By Lauren Bedosky | Photography by Kelvin Andow
Andrew “Roo” Yori of Rochester got the call few are fortunate to get: An invitation to compete in season 8 of hit reality television series “American Ninja Warrior.”
“It’s a slim chance you’re actually going to get that call,” Roo says. “Then to get that call, do well, and get featured on the show was like a dream come true.”
Out of nearly 500 competitors selected to participate in regionals, the 39-year old athlete was only one of a handful to advance to nationals—and a shot at the $1 million prize—in Las Vegas. Dubbed the “K9 Ninja,” Roo has made a name for himself by spreading awareness for a cause he’s been deeply involved with since 2002: dog rescue.
On the shoulders of Wallace and Hector
Roo and his wife Clara are the founders of the Wallace the Pit Bull Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting the people, organizations and programs that aid homeless dogs. With his new platform on “American Ninja Warrior,” Roo is encouraging viewers to lend their support as well.
Roo frequently turns the spotlight on his own dogs to encourage adoption and involvement with rescue dogs, as well as battle the common misconception that these dogs were abandoned for a reason. He established a fan following long before his run on “American Ninja Warrior,” beginning when he and Clara adopted a Pit Bull that was considered a liability and scheduled to be euthanized at the shelter where he was housed. Although friends, family and shelter workers cautioned the couple against it, the Yoris brought Wallace—their foundation’s namesake—home.
Wallace went on to defy the stereotypes associated with his breed. He became a world champion frisbee dog, and his story was later recounted in Jim Gorant’s “Wallace.”
And in 2007, Roo and Clara drew national media attention when they adopted Hector, a Pit Bull who was one of many fighting dogs rescued from professional football player Michael Vick’s property. Like Wallace, Hector challenged the common assumptions about Pit Bulls. He never became aggressive, and within one year of living with the Yoris, he became a certified therapy dog, visiting hospitals and nursing homes.
Though both Wallace and Hector have passed away, their legacies remain. They helped change the conversation about rescue dogs—and Pit Bulls in particular.
A win for dogs
Roo believes the tide is finally turning: “There are still people who are scared of Pit Bulls. But I think more and more people realize that it’s not necessarily about what they look like or where they came from.”
According to Roo, although there will always be aggressive dogs, Wallace and Hector both proved that every dog is capable of amazing things—even a dog who was raised under terrible circumstances.
Thanks to his recent fame as a competitor on “American Ninja Warrior,” Roo is able to bring this message to an even wider audience. Even if he doesn’t win in Las Vegas, “it’s just been a lot of fun getting the word out. It’s been a great response,” he says. Regardless of the outcome, he says his mission is accomplished: “From this point forward, it’s a win for me, and hopefully for dogs everywhere.”
Lauren Bedosky is a Minnesota-based writer. She lives with her husband and their three dogs Otter, Moose, and Squirrel.
Q & A WITH ROO
Wagazine: How did you become involved with “American Ninja Warrior”?
Roo: Basically from watching the TV show. I saw it and thought, “That’s something I would really like to try.” I’ve always loved obstacle stuff.
W: What surprised you about the competition?
R: There’s a community that I didn’t expect to be there. It’s a really tight community between athletes. It’s more “us versus the course” than “us versus each other.”
W: Did you get to test the obstacle course before filming?
R: We weren’t allowed to even touch it.
W: Were you afraid of any of the obstacles?
R: The flywheels. There were three disks hanging from the structure, and the first two spun and the last one swung back and forth like a pendulum and you were hanging from your fingertips. That one was the one that I was most concerned with heading into it because, well, that fingertip strength that a lot of rock climbers have, I don’t.
W: How did you train?
R: I put a couple pull-up bars in my backyard and also go to a CrossFit gym, CrossFit Progression. That’s how I’d work out generally, and that provided a nice base to build off of. Once I decided that I wanted to start training for “Ninja Warrior,” I did have to focus the training specifically towards a lot of bodyweight stuff. Fortunately, there’s a gym up in the Twin Cities called Ninjas United.
W: Did you get to bring any of your dogs on set?
R: We actually brought Angus on set. He’s a Black Lab mix that we adopted from Paws and Claws in Rochester 14 years ago. He was one of the original dogs that we adopted to start us down this journey in the first place. He was part of the interviews, so that was pretty cool.
Follow Roo’s journey at facebook.com/k9ninjawarrior
Being in the national spotlight brought Roo and Clara Yori’s adopted dog, Angus, more than fame. It resulted in a reunion with one of Angus’s littermates, Jake. Both dogs were adopted from Paws & Claws in Rochester 14 years ago.
In August, Roo and Angus set out on a road trip to New York to meet Jake, whose people reached out after seeing Angus on TV.
“What are the chances that somebody watching me compete on ‘American Ninja Warrior’ from halfway across the country would be able to put the pieces together to discover that we adopted dogs from the same litter [14 years ago]?” said Roo. “The fact that that’s exactly what happened despite the ridiculous odds made me think I needed to make a reunion happen. Both Angus and Jake are rather old, so I knew that if it was going to happen for sure, it needed to happen soon.”
The senior-dog reunion was anti-climactic as expected. “It was a few sniffs, both peeing on the same spot, and then just hanging out and taking naps,” said Roo. “It was cool to see the two brothers side by side though.”