Three MIT students showed the world that the Institute can be just as successful on the obstacle course as they are in the lab when they were nearly crowned champions on the sports competition show Team Ninja Warriors: College Madness.
In the show—a spin-off of the popular American Ninja Warrior—competitors from 16 universities raced each other and the clock in a series of obstacles spread over five episodes. MIT was represented by Charlie Andrews-Jubelt ’17, Amelia Becker ’17, and Tomas Cabrera ’19. The Engineers defeated Oklahoma, Texas A&M, and Connecticut in an episode that originally aired on Nov. 29. In the championship, which aired Dec. 20, MIT defeated Georgia and UCLA before a split-second loss to Wisconsin in the final round.
“Being on the course felt like you were playing a live-action video game,” says Andrews-Jubelt. “When the cameras are on and you're about to race, it's almost too much excitement and fear to handle, and your conscious mind sort of checks out for a while. Our team went through lots of visualization and planning to make sure this wouldn't be a problem.”
The students relied on unique training regimens to prepare for the competition. Andrews-Jubelt and Amelia Becker, who first met as high school students at Campus Preview Weekend, founded the MIT Climbing Club. And Cabrera, also an avid climber, trained in part through his summer job: cart-pushing at Wal-Mart.
"Pushing around 70-pound shopping carts for eight hours a day in sometimes 100-degree temperatures did quite a bit for me in terms of cardio," Cabrera says.
In the Nov. 29 episode, MIT first dispatched UConn and OU in the Ring of Fire, Sonic Swing, and Swing Jump obstacles, before dispatching Texas A&M in the relay run. Andrews-Jubelt put the Engineers over the top by hitting MIT's seventh straight buzzer of the day.
In the Dec. 20 championship final, MIT edged Georgia by just 0.01 seconds. In the final leg of the championship relay, Wisconsin came from behind to win by 0.6 seconds to take the title.
The trio’s path to the finals was aided by a cardinal-and-grey clad MIT cheering section organized by the MIT Club of Southern California. More than 30 alumni and friends attended the two days of filming in Los Angeles and later organized an alumni happy hour event to watch the Nov. 29 episode. (An MIT watch party was also featured on SBNation.com’s American Ninja Warrior blog.)
“Who knew we'd evolve from tiddlywinks to this?" says cheering section member Jonathan Lukoff '71. "It was very exciting. The course was tough and many athletes failed, but watching all of them try—fail or succeed—was thrilling."
The alums also tried to do MIT's famous “E to the U" cheer, "but mainly we just yelled 'M-I-T, M-I-T!' as loud as possible," says club vice president Anu Sood ’86, SM ’87.