American Ninja Warrior (ANW) is an athletic competition that is nothing short of entertaining and exhilarating. If you haven’t heard of it before, the show consists of intense, qualified athletes who compete through extremely difficult courses consisting of balance, agility, strength, and speed tests. While it may not sound too different from a regular obstacle course, only 2 contestants to date have completed the full course in every round and achieved “Total Victory”. To some contestants, the show may be just another adrenaline rush, an excuse to stay in pristine shape, or an extreme competition, but to competitor Dan Jager it turned out to be much more.
American Ninja Warrior has not only allowed Dan to express his immense level of fitness, but has also helped connect him with his birth family in South Korea. Dan was adopted at the age of 5 and was hiking mountains and snowboarding down the slopes by the time he was beginning elementary school. He started competing on American Ninja Warrior in 2015 to free some built-up adrenaline, but the further he advanced, the more widely known his name became. As Dan went on to compete in his second season of ANW, his adoptive parents, Ray and Cherie, received a letter from the agency revealing that Dan’s biological father, Young Il Kwon was interested in meeting with him. Dan soon received a Facebook request from, a woman named Jihye Kwon, who he later found out through messaging was his half-sister. Their conversations were difficult due to the language barrier, so their conversations mainly revolved around using Google Translate. Jihye informed Dan that their father had been searching for him for nearly 13 years! When the agency confirmed the 2 were his biological family, they began video chatting frequently. Dan revealed, “I couldn’t believe it. It’s one of those things where I know I’m adopted. As a kid, I wanted to find my biological dad. But I always wanted to wait until I was older, maybe in my later 20s. Old enough to handle and be at a maturity level to handle it. As I aged, I kind of lost interest. I just kind of let something go, and here it comes to find you.” Dan’s biological family had searched for him many times before, but it wasn’t until he advanced in the finals that his name became easier to find. Dan states that American Ninja Warrior, “projected me into a space that I could be more easily searched.”
In October of 2016, Young Il and Jihye Kwon came all the way from South Korea to visit Dan in Colorado. As Dan picked them up from Denver International Airport, he saw his biological father for the first time, in person, in nearly 30 years. While meeting with his father, Dan revealed that, “He doesn’t understand like any English, so we had to use our phones for our entire trip, typing in stuff on Google Translate and showing the translated Korean on my phone, and they would do vice versa for English.” One night, Dan took both his biological family and his birth family out to dinner. Cherie, Dan’s adoptive mother, stated that they were very happy for Daniel and how she felt like, “That was the early part of his life, and he needed to have that.”
This experience was important for all members of the adoption triad. Dan emphasized this by revealing that, “It was a cool moment because my parents got to meet my (biological) dad. It was reassuring for him because they were good people, and I had a good life here.” The show allowed Dan the opportunity to be more widely known in the public and if it wasn’t for his success, Young Il may never have been able to connect with his son. American Ninja Warrior may just be an entertaining competition to most people, but for Dan Yager, it brought his entire family together in the best way possible.