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Chico State

Alum Shows Her Skills on ‘American Ninja Warrior’

Cheyenne Arrington flies through the air as she swings from bar to bar at the beach.
Photos courtesy of Cheyenne Arrington

Cheyenne Arrington flies through the air while training for American Ninja Warrior

Cheyenne Arrington doesn’t see obstacles. Challenges, she said, whether physical, mental, or emotional, are simply an experience to push past.

She’s had to lean on this attitude a lot since November, when she and her family lost their home in the Camp Fire. After graduating magna cum laude in December, Arrington (Exercise Physiology, ’18) tapped into her perseverance and can-do outlook once again this spring, when she had the chance to compete on American Ninja Warrior.

Proudly competing under the motto “Paradise Strong,” Arrington fulfilled a lifelong dream by putting her athletic and mental skills to the test and, she hoped, serving as an inspiration to survivors everywhere, but especially those of the Camp Fire. The show will air Wednesday, May 29, at 8 p.m. on NBC.

“I wasn’t running to say that my hometown burned down. I was running to say that there are things to look forward to and thank you to everyone who supported us,” she said. “Not only was it a dream—because who doesn’t want to be on American Ninja Warrior—but I wanted to show you can overcome any obstacles in life. I wanted to say, ‘Look at these obstacles. We are overcoming them together.’”

In the show, competitors try to complete a timed series of challenges that test their strength, fitness, and endurance. While Arrington can’t divulge how well she performed, she had to sprint, balance, and jump her way through the course—familiar activities for someone who grew up adventuring in the canyons and rivers around Paradise and picked up freestyle cliff diving as a hobby at a Butte County swimming hole.

It’s also a fit for her educational background in human biomechanics. Studying how the body works was the perfect major, she said, as it combined her recreational interests with a career in helping people through engineering.

On November 8, she was in her 8 a.m. class at Chico State, readying for a quiz when she saw the darkening skies through her classroom window. She told her professor she had to leave and rushed back to Paradise in time to grab her laundry basket, grandparents’ and parents’ wedding photos, and a handful of baby pictures before she fled from the encroaching flames.

Wearing workout clothes, Cheyenne stands with her arms crossed in the ashes of her family home.
Born and raised in Paradise, Cheyenne lived with her parents and next door to her grandmother. Both homes burned in the Camp Fire.

“Once something like that happens, there is nothing you can do. You may as not dwell on it and just push forward. What are you going to do next?” she said.

She applied for University housing assistance and a Wildcats Rise Fire Recovery Fund grant, which provided her with a room and access to Sutter Dining for the rest of the semester.

“It was so useful to live next to college and have food next to school,” she said. “That was my whole reason I was able to finish my last semester. I felt so much love from Chico State, and from all of my professors.”

It was while she was living with other students displaced by the Camp Fire that she saw a posting to apply for American Ninja Warrior. Her roommates encouraged her to apply, so she made a video and heard back in early February that she had been accepted for a March taping in Los Angeles. The show asked her to wear a shirt that said “Paradise Strong” when she competed, because it was a key part of her story, and Arrington was happy to represent her home.

She immediately took her exercise regimen to a new level. She put in countless hours on the rock wall at the Chico State Wildcat Recreation Center and CrossFit VCP gym in Chico allowed her to practice on its pegboard for free. She moved to Sacramento and then the Bay Area, where she started logging hours at Apex NorCal, a ninja training gym in Concord, in addition to running and hiking.

Wearing a wetsuit, Cheyenne jumps off the top of a waterfall toward the water below.
Cheyenne discovered freestyle cliff diving while exploring the outdoors of Butte County. She has since traveled all over the West Coast, Canada, and Costa Rica in pursuit of new destinations for her hobby.

Arrington knew American Ninja Warrior would really test her upper body strength but also her ability to hang on to things and swing through the air. She focused on swinging obstacles and grip strength, launching off trampolines to jump up and grab bars.

She was hoping her competition course would include climbing or swinging on ropes. She was most anxious that there would be a “salmon ladder”—where you climb vertically by jumping a pull-up bar so it catches itself on a higher row of pegs—so she trained on the one at Apex every day until she felt like she had mastered it.

She also put in hours on the “warped wall”—a steeply curving 14 ½-foot wall that competitors have to run up and climb over.

“They don’t look that bad on TV, they really don’t, but once I tried it at Apex, they are significantly steeper than you realize. You have to jump and just full-force go for it,” Arrington said.

As she trained, she continuously found herself tapping into core lessons from her major.

“In exercise physiology, you learn all about your muscle groups and how they interact,” she said. “Going back to the salmon ladder, it’s really kinematic. It’s about being able to control your body in its sequence—you are not just throwing yourself up there.”

Faculty member Reid Cross was not surprised when she called this spring to tell him about the competition. During his time as her instructor and her service as a teaching assistant in his ropes course class last semester, he was continually struck by her adventurous and unstoppable spirit.

“That’s just who she is. One of the things she always said was ‘You should never trust your fears because they don’t know your strengths,’” he said. “She embraced that philosophy and she just lived it.”

But perhaps more importantly, Cross said, is how Arrington’s attitude inspires others to reach new heights. Whether sitting on the top of a pole to encourage students across an obstacle or leading them through teambuilding activities, she wants others to find the confidence that seems to come so naturally to her.

“She’s got a great deal of compassion for other people who are not as brave as she is to do things, and she really works with them to push through some of their fears,” he said. “The ropes course is not American Gladiators. It’s about finding a sense of belonging and a sense of place, and working with other people and pushing yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally.”

Wearing a helmet and big smile, Cheyenne Arrington hangs from the tops of the ropes course with the Wildcat logo visible on the boiler-chiller tower behind her.
Cheyenne believes every student at Chico State should enroll in the ropes course program because of the leadership and confidence developed during the class.

Arrington’s mom, boyfriend, two siblings, and a friend from Canada joined her at the competition, all wearing Paradise Strong shirts and with a Paradise Strong sign. On her own shirt she wore the popular Butte Strong logo designed by alum Zac Acker (Attended, 1997–98).

When competitors reach the stage, it’s typical for the audience to start to shout the individual’s name. But when Arrington walked up, something else happened.

“They were saying ‘Paradise, Paradise,’” she said. “I just about cried, because everyone knew. It was a nationally known disaster.”

Now working for Ravata Solutions in Davis, where she helps design biochips to perform DNA editing, Arrington hopes to continue putting her exercise physiology degree to work by supporting the needs of researchers.

But American Ninja Warrior is never far from her mind. She’s already wants to apply for next season, this time as a mother-daughter duo.

“It was one of the coolest things I have ever done,” she said. “Honestly, it was a dream come true.”