Before Dustin Fishman comes to Colorado State University in the fall, he will be one of the featured contestants on TV’s American Ninja Warrior, starting June 26.
The former Marine, who got interested in CSU after Googling “top military-friendly schools in the U.S.,” was a four-time pole-vaulting champion at Urbana High School in Frederick, Maryland. (He holds the boys’ record at the school, while Hollywood stuntwoman and American Ninja Warrior regular Jessie Graff holds the girls’ record there.)
Fishman decided to join the military after hearing a Marine speak at a summer camp when he was a kid.
“It lit something up in me, and I knew I had to do it,” Fishman recalls.
Serving as a communications electronics technician and detention operations specialist, he was deployed in Afghanistan from July 2011 to February 2012, flying on many missions. He attended Marine Security Guard School in Quantico, Virginia, then spent three months in Tunisia before injuring his back. He returned to Quantico and served in the Inactive Ready Reserves for three and a half years, finished his contract and received an honorable discharge.
Since then he’s held a variety of jobs, including working as a security guard for an armored car company, dog training, tree climbing and his current position as a fiber-optic tech for Verizon. About 10 months ago, at a climbing gym near his home in Gaithersburg, Maryland, Fishman recognized one of the climbers as a contestant on American Ninja Warrior. Sean Darling-Hammond was climbing with Nick Kostreski, who was also slated to be on the show. Fishman began climbing with them, and the two urged him to apply for the competition, in which contestants try to make their way through a series of acrobatic obstacles over a body of water.
Now Kostreski is one of Fishman’s best friends, and will serve as his best man when Fishman marries Jen van der Sloot on July 7. All three of the men will appear on ANW this season: Fishman competed against Darling-Hammond in Daytona, while Kostreski was in the Denver qualifying round. Another of Fishman’s groomsmen, Adam Groosman, also competed against him in Daytona.
‘Not having fear’
The show’s producers prohibit Fishman from revealing how far he got in the competition, but he admits being nervous beforehand.
“When I got the voicemail from the show, it was the best news I’ve ever had, followed by the most nerves I’ve ever had,” he says. “But it’s about preparing, staying relaxed, and not having fear. You can’t be afraid to fail, because everyone fails.”
Fishman chose CSU after visiting Fort Collins and the campus on a whirlwind 24-hour trip with his fiancée, who was interviewing for an architecture job in town.
“We loved it, it was such an amazing town,” he says. “We went to New Belgium and ate at The Colorado Room and The Kitchen. It was all great, and I wanted a school where there was good support for veterans.”
He plans to major in criminology in the Department of Sociology because he may eventually go into law enforcement. But first he wants to serve in the U.S. Air Force, so he’ll join Air Force ROTC Detachment 90 when he arrives on campus.
Fishman, who chose the nickname “Flying Fish” for the show, acknowledges that he doesn’t exactly eat like an elite athlete — his diet primarily consists of fast food.
“I’m not the healthiest eater in the world, but I work hard when I work out, so I can eat what I want,” he says.
In addition to his back injury, Fishman has been plagued by elbow and shoulder problems for eight years, but he manages them all with regular massage therapy. And they didn’t deter him from competing in the physically grueling ANW competition.
“You can’t let injury stop you,” he says. “If you love something and you want to do it, you’ve got to go all the way.”
American Ninja Warrior’s new season started June 12; it airs Mondays at 7 p.m. Mountain Time on NBC.
Fishman will be taking over CSU’s Snapchat account on June 26, the day his first episode airs. The Department of Sociology is in CSU’s College of Liberal Arts.