During this week’s American Ninja Warrior finals, Hamden’s Drew Drechsel was a crowd favorite. Fans flooded the Las Vegas arena, chanting his name and he delivered.
The 30-year-old Connecticut gym owner became just the second $1 million winner on NBC’s popular obstacle course competition show.
Tuesday, he celebrated with Ellen Degeneres, who surprised Drechsel with the $1 million winner’s check.
“Oh my god, look at all those zeros!” he said, as Degeneres handed the prize. “That’s a lot of zeros!”
During his conversation with the talk show host, Drechsel explained how an early career injury provided motivation.
“I had a really bad knee injury and that was the fire under me to come back again and get a fair shot,” Drechsel explained, who won in his ninth attempt.
Those who work with Drechsel at his “Real Life Ninja Academy” never had a doubt their colleague would bring home the victory.
“I definitely knew it would happen at some time,” said Mike Elwell, who is one of two head coaches at the academy. “His drive. His motivation. It’s been a goal of his for so many years.”
Derek Mathews is also a head coach at the academy. In 2017 he competed on the show and knows just how good Drechsel is.
“Everyone thinks he’s not human and there’s some cases where I don’t think he’s human,” added Mathews.
Perhaps Drechsel will use some prize money, to further develop his “Real Life Ninja Academy,” a specialized gym, with three Connecticut locations, training the ninjas of the future.
“It’s different because in other sports you’re just running around,” said Jackson Stiles, a young teen from East Windsor. “Here, you’re swinging from stuff.”
The academy is not a normal gym. There are no weights, ellipticals or anything traditional. The exercises mimic that found on the show. While strength and endurance are gained thru training, technique is emphasized.
“You could be the strongest person in the world but if you don’t know how some of these obstacles or you don’t know how to operate your body on these obstacles, it’s going to be a struggle,” explained Mathews.
Instructors at the academy say they seen the sport explode in the past five years and wouldn’t be surprised if it one day became an Olympic sport.
“It’s definitely a sport that’s in its infancy,” says Elwell, “It’s gonna take a number of years to get there But definitely something that has a lot of potential.”