Najee Jamal Richardson was born and raised in Philadelphia PA. Being raised in the North Philadelphia section of the city, Najee faced many challenges as a child. Small, skinny, timid and severely asthmatic, Najee was an easy target for bullying in the rough neighborhood of North Philadelphia. It was because of this that he spent much of his elementary school years finding quick escape routes to avoid the unpleasant interactions on his walk home from Robert Morris Elementary School. Najee gives much of his early athleticism credit to running away from Bully’s as a child. “I learned very early on that if I didn’t want to get the crap kicked out of me everyday that I needed to be faster and smarter than the kids chasing me! If it weren’t for the Jackie Chan films I would sit and study as a kid, I would never have thought to learn how to flip or climb things let alone, use those skills as effective evasive techniques!” It was those “skills” and many emergency room visits to the hospital that got the attention of Najee’s parents. Fearing Najee would seriously injure himself while attempting to instruct himself, Leo and Dara decided to enroll their son into weekly self defense classes as well as Gymnastics at Temple University where weekend lessons were held.
As Najee entered his preteen years, many of his peers turned to the temptations of the neighborhood, Gang association, Drugs, and violence. Noticing the positive impact gymnastics was having on him and wanting desperately to keep their son from going down the wrong path, Leo and Dara would enroll Najee into homeschooling and signed him up for the Temple Boys Gymnastics Team where he would spend the next 7 years of his life, training 24 hours a week. Over the years Najee showed great promise in the sport, winning numerous, state and regional titles on the Floor and Vault apparatus, along with competing in the Junior Olympic National Championships 4 years in a row. One of the most challenging years in his gymnastics career came during his senior year of high school. Going through a rough period financially, the Richardