BIXBY — To call him a jack of all trades would be an understatement.
But Bixby’s Venn Johns believes all of his life experiences make him perfect to compete on NBC’s "American Ninja Warrior."
“It kind of happened by accident,” Johns said. “I had entered an application for the 'Spartan Ultimate Team' TV show but that kind of fizzled so I just went over to 'American Ninja Warrior' and filled out their application and they gave me a call.”
There were a number of things that attracted the show to the 43-year-old Oklahoman.
“They liked the fact that I have been so many things in my life,” Johns said. “The things that attracted them to me were the fact I was a college and national team gymnast, a MMA fighter and a bull rider.”
Johns was involved in a number of sports growing up. As he entered high school, his grandparents, who had raised him since his father's death when he was 7-years-old, told him he was to busy and had to choose what sport he was going to concentrate on.
“My grandparents were amazing. They loved me and did so much for me when I was growing up,” Johns said. “I had tried every sport I could possibly play and compete in and they finally said this is enough so I chose gymnastics.”
After graduating from high school in 1992, Johns went to the University of Oklahoma and was part of their gymnastics program.
Two years later, Johns made the choice to begin working towards qualifying for the United States Olympic gymnastics team, and becoming an Olympic athlete.
“It was my ultimate dream. I was completely focused,” Johns said. “I trained hard and thought of nothing else.”
For the next two years, his primary goal was to make the 1996 USA Olympic team.
Then another fork in the road appeared.
He had to choose to continue his dream or marry his girlfriend who was carrying his child at the time. He chose the latter. Growing up without his father, Johns said he wanted to be there for his son.
“It is a choice I will never regret,” Johns said. “My ultimate joy in my life no matter what I do is my son.”
His son is now a member of the United State Marine Corp.
While working for a technical repair company called Global Direct, Johns renewed his passion for the martial arts and started working with the five-time kick boxing champion Dale “Apollo” Cook in Tulsa.
Cook eventually offered him a position to work in his gym as program director and fighter.
Johns time at the gym led him to become a mixed martial arts fighter. During the next seven years, Johns had numerous bouts and had a 15-3 record.
“I am so competitive I can't just do something I have to work and be the best I can be at whatever I am doing at the time,” Johns said. “I retired with that record after I had knocked an opponent out. I wanted to go out on top.”
While teaching martial arts at Cook’s gym, Johns met a professional bull rider.
“He said why don't you come out and we will put you some bulls,” Johns recalled. “I asked him what I need to do as far as equipment and stuff. He told me so I went got it and went to try out bull riding. I never thought I would stay in as long as I have.”
On that first outing, Johns rode five bulls.
“It was the best feeling in my life that day when I rode that bull,” Johns said. “I still get that feeling everytime I ride.”
A new challenge
He knew that day he had found his new life challenge. He began riding bulls every Sunday paying $5 a bull to get on them, not knowing he could actually get paid for riding bulls.
“I was just doing it for fun,” Johns said.
With the help of bull contractor Gene Owen and former PBR bull rider Paul Hixon, Johns began to learn the sport.
He began by going to Owen's house, to learn while riding practice bulls.
“I didn't know there was a difference in practice bulls and competition bulls,” Johns said. “The first bull I got on was the scariest bull I had ever seen. I was bucked off before I hardly got out of the gate.
“I got hung up and he drug me around the arena stepping on me. One of the times he stepped on my it caused me to get loose.”
Injured on the ride, Johns needed reconstructive surgery on his anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament.
Following his recovery, he returned to the arena and got on a bull named Tequila.
“He was a rank bull,” Johns recalled. “He had big horns and he came around and hit me in the face. So I had to have reconstructive surgery on my face.”
Johns would meet Tequila again in an open rodeo. It was pointed out to Johns who he was getting on and this time the outcome was different with Johns coming out the victor.
“I was in complete control of him,” Johns said. “This time I was unshakable. It wasn't easy but I was determined to beat him. I made it look easy the second time around.”
Johns was 25 when he started to ride bulls. People told him he was to old to start. He didn't listen.
It was 1999, when he got on his first bull. In 2007, he retired, only to return to the arena in 2013.
“I couldn't stop thinking about riding bulls,” Johns said. “But I knew I needed to do something different. I needed a teacher a teacher and I needed to learn from the best in the business.”
So Johns went to David Berry's bull riding school in Locust Grove, and became friends with legendary bull riders Brett and Gary Leffew.
“I went to Matt Bohon's clinic in Missouri. He met two two future PBR greats in Luke Snyder and L.J. Jenkins,” Johns said. “I was kind of the old guy there. Everyone else was just young guns. But I learned a lot.”
Johns traveled oversees, to Honduras and South America, to ride bulls. He was the 2014 Honduran National Bull Riding champion.
Now all these years, Johns has other goals to accomplish before he retires.
“I want to make it to the PBR Finals,” Johns said. “That is my goal in 2018.”
Most recently, Johns has been training for his appearance on "America Ninja Warrior."
“My life has been a series of incredible experiences,” Johns said. “I do what I love doing and that pans out and turns into other opportunities.”
In addition to bull riding, gymnastics and martial arts, Johns can sing and play guitar — which once gave him a chance to play with country singer Lorrie Morgan.
Johns' resume also includes snowboarding, wakeboarding and riding motorcycles.
“The situations I have been able to be in are the coolest stories that couldn't be made up,” Johns said. “Where this new situation ends I have know idea.
“I am just going to enjoy the experience and see what turn life has for me next.”
Johns' episode of American Ninja Warrior will air on July 17.