Service Tech by Day, American Ninja Warrior by Night
Jody Avila reflects on his 5-season journey…
ClimateZone | Trane Technologies
Monday, November 16, 2020
From 9-5, Jody Avila focuses on roof top units (RTUs) and various light commercial equipment. But after work, it’s all about the Salmon Ladder, Warped Wall, Spider Trap and other wackily named obstacles.
The Hunton Group service technician from Houston just finished his fifth season on NBC’s hit show “American Ninja Warrior.” He competed in the finals earlier this month, and placed 15th overall.
An early loss during his first season back in 2016 proved to be the catalyst for innovative training, self-discovery and a family-wide passion.
Read more about Jody’s journey to ninja-dom, the truth behind his ‘Big Dog Ninja’ persona and what his coworkers and customers think about his celebrity.
What first sparked your interest in the show?
I’ve always been really into calisthenics and working out, so I liked the physicality and competitiveness of it. I applied to be on season 8 without ever having been to a ‘ninja gym,’ and I made it on the show.
That first season, I fell on the fourth obstacle, in the qualifying round. The top 30 move on – and I finished in 31st place. I always tell people, the moment I fell in the water is the moment I became a ninja and started getting serious about training. I built a huge setup in my backyard, and ever since it’s been a passion for my entire family. I love it – it’s therapeutic for me.
How did you come up with the nickname ‘Big Dog Ninja?’
It was actually given to me by one of the two hosts, Akbar Gbaja-Biamila. When I hit my first-ever buzzer in season 8, he was pretty excited and kind of hyped me up by saying ‘you’re the Big Dog Ninja now!’ – and it stuck. Which is funny, because I’m actually really scared of dogs! But I’ve embraced the moniker.
What’s your favorite obstacle?
Every season we have so many crazy ones! I would say the Corkscrew is my favorite. You jump up and it spins you around, like a corkscrew turning. Once you’re on the bottom, you have to launch yourself back up and you do it 3 times total. That thing is insane, but such a creative and fun obstacle.
How do you balance work and training?
I wouldn’t be the ninja that I am if it weren’t for the backyard setup that I built. I wouldn’t have the time to go to work, come home, go to a ninja gym or watch the kids if my wife is working. So the kids can play outside while I get a pretty intense workout.
It sounds like a true family affair.
Absolutely. 99% of my training is done in the backyard with our 9-year-old son, who is much better at this than I am! My wife competed this season as well, which was really special. She was on the qualifying episode, and we were in St. Louis together for a few days during filming. She’s an ICU nurse for Houston Methodist Hospital, which has doubled as the facility’s designated COVID unit since March. She was also on the show two years ago in Indianapolis, and was called back for season 12.
With the coronavirus pandemic, this season was different than any other. We filmed the entire thing in one location only, so there were no friends, no family, no crowd, no fans – just the ninjas and the production team. So having my wife there made the experience even more memorable and personal. I have a true passion for this, and I cherish being able to do it with my family.
Do your kids think you’re the coolest person ever?
Not at all! I’m just their dad – that’s it. Especially my 4-year-old, he couldn’t care less. Even when he sees me on TV! My 9-year-old doesn’t tell his friends his dad’s on TV or anything – he’s very humble that way. Which I’m totally ok with.
What about your coworkers?
Everyone is extremely supportive – I’m so grateful for that. A lot of coworkers tell me they watch the show with their kids and root me on. Some have asked for a picture because their kids don’t believe their parent works with me.
It’s even funnier when I walk up to a job site I’ve never even been to, and the customer is like, hey, you’re that ninja warrior guy! It’s pretty cool.
Do you think being a good ninja makes you a better technician?
From a strength aspect, definitely. For the most part (in a safe way, of course!), I can lift stuff up, throw heavy equipment over my shoulder… carry two nitrogen tanks and move compressors around – that type of thing.
You were quoted in an article before Season 11 debuted saying, “I don’t enjoy the success as much as I hate the failure.” Is that still your mindset?
I’ve recognized that I need to get better at enjoying the process. I’m so focused on the finish line that, in the moment, I don’t realize how much work I’ve put into hitting that buzzer. Even this last season when I had the fastest time of the night during the premiere, the moment was already forgotten and I was thinking about the next run. But it can be a good thing, in a way, too – it keeps me hungry!
What else have you learned about yourself through competing?
That I am extremely driven – and I didn’t realize just how much until I started on the show.
Even now – the show is over – and you’d think I would take some time off and rest, but no. I got home from my flight and three days later I was resetting the backyard obstacles to plot out and run another, more difficult course.
If you could choose anyone in the world – living or not – to watch you compete, who would it be?
Wow, that is a question I’ve never been asked before! I know I’ll think about this later and have a better answer. I’m going to go with the late Kobe Bryant, because I’m a huge fan, and it’s probably the only thing I could do to impress him. And I’m sure he was one of the hardest people to impress!
What’s next for you?
Working in HVAC is my career for life, and everyone at Hunton and Trane being so supportive is huge for me. At the end of the day, American Ninja Warrior is just a hobby that I’m extremely passionate about.
Watch Jody hit the fastest time of the night during Season 12, plus more of his amazing feats and highlights.