Candace Granberg, M.D., looked down at her buzzing phone and saw a Los Angeles area code. Hollywood — or at least NBC — was calling. Dr. Granberg stepped out of a meeting to answer and received the news that she'd been selected to compete on American Ninja Warrior. "I did a little happy dance in the hallway," Dr. Granberg, a pediatric urologist at Mayo Clinic, tells us.
It wasn't the first time she's done that dance. Two years ago, Dr. Granberg was invited to take a shot at the show's course in Denver. And while she's continued to work out on the regular, Dr. Granberg wasn't planning a return to the national ninja stage. "I wasn't sure I wanted to or would be able to have time to train," she says.
Then one of her patients, an "amazing little boy named Finn," passed away. He was just 3 years old and had battled a rare cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma most of his life. After his death, Dr. Granberg realized she could use an appearance on the show to make a difference for kids like Finn, so she submitted another application video. "I wanted to dedicate my run to honor him, and raise awareness for rhabdomyosarcoma and the need for more research and better treatments," says Dr. Granberg, who attempted the course during filming in Tacoma. "We just have to find a way to beat this."
Dr. Granberg's frequent training partner, Andrew Yori, was also selected to run this year's course, and he will be making his fourth appearance on the show. Like Dr. Granberg, he'll use his TV time to raise awareness for a cause close to his heart.
Yori, a supervisor in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at Mayo Clinic, will appear on the show's Atlanta episode, competing as the K9 Ninja and advocating for homeless dogs. "I want to use this platform for something besides me," he tells us. "There are a lot of dogs in kennels waiting for a home. I want to help them get adopted." (If you want to help, too, Yori is hosting a pledge-a-thon, seeking donations for each obstacle he completes on the show. The money raised will be used to help dogs living in shelters.)
While Dr. Granberg and Yori both have big hearts, it's their other big muscles that have earned them spots on the show. Both put in many hours of training each week. "It keeps me young," Yori says. "I can do stuff now that I couldn't do 10 years ago. It's fun to challenge yourself and see what you're capable of."
That's a good approach to a workout — and to life. It's just one of many lessons Yori and Dr. Granberg have learned throughout their experiences on the show. "Being on American Ninja Warrior is quite representative of life," Dr. Granberg tells us. "You're facing tough, unknown obstacles with no practice and no do-overs."
Although the stakes may seem high on TV, Dr. Granberg knows they're nothing like the stakes her patients and their families face every day. "Our patients are facing much tougher obstacles in their lives when they come to Mayo Clinic," she says. "We all must be cognizant of the fact that everyone is fighting some sort of battle, and never lose sight of the small part we can play in helping them through it."
Confidentiality rules prevent Yori and Dr. Granberg from telling us how they did on the course. To find out, you'll need to tune in. Scenes from the Atlanta course, where Yori competed, will air June 5. Scenes from Tacoma will air June 24.
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