Staying on course: UMD student will be featured on Monday's episode of 'American Ninja Warrior'
Dalton Knapp was 10 years old when he faced an obstacle far bigger than anything the producers at "American Ninja Warrior" could possibly put in his path.
Knapp, now a senior at the University of Minnesota Duluth, was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of leukemia when he was in elementary school. It was a battle that lasted more than a year and left him weak and underweight at 56 pounds.
"I had a hard time walking," Knapp said in a phone interview from his home in Suamico, Wis. "I had no muscle, basically, at all. I had to relearn how to run and jump and do all the things that normal kids could do."
Now, more than 10 years cancer-free, he will do something normal people cannot.
Knapp will be featured on Monday's episode of the reality competition "American Ninja Warrior," a game show pitting athletes against an extreme obstacle course that includes feats of strength, like the salmon ladder, instances of physics-busting, like the warped wall. The show airs at 7 p.m. on NBC-TV and will also include runs by his brother, Drew Knapp, and friend Luke Jameson Chambers.
Dalton Knapp said he and his brothers watched the series while he was in the hospital, with an eye toward maybe, someday, after all of this, competing in it. Back at home, they created their own backyard course. By the time he was a senior in high school, he said, he had mastered the obstacles.
Drew Knapp, especially, took to the sport. As soon as he turned 21, he tried out and was accepted for Season 8 — with a storyline about what Dalton had been through.
"(We are) super close," Drew Knapp said. "We've always been rivals in everything. We're super competitive with each other. When he was diagnosed, it changed a lot of things for us. His strength, courage and his will power was incredible. To go from nothing to where he is now is crazy inspiring. He's definitely an inspiration. He's been a hero of mine for a while."
Drew Knapp advanced to the Indianapolis finals in Season 8, but was taken out by the same rolling log he had mastered in his previous run.
"It was pretty frustrating," he said. "I felt like my whole ninja warrior journey got cut short. This is a redemption year for me."
"That's the obstacle every ninja hates," Dalton Knapp added. "It's something you can't train for."
Drew Knapp, who broke his leg last August, was invited to return for Season 9 — and the show's producers held his competition date until around Drew's 21st birthday so he, too, would be old enough to compete.
They ran the course more than a month ago in Denver.
"As soon as I walked up the steps to the course, a surge of adrenaline hit," Dalton Knapp said. "I've never been so excited in my life."
A group of 20 family and friends were in the audience — including their father, who built the boys' first jungle gym.
"It was just a blessing," said Craig Knapp. "It just warms our hearts as a family to know what (Dalton) went through and to know that nothing stopped him from excelling at whatever he wants to excel at."
The Knapps are not allowed to reveal details on what obstacles they faced or how they fared. But Drew Knapp can say that it was a dream come true.
"(Dalton) has been waiting for that moment for so long," he said. "It was crazy to be there with him, to be competing."
The Knapps are back to training in their backyard. They have four permanent structures, with 20 other mobile options they can add. Later this year, the Knapps are opening a training gym near Green Bay.
What: "American Ninja Warrior" episode featuring UMD senior Dalton Knapp
When: 7 p.m. Monday