Lt. Deon Graham, or “The Destroyer,” qualified for the season seven American Ninja Warrior finals during the July 6 episode, where he competed next to the U.S.S. Truman in San Pedro, California.
“A bulldog with a fireplug of a body,” as the announcers said of Graham, who graduated in May 2009 from Auburn with a civil engineering degree and is stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, as a nuclear trained surface warfare officer in the Navy.
Graham said he has watched the show for the past six seasons and decided to “go for it.”
He said he submitted a three-minute video showcasing his athletic skills in January.
“I’ve never really had the time to train and to do any preparation to go on the show until the past year that I’ve been on short duty with the Navy,” Graham said.
He said he received a call saying he got the spot on the show the last week in April.
Graham said he flew to California the first week in June to train on the competition course and film interviews for the show.
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“It was definitely something different,” Graham said. “I had never been involved in TV production, and just seeing behind the scenes and how everything worked was definitely exciting. I’ve gotten very comfortable in front of the camera.”
Graham said he changed his training routine to accommodate the activities he would be performing.
“I’m always in the gym, usually between three and five days a week,” Graham said. “I moved more toward body weight exercises, pull ups, muscle ups. I took some elements from cross fit workouts.”
Graham enlisted in the Navy after graduating high school and was selected for the nuclear propulsion program.
He said he spent two years on active duty while he attended an operator school. He found himself in Auburn after finishing in the top of his class.
He said he went through a commissioning program called Seaman to Admiral-21 program where he stayed on active duty, but his primary goal was obtaining a degree.
He also said he worked with the ROTC program at the university.
Graham is now a commissioned officer and supervisor, where he said he supervises the maintenance and operation of reactive plants on aircraft carriers.
He said he also works for a training and assessing command, where he facilitates ship certification.
Graham said he came out to the military 18 months ago and is now openly gay.
“I don’t think it had too much impact on them choosing me for the show,” Graham said. “The producers didn’t know I was gay until we were doing an interview after I had already been selected, so that kind of came out of the blue for them.”
Graham said there wasn’t much publicity on the show about his sexual preferences.
“That’s not really the most important thing about me,” Graham said. “The way I carry myself is, I mean everyone is who they are, and if it comes up in conversation, I can talk about it, but it’s not the first thing that comes out of my mouth when I meet someone.”
Larry Crowley, associate professor in civil engineering, said Graham was in his surveying class and always sat in the front row.
“That’s always good,” Crowley said. “That’s a very telling position in the classroom.”
Graham said Crowley was one of the most influential professors he had at Auburn.
“(Graham has) had challenges, and he’s a survivor,” Crowley said. “Auburn has a great reputation at the undergraduate level of investing in their students and their students thriving.”
Graham said he’s anxious for everyone to see how he does in the finals episode airing on NBC on Monday, Aug. 17, at 7 p.m.
“Going around town, people who’ve seen the other episode, I get pats on the back and thumbs-up, it’s an overwhelming feeling of support,” Graham said. “I’m kind of anxious to not let everybody down or disappoint anybody, so that’s kind of one of the things that runs through my head.”
He said a lot of the other competitors didn’t know he was gay until the episode aired, but everyone involved with the show was great and there were “no conflicts, no issues.”
Crowley said Graham is building his testimony from a “long-term challenge” Graham has said he faces.
“It’s a complicated issue,” Crowley said. “Things are seldom black and white, that’s not a race thing, but he’s living his life. We all fall short in all kinds of different ways. It’s wonderful we live in a world where God loves us regardless.”
Graham also said there weren’t any problems in the workplace concerning his sexual orientation.
“There’s no being judged on who you are, it’s the quality of work you do that speaks volumes about the kind of person you are,” Graham said.
In the wake of the legalization of same-sex marriage Graham said one day he would like to get married.
“I think it’s great,” Graham said. “It shows that we as a country, are becoming more progressive and accepting, and I believe everyone deserves the same rights in the eyes of the law. Everyone’s entitled to their beliefs and opinions, that’s why I serve, so people are able to have their own beliefs and opinions and we all can share this country.”
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