"American Ninja Warrior" has garnered an audience of over 5 million people over the past 9 seasons, but last week 6 million tuned in to see “The Papal Ninja” Sean Bryan make the best time of the night on the intimidating obstacle course.
Bryan isn’t just unique because he’s fast, despite undergoing three shoulder surgeries. He spoke to Mike Opelka about his devotion to his Roman Catholic faith, which he proudly displays in the form of the papal insignia, on Monday’s “Pure Opelka.”
Those familiar with the show know that supporters who come to cheer on the competitors end up on camera. Bryan has had, in addition to his parents, an assortment of priests and religious order brothers in full vestments. He hopes the exposure on network television will “animate the laity" to understand their role and mission in the church -- a function he performs for the Dominicans, a Catholic religious order devoted to preaching and study.
The former collegiate gymnast has a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of California, Berkeley. It was in college that his faith “came alight," leading him to obtain a Master of Arts in theology. The shoulder injuries aligned him away from pure gymnastics toward Apex Movement in nearby Concord, California, which has a "ninja gym."
If Bryan wins the Las Vegas national final, he will be given $1 million. He said only two people have made it that far in the past two seasons. Mike, a Roman Catholic himself, said he will light some candles for Sean.