Australian Ninja Warrior didn't seem like the most logical next step for Whangarei's Francis Cullimore, but it was an important one.

Cullimore, a former NSW Waratahs winger, international sevens player and Olympic bobsled hopeful, took on the tough course that tested his strength and agility.

Now he's hoping his ninja fame can assist him in combating depression.

Cullimore may be competing in one of the most gruelling sporting challenges in the world but his main focus lies beyond that.


Dan Vickerman, a former teammate of Cullimore's, committed suicide in February. This prompted Cullimore to take a look at his own mental health.

"I struggled myself and what caused me to seek out help was Dan Vickerman. We all thought he had it sorted, he had three kids and working in property and development," he said.

"That's where I thought if I'm having these sorts of thoughts about being worthless and contemplating the transition into the workforce, this could be quite dangerous and I needed to get it checked out.

"Luckily I did seek help and got diagnosed with depression and now it's being treated. I wish I had figured this out earlier."

Now he's enjoying competing in sport, his main focuses being Australian Ninja Warrior and bodybuilding.

However he found the former snuck up on him while he prepared for body building competitions.

"I didn't really train for it, I was focused on my body building. I had just competed in that so it snuck up on me," he said.

"I had put on about 10 to 15kg between my audition and the day. I wasn't anywhere near as mobile as I was then.


"The cardiovascular fitness was the hardest part of it. I was strong enough to hold myself up and get through the obstacles. My agility and balance was great but having not done any aerobic exercise for eight weeks made it hard. The obstacles were fine."

Cullimore finished the course in 2:55.37, cementing his spot in the next round.

He said growing up in Whangarei helped his effort a lot.

"I lived right next to Whangarei Falls. I'd go out there and be climbing trees, I'd pretend that I was a ninja with my neighbours running around outside," he said.

"The lack of social media and technology really helped. I want to try get kids back doing stuff outside."

Ninja Warrior is just the latest in a long line of sporting accolades for Cullimore.

He represented the Waratahs in rugby union, Australia in rugby sevens and the Junior Kiwis in rugby league before almost making the 2010 Winter Olympics in bobsledding.

An unfortunate Achilles injury prevented that opportunity however he went on to compete in MMA and now bodybuilding, where he finished third at the Australian Natural Bodybuilding Championships.

Australia Ninja Warriors appears on TV3.

*photo credit: Virtue Creative