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Todacheenie was among 30 finalists on the NBC program to compete in the Denver City Finals, which is one step from the national finals in Las Vegas, Nevada. Credit: A Smith & Co./NBB

Brandon Todacheenie appeared on NBC program on Monday

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FARMINGTON — Shiprock resident Brandon Todacheenie hopes his recent appearances on TV's "American Ninja Warrior" will inspire children and teens on the Navajo reservation to accomplish their goals.

Todacheenie was among 30 finalists on the NBC program to compete in the Denver City Finals, which is one step from the national finals in Las Vegas, Nev.

This was his third year to challenge the program's obstacle courses. In addition to it being Todacheenie's best finish yet, it was the first time he had appeared on camera.

"It's always a great experience for me to go there and do my best to represent where I come from and letting people know about the Navajo reservation," Todacheenie said in an interview today.

He said he hopes young Navajos learn that they can meet their goals through dedication and hard work.

"I want them to accomplish something similar or something greater than what I did," the 30-year-old said.

The Denver City Finals aired on Monday. Todacheenie watched the episode at a viewing party at Buffalo Wild Wings in Farmington, and the program started with a shot of the Shiprock pinnacle.

The episode also chronicled Todacheenie's story, featuring scenes of his homemade obstacle course and highlighting his late grandfather, Navajo Code Talker Frank Todacheenie, who served as an inspiration to his grandson.

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye also made a cameo appearance and spoke about what Todacheenie's accomplishment means to the tribe.

As for the city finals course, Todacheenie completed five of the 10 obstacles. His run ended after he made three attempts to climb the Warped Wall, which measures 14.5 feet tall.

"I was actually surprised that it was the Warped Wall that took me out. I was thinking it was going to be the obstacles after, that but that was a surprise that I couldn't get up," he said.

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Despite the setback, Todacheenie said he is determined to return next year.

With no facilities nearby that offer training for "American Ninja Warrior," Todacheenie trains on replicas he built in the front yard of home.

As the date for the competition in Denver neared, he drove on the weekends to Albuquerque to train at a facility that had ninja warrior obstacles.

Todacheenie built a replica of the Warped Wall after the competition and set up it when he hosted a ninja warrior challenge for children in July as part of an event presented by iMPACT Shiprock.

Cynthia Lee, co-director for iMPACT Shiprock, said Todacheenie approached her organization, which sponsors the annual summer fitness event, about setting up the obstacle course because he wanted show young people another aspect of physical fitness.

Lee said the course was set up for two days during the week-long program at Tsé Bit'a'í Middle School.

"The line was so long. The kids go through it, then go through it again," Lee said adding that Todacheenie's participation reflects his interest in helping the community.

To continue his effort to inspire young people, Todacheenie is planning a similar event this fall in Shiprock.

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He said he is seeking sponsors to help with that endeavor, and he can be reached by email at thenavajoninja@gmail.com.

"American Ninja Warrior" viewers may have noticed that some contestants have nicknames, including Todacheenie who called himself "Navajo Ninja."

"It was an idea that I played around with for a while. Everybody has their own nicknames on 'Ninja Warrior,'" he said.

During the Denver competition, Todacheenie and his family members wore T-shirts with "Navajo Ninja" printed on the front. His wife, Michelle, wore her T-shirt while holding their daughter, Isla, and standing on the side of the obstacle course.

Todacheenie said he plans to sell similar T-shirts and use the proceeds to help fund the children's ninja warrior challenge.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.

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