From ‘tormented’ kid to Australia’s first Ninja Warrior champ
Ben Polson thought of the crippling bullying he endured as a "skinny ginger kid" when he faced Mt Midoriyama to become the first ever winner of Australian Ninja Warrior.
The 27-year-old, who moved to Brisbane with fellow finalist and girlfriend Olivia Vivian in January, became the first person in all four seasons of the reality show to complete the four stages of the Grand Final within the time limit on Monday night to take home the $400,000 prize money.
Polson said he was mentally and physically exhausted when he reached Mt Midoriyama at around 5am, having spent a year practising that final rope climb.
"I was on the verge of accomplishing my dream or having a massive panic attack," Polson said.
"I tried to keep my cool. I was very much trying to think of my younger self. I went through a lot of bullying and mental health struggles and it was things like Ninja that got me out of that.
"To have the capacity to get here, let alone attempt it, I was doing it for younger Ben."
Training for the final rope climb was a major addition for repeat competitors Polson and Vivian ahead of the fourth season, along with sleep training, which included hill sprints at 1am to acclimatise to filming times, and mental training, deliberately getting themselves in difficult positions on obstacles to practice getting out of it.
They had relocated from Perth to Brisbane, where they moved in with fellow competitor Fred Dorrington and set up a Ninja gym in their backyard.
Both Polson, a videographer and music producer, and Vivian lost their jobs due to the global pandemic.
When he finished the rope climb, he said his immediate reaction was that he'd "stuffed a few things up".
"They said my name and I didn't know what to say, I was speechless. The sun was coming up and I've just accomplished my life goal," he said.
"It's a strange thing to lose your job and then a week later win $400,000. It's life changing and I don't want to be stupid with it."
Polson hopes to use the prize money to enter the property market, take Vivian travelling when the world reopens and buy his parents a campervan for their Australian road trip to thank them for their support.
Vivian was in tears as Polson called his parents to tell them the news the following morning, with only his younger brother being kept in the dark.
Growing up in Perth, Polson had lost all confidence as a result of the bullying he experienced at high school.
"I was a tall, skinny ginger kid and I was an easy target," he said.
"I was scared of going to school … afraid of walking around a corner and seeing certain people in fear they would pick on me.
"I was laying in this dorm room full of kids and as soon as the teacher left I knew the kids would start picking on me and calling me names … and when you're sitting in bed tormented night after night and coming home crying, you lose your confidence and it's hard to get it back."
He says joining the Ninja Warrior community, which also introduced him to Vivian - who herself was struggling to get off the couch after quitting elite gymnastics - changed his life.
"It built the confidence that led to the belief I could win it," he said.
"It is a life changing community of people. It completely changed my life. Everyone I surround myself with these days, I've met or know through Ninja Warrior.
"There's no judgment, there's no comparison, it's just supporting one another and it's really hard to find that.
"My advice is to always try different things until you find one that makes you happy and where people support you."
Both Polson and Vivian have vowed to return for another season.
Originally published as From 'tormented' kid to Australia's first Ninja Warrior champ