From Surface Warrior to “Ninja Warrior:” Norfolk-Based Naval Officer Competes in Network TV Challenge

A U. S. Naval officer wants to become an “American Ninja Warrior.”

Lt. Deon Graham, a native of Hackensack, N.J., competed in the city trials of The American Ninja television show in the San Pedro, Calif., June 5-7, vying to become the show’s top competitor.

Graham, a nuclear-trained Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) assigned to Carriers Strike Group (CSG) 4, was chosen from among 50,000 applicants to compete for a chance to win $1,000,000 in what the show calls “a series of challenging obstacle courses” that test a competitor’s endurance, balance, upper body strength and grip strength.

This season, the series teamed up with the nonprofit military veteran organization Got Your 6 to shoot two special episodes featuring an all-military cast of active-duty and retired personnel.

“It’s been an awesome experience. I remember watching the show in the past and saying, ‘I want to try that one day.’ But to actually participate has been amazing,” said Graham.

Graham’s opportunity to compete came almost by chance. He was watching an episode last season and wondered how he could get involved.

“So, I ‘Googled’ the show last year and submitted my email address to be contacted to audition for the show.”

Once contacted, Graham, whose initials are “DDG,” completed an application and submitted a three-minute video to the show’s website in January, which he later posted to YouTube. A producer called him in April to say that he was chosen for the show’s taping outside of Los Angeles.

“When I got the call, I was speechless. I hadn’t heard anything for three month and figured it wasn’t going to happen. It’s still kind of crazy to me,” said Graham.

Because of show rules, the 29-year old Graham cannot discuss how he did until the competition airs, but he does say that it has been “an opportunity of a lifetime.”

“I’ve met a lot of really cool people who are just as committed to physical training as I am. In fact, I’ve found a training partner in the area, who was also a competitor,” said Graham. “I’ve connected with so many people – not only other first-time competitors like me, but also veterans of the show who’ve competed over multiple seasons.”

He’s also been connected to top brass in the Navy. Adm. Michelle Howard, the Vice Chief of Naval Operations (VCNO) approved Graham and four others to compete in the show. In addition, Graham has received support from his command and others in the Navy.

Though he was born and raised in New Jersey, Graham graduated from A. L. Brown High School in Kannapolis, N.C. After graduation, he enlisted in the Navy and was selected for the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program (NNPP). Later, he was chosen to become a Naval officer through the Seaman to Admiral-21 (STA-21) commissioning program. Then he received a Bachelor’s of Civil Engineering (BCE) in three years from Auburn University.

“I have a lot of orange and blue pride,” said Graham. “If I wasn’t at the gym or in class, you could find me at Jordan-Hare Stadium cheering on my Tigers!”

For Graham being active and working out has always been a way of life. He really turned up the commitment, however, during his second deployment onboard the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) in 2013.

“Working out on Truman was my therapy,” he said with a smile. “The gym was my outlet. Nothing got in the way of my one and a half hour work out, and I was much better off for it.”

He has that same attitude in his role as the Command Fitness Leader (CFL) for CSG-4.

“American Ninja Warrior,” which is in its seventh season, premiered on May 25. When we will see Graham on TV, however, depends on the duration of the NHL Stanley Cup Final. But he knows a lot of people are interested.

“People are planning a ‘watch party’ at a local restaurant, and my family is extremely excited. We all can’t wait for it to air,” said Graham.

By Lt. Cmdr. Patrick Evans, Carrier Strike Group 4 Public Affairs Officer

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