Winter 2020

Class Note

Colleen Barney, ’93: Ninja Warrior

By Lori Atherton

 Colleen Barney competing at Ninja Warrior

If you’ve ever watched American Ninja Warrior (ANW), perhaps you’ve imagined yourself scaling the Warped Wall. Colleen Barney, ’93, pictured herself doing that too—and made the cut to compete in Season 11 of the popular sports entertainment reality television show.

Barney—a 5’2” dynamo from California who races in the Masters Division of the USA Track & Field Program—got the call last February from ANW producers that she was a contestant in the Los Angeles qualifying round. There was little time for celebration, though, as Barney needed to be in top form for her performance weeks later in early March. She practiced by tackling the obstacle course at MLAB, a parkour and ninja training facility in San Dimas.

Barney arrived at Universal Studios in LA, where ANW is filmed, by 4 p.m. on a Wednesday; she was contestant number 33 out of 100 selected for that city. At 52, Barney says she wanted to “make it further than any woman over 50 has gone on Ninja Warrior.” Because of rain delays, she couldn’t run the course until 1:30 a.m. the next morning. Despite the seemingly endless wait, Barney didn’t let nerves get the best of her.

“One of my track friends, who had been on American Gladiators decades earlier, came with me,” Barney says. “She kept sending me messages, reminding me that this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and to appreciate and enjoy every moment of it.”

When it finally was Barney’s turn to take the course, she went out after the first obstacle—a new one called Shrinking Steps that she likened to running on Bobbleheads. 

“As you ran across them, they moved up and down and bobbed forwards and backwards,” Barney says. “Because I’m a sprinter, I thought it would be easy. But as soon as I hit each step, I went into balancing mode and couldn’t make it to the fifth step.”

Only about 40 competitors are shown in each ANW episode, and Barney wasn’t one of them when Season 11 premiered on May 29. “I knew there was a significant chance that my story wasn’t going to be picked,” she says, “and I was okay with that.”

An investor in a Newport Beach gym, “which has all sorts of cool equipment,” Barney says she put together her ANW audition video on a lark. She and her track friends were doing “crazy activities” that resembled those on American Ninja Warrior, and they suggested Barney try out for the show.

Her video—which she posted to Facebook and has more than 5,000 views—was filmed in her Irvine law office, where she practices estate planning, trusts, and probate. She describes how she sustained a freak weightlifting injury in college that broke her back and forced her to give up running for more than a decade. 

Barney took up the sport again at age 35 when one of her daughters got interested in running. 

Now, Barney races in—and wins—national and international track competitions. She is a world-champion sprinter in the 100 meters and a four-time national champion in the 100 meters, 200 meters, and 400 meters in her age group.

Being a track and field star has given Barney a healthy perspective about her ANW experience. 

“At the end of the day, I got to do something super cool that tons of people haven’t gotten to do,” Barney says. “I got my 15 minutes of fame with my friends on Facebook. The experience has allowed me to be a little less serious and to enjoy being in the moment more.”