From being crowned Australia’s back to back Ninja Warrior champion to breaking world records, Bachelor of Science student Zak Stolz is no stranger to the spotlight!
The Monash University student dominated the Australian Ninja Warrior course in Channel Nine’s 2022 Season to reclaim his title for a second year. Through a nail-biting grand final, Zak secured victory as the ‘Furthest Fastest’ champion to step onto the Ninja Warrior competition.
Following his win, we caught up with Zak in the midst of his busy schedule, to discuss his Ninja Warrior journey thus far.
Congratulations Zak! Tell us how your journey started. What interested you in competing in the Australian Ninja Warrior competition?
It’s a pretty long story, so I’ll try to condense it as best I can. I was a self-taught gymnast, meaning I watched things online and just did some crazy stuff. I started by hurting myself over and over which is probably not the way to go! I actually was already really good friends with Charlie Robins (who eventually won Season 3), he introduced me to gymnastics. From there, I met the other Ninja Warrior guys such as Ashlin Herberts who was on Season 1 of the show. Since we both loved gymnastics, Ashlin said we should both give Ninja Warrior a shot. Charlie ended up winning Season 3 and I came down and had a bit of a play and fell in love with the sport from day 1. Thankfully, I was able to get on the show but even if I didn’t, I still would be doing this stuff as it’s so much fun!
That’s so awesome to hear! So, this isn’t your first rodeo with the Ninja Warrior show. What was your experience competing and winning the competition for the second time around?
Yeah, it’s pretty crazy! With our training, we’re lucky enough to have a really good facility in the compound and probably the best in the country. So training there, against the best of the best, you roughly know where you’re at with your abilities. Coming into Ninja Warrior with that knowledge, I know I’m capable of winning but it’s such a brutal sport. If you have a mind lapse for half a second or if you make a little mistake, you’re done. It doesn’t matter how hard you’ve worked, since it's that little bit that can knock you out.
Which is why I always get the most nervous during the very first runs of the season. Just because it’s the first run of the season - you’ve worked so hard for so long and you would hate to come off that early. You want to show everyone what you’re capable of.
That must be a lot of pressure to handle! What do you do to release that stress and relax whilst you’re not training?
I live quite an active lifestyle. So my release is doing things that are almost training for Ninja Warrior. I would go rock climbing or do freediving! I find freediving amazing as you get to work on your breathing and it helps with your cardiovascular health. That for me is my biggest relaxation point. I would just go down there and work on being in the right headspace because you need to if you want to be good at freediving.
Sounds like great fun! Now, what was it like re-watching yourself on screen?
It was crazy! I got a lot more nervous the second time around because this was filmed 4 or 5 months ago. I find that actually doing it, I have an element of control and I can manipulate what is happening. However, when watching it I have no idea how they will portray us as characters on screen, so losing that element of control is even more nerve wracking for me.
I know you broke a few records! Tell us about it?
Last year, we did a programme called Record Breakers and I was lucky enough to break the Australian record for the Super Salmon Ladder! I was the only one to finish it in about 32 seconds but the world record for that was 17 seconds. So I trained for a year to beat it that season and absolutely biffed it at the start of it. It was a bit shattering as I actually broke the time I needed in training so it wasn’t official.
However, the world record I did break this year was the Lache, which is a bar to bar swing, using your hands. They’re super hard to hang on to and not many people know what they’re like. I recommend holding onto a door jam or something above your door with your fingers, because that’s what we’re swinging on. To swing that big on something that is really small is incredibly difficult. However, it was amazing to get that record and I was so stoked!
Let’s bring it back to your studies. You’re also a Monash student studying Science with a major in Physiology. What’s it like juggling studies and competing?
University and training work really well because where we train is very flexible. I can train at night time or in the morning. But competing is a nightmare! Doing the show at Sydney for over a month also coincided with the start of the semester. So trying to get into the study mindset whilst you’re doing the biggest competition of your life is just incredibly hard.
Thankfully, Monash University is amazing for that! They’ve got the ESPS (Elite Student Performer Scheme) and it’s unreal. It’s helped me a lot and it's definitely helped many others as well.
And finally, what are your plans for the future?
I’m not 100% sure on where I’ll go. Ninja is such a volatile sport, that I’d like to keep going as long as it's around. But I don’t know how long that will be. Uni for me is where I get to use my mind instead of my body and I’d love to get a job somewhere in the field of science and physiology. I’m still not 100% sure, so I’ll just coast through. Perhaps get enough good scores to get into an honours or masters and really get to specialise and figure out exactly what I want to do.
Congratulations to Zak for making history and becoming the ‘furthest fastest’ competitor in the Australian Ninja Warrior competition, as well as winning back to back seasons. We wish him the best of luck for the future!