from obstacles. As a teen, he tackled the pole vault, eventually earning a bronze medal at the state high school track meet in 1975. After graduation, he attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point before becoming an officer in the Army. He retired as a lieutenant colonel, but from 1988 to 2004, he was a professor of exercise physiology at West Point, where he trained and led cadets.
All the time, he kept working out.
“If you’re going to train cadets, you have to be in shape,” Magerkurth said.
During part of the application process, show officials wanted to know who his heroes were. He listed his mom, Pat Magerkurth, who still lives in Marble Falls. She suffered a major injury when she was struck by an airplane’s moving propeller. He also talked about his wife, Valarie, an 11-year cancer survivor, and son Tyler, also a West Point graduate, who was injured in Afghanistan.
While Magerkurth is excited about simply being selected for the show, he isn’t cutting back on his training. If anything, he’s picked it up a notch. After seeing some of the types of obstacles he might face on the course, Magerkurth has hung a rope on his porch to work on his climbing.
“And I’ve set up two sets of gymnastic rings where I practice swinging from one set to the other,” he added. “I’m taking this very seriously. After all, it’s on TV, and if I don’t do very well, I’ll have to hear about it for the rest of my life. So I’m definitely committed.”
The heart of Magerkurth’s training remains with the style he’s followed for years. He shuns the weight room and heavy weights in favor of bodyweight movements.
“Anything I do is about moving my body across the battlefield,” he said. “When I was teaching at West Point, that’s what I’d teach the cadets, keep your body moving across the battlefield.”
Along with free body exercises, he bikes and swims. Though instead of running, Magerkurth walks on an inclining treadmill. He says it’s easier on his joints and knees, just like the bodyweight movements, compared to squatting and bench pressing with heavy weights.
“I have a whole bunch of different workouts that I use,” he said.
While Magerkurth has always kept a high level of physical fitness (he competes in masters track-and-field events in Canada and the United States and holds the Canadian masters pole vault record for men 55 and older), he believes even those who have let their fitness slip can get started down the right path.
“Just start,” Magerkurth urged. “Even if it’s just getting out and walking, do it. Do something every day because if you start doing something every day, soon you’ll start seeing a difference.”
While it might seem indomitable, Magerkurth said getting into shape is kind of like walking up a hill.
“When you walk up a hill one step at a time, you’re looking at the ground in front of you,” he said. “Then, after awhile, you stop and look behind you, (and) you’ll see how far you’ve climbed the hill. So just start one step at a time.”
As for the “American Ninja Warrior” competition, Magerkurth knows it’s going to be a bit different than the track-and-field competitions in which he faces people in his age bracket. There are no such brackets in the TV competition. And since he’s competing in a special military edition (the qualifiers will feed into the regular competition), Magerkurth understands who else might be at the San Pedro qualifier.
“I’m humbled by this chance,” he said. “To think I’m competing with some Army Rangers and Navy SEALS, that’s amazing. Even though you go against the course and the time, you still want to do your best.”
Though he now lives in Huntsville, Alabama, where he works for a pharmaceutical company, Magerkurth still keeps his Marble Falls connections alive.
“I’ve had such a great outpouring of support from my Class of ’76 high school buddies, it’s just great,” Magerkurth said.
So don’t be looking for Magerkurth on the golf course anytime soon, unless he’s walking across the 18th green — on his hands.
“American Ninja Warrior” airs Mondays at 7 p.m. on NBC.