"An American Ninja Warrior prayed over us..."
"If you truly want to honor God with whatever you do, you have to ask yourself, 'will this, whatever it may be, bring honor and glory to God? Or to myself?'"
Ricky Giao Vu is no stranger to physical pain. Facing over nine surgeries in his lifetime including the repair of a twisted colon at age seven and a collapsed lung at eighteen, Ricky's life has been nothing short of a miracle. Now a 22-year old contestant on the upcoming 7th season of NBC's American Ninja Warrior, Ricky is using his platform to proclaim the name of Jesus Christ, and is determined to face his trials both spiritual and physical head on.
Ricky, you're an actor; you've been signed with an agency before. Why do American Ninja Warrior at this point in your career?
Well honestly, the entertainment industry in Atlanta has been growing a lot, but on my end it's been pretty slow with auditions. My sister is a big fan of the show, and she just turned me onto it. She said she could see me competing. I was like, well, I'll give it a shot. So I went to a ninja core gym to see if I was capable enough--
A ninja core gym?
Yeah, it's like a CrossFit gym, but they have obstacles there. I surprised myself with what I was able to do. So I filled out a twelve-page application and put together a three-minute submission video to showcase my athletic stuff, my testimony and my personality, and lo and behold, I was blessed to get the part. When I got the call, I flipped out- I was like, man; this is going to be good exposure as an actor. It was really a great outlet to open doors for me. Also I've been given an opportunity to share my story, and I hope it encourages people by showing who I am as a person, not an actor, and that I'm not significant apart from God's glory.
You have a truly unique backstory. You've overcome a lot of obstacles in your life, including nine surgeries and other physical hardships. Growing up, did you ever think you would be doing something like this?
Honestly, no (laughs). I didn't think I had the strength after my surgeries. I didn't know how well the recovery process was going to go. The fact that I made a full recovery is beyond me; I'm very grateful for that. The nine surgeries were a huge obstacle, but I overcame it, through family and friends. They pushed me through- I really wanted to give up, after about five or six surgeries. I was like man, this stinks, you know? Why is this happening to me?
Honestly, I look at it this way: I'm blessed to be alive right now. Nine times I could have died, and I'm alive. I've always been involved with volleyball, tennis, and soccer, so trying to stay active has helped with my recovery process. I wouldn't say that I've fully recovered; my lung is still weak, I have asthma from it, but my inhaler helps a lot (laughs).
What's your diet like now? Do you watch your calories?
I definitely don't watch my calories. I try to consume as many calories as possible. I'm still trying to gain some weight. But when I got on the show I was like, man, I gotta' stay light, so I stopped taking protein shakes and started taking amino acids for recovery. Eating healthy: peanut butter, rice, all that good stuff-- chicken (laughs).
On the show, you want to be more agile than heavy/stocky right?
Exactly. The best competitors on the show are rock climbers; they're slim, toned up and light.
What role has Actors Models and Talent for Christ played in shaping your outlook on the entertainment industry? How has AMTC helped you get to where you are today?
Just being a part of the alumni is pretty cool, and all the speakers that they've had for past seminars have given me really good advice on the industry. I mean, the industry is decadent; we know it. It's pretty cut throat out there as well. It's going to challenge your faith, and they tell you that going into the gate, when you participate in the SHINE convention. You just have to have a firm foundation in what you believe, and a drive and a purpose as to why you're doing it. You have to set boundaries for yourself.
I took all that advice that AMTC gave me and ran with it. Advice like, don't compromise your morals. They always say to "shine your light." That's a really big slogan at AMTC. And it makes sense; you do want to shine your light. You want to stick out like a sore thumb. Also, auditions aren't guaranteed; with booking a job, ninety percent of auditions are rejection. You have to have a tough spine. Auditioning is a job, and landing a role is a reward. These are little things to go by that I've applied to my acting and modeling career; it's helped me to become stronger. I'm more driven today because of all the advice AMTC has given me.
How physically demanding was American Ninja Warrior?
