By Alexa LaVersa, news correspondent
Northeastern senior Josh Levin and 16 other athletes competed in the American Ninja Warrior (ANW) season finale this past week for the chance to win $1,000,000. Levin did not earn the title of American ninja warrior, but he achieved another goal by making a public statement about the importance of organ donation.
ANW is an NBC sports entertainment TV show featuring obstacle course competitions.
While competing on ANW, Levin wore a bright green bracelet to encourage people to become organ donors, and he often spoke on camera to encourage people to sign up on donatelife.net to register as organ donors.
“If you have one minute to talk to 8 million people, what would you say? I took that pretty seriously and realized this was an opportunity to promote a very positive and powerful social message,” Levin said.
Levin, a 22-year-old mechanical engineering major, emerged victorious from the ANW Los Angeles semifinals in July, earning himself a spot at the final competition in Las Vegas on Aug. 28.
In the four-stage ANW finale, the Sunnyvale, California native finished strong in Stage 1 and was the first athlete to move on to Stage 2.
Stage 1 consists of obstacles that test the agility and speed of competitors, while Stage 2 tests strength and speed. Contestants must complete challenges that test their upper-body strength without running out of time.
The Stage 2 course included a giant ring swing, a salmon ladder – a structure the competitor must climb across using a movable rung, a wave runner and a wall flip. Despite Levin’s show of skill and physical exertion, he lost his grip in the second half of the course and did not progress to Stage 3.
Levin said that he had a good experience on the show in part because of his positive relationship with the other contestants.
“There’s a huge sense of camaraderie and that’s because for us, the focus isn’t on beating each other, it’s on beating the obstacles,” Levin said. “We’re all really in it together.”
While Levin said he trained for ANW out of his love for competitive climbing, he competed to make a statement about the need for organ donors. He is passionate about this cause because his childhood climbing coach, Stacey Collver, received a double lung transplant in 2004 after being diagnosed with Lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAN), a rare lung disease.
“Being an organ donor was an easy answer for me, having known Stacey for so many years and knowing what it meant to her to have this anonymous donor give her this second chance at life,” Levin said. “It’s not just one person; you have the opportunity to save up to eight people’s lives by signing up as an organ donor.”
While 95 percent of adults over 18-years-old in the United States say they support organ donation, only 48 percent are registered as organ donors, according to organdonor.gov.
“There’s all these misconceptions, and I wanted to raise awareness about it and have people think about it.” Levin said. “Maybe people who were already signed up as ‘no’ for one reason or another can see it’s a very easy cause to support, and that they can help people like Stacey just by saying ‘yes’.”
Collver now needs a second lung transplant. According to organdonor.gov, 119,000 Americans like her are waiting to receive organs.
Charlie Andrews, a senior mathematics major at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has trained with Levin for many years and said that he respects his fellow climber’s call for organ donation.
“To call attention to a really important human problem that is going on, that has affected him personally and his loved ones, I think that was really important and really speaks to his character,” Anders said.
Northeastern senior Evan Goldfinger, who co-founded the Northeastern Climbing team with Levin, was on co-op in California when he watched Levin use his national platform.
“Most people either don’t know or don’t have an opinion [about organ donation], so it’s good Josh is bringing awareness to it,” Goldfinger said. “It’s a lot of fun being in the audience, and it was very cool, although very different than watching it on TV.”
Levin recently finished a co-op with Apple in the spring and said he plans to continue participating in local competitions and helping out with the Northeastern climbing team this school year. He is aiming to try out for Season 9 of ANW this spring before graduation.
Levin is now also considering competing in climbing on an even bigger platform – officials are currently discussing adding rock-climbing to the 2020 Olympics.
“It’s been one of my dreams, since I was a little kid, to compete at the Olympic level in rock-climbing,” Levin said. “I’m waiting to see what the actual qualifications are for this before officially announcing that I’m for sure going to try and go for it, but it seems like an awesome opportunity, and it makes sense for me to see if I can go for it.”
Photo courtesy of NBC