Oh man. It's hard to explain. Half of it is physical ability, and the other half is mental focus. You see that in a bunch of competitors, veterans who are back on the show every year; they make simple mistakes and they practice hundreds of times. It's really not about your athletic capabilities, because everyone on the show is athletic. It's the fact that you have to do everything perfectly, (laughs) so honestly, you have to clear your mind.
You don't want to think about too much, because that will weigh you down when going through the obstacles. You have one shot, and if you fall, you have to wait a whole year (to compete again). It's crazy. There are other stipulations like wild cards, and personality, and all that factors in with how far you can make it. Everyone has upper body strength there, but balance is a huge thing and it knocks a lot of competitors out. So I worked on that a lot.
Did you think about balance before you came into the competition?
Well luckily, they had a little competition that wasn't televised; it was something a gym was holding. I failed on one of the balance obstacles there, and realized I can't fall on the actual show, so I decided, you know what? I'm going to master this. I practiced on slack lines, and anything I could balance on, I practiced on. So I became very strong on balance, which is one of the main things you need in terms of ninja quality (laughs).
What got you through the show, particularly on the hardest days?
I was there for about three days, and within that time frame I barely got any sleep. You know, nerves kicking in, and all that stuff. Honestly, I made my body sick- I couldn't eat anything. What really got me through the hard times though was the camaraderie that all the contestants shared with each other. When you realize it's just you versus the obstacles, not you versus another person, you can really uplift somebody. It's refreshing to have so much respect for each other even when we compete.
One of the guys who is an American Ninja Warrior veteran actually prayed over us. He's a monster; he's about forty years old, and he's in better shape than a lot of younger people there, but he prayed over a few us before we competed, and I will never forget that. That was so awesome. So that really got me through it as well. But it was great. Everyone was so kind and compassionate with each other. They're really easy to be friends with. We all motivated each other to do better and to go as far as possible-- that's what really got me through all the hard days.
You're very outspoken about your faith. How has your relationship with God shaped how you interact with other contestants on American Ninja Warrior?
I appreciate life a lot more than I used to. I've placed my trust in a God who is so gracious and merciful to have kept me here throughout all the difficult times. I feel as Christians we are called to reflect His relentless love for us onto others, as tough as that may be. It becomes challenging when you're like, God, you want me to love this person? It will definitely test your patience. It really refines your character; how you're going to react to somebody. Just building others up-- you'll stick out like a sore thumb, especially when you can't stop talking about God.
When I went into this and started meeting people, I felt so humbled when they noticed a different Spirit about me. Carrie Underwood said that if you can convince others that there is a God and that they need to know Him, then you've done your job. I feel like a lot of people, they're just really lost, and that's unfortunate, but you can be that light, like AMTC says. You can be that light that people want to look to. So just being able to reflect that on others when I was competing was so satisfying. It was more satisfying than actually competing on the show.
What would you say to other AMTC grads like you who want to be on television, but seek to honor God in how they represent themselves?
It's really simple if you think about it: if you're really pursuing Christ, then you want to pursue what He wants for your life, not what you want for your life. I had to reevaluate why I wanted to be an actor and model at one point, because I realized I wanted all the glory; I wanted all the fame. Because we're raised up in a world where that's favored fame, fortune, and all that stuff. But at the end of the day, that all fades away, and you want something that's solid that lasts.
So if you truly want to honor God with whatever you do, you have to ask yourself really, through whatever you're struggling with, including difficult decisions especially as an actor, will this, whatever it may be, bring honor and glory to God? Or to myself? And that's the main question when you go into the industry, because there's going to be a lot of opportunities that challenge your morals, and sometimes you want to compromise because you think, man, this is going to get me really good exposure, you know? So at the same time, you've got to reevaluate how this will make you look.
Will someone want to turn to you and ask you questions about Christ if you do this role? I don't know if you watch Duck Dynasty, but I'm a big fan of it. If you watch the Robertsons, their faith is challenged every day by social media and everybody attacking them on their beliefs. But if you notice, they pray at the end of every episode, and that's the perfect example- that they don't care what other people think. They're not ashamed to believe in what they believe and to give God the glory, so that's pretty awesome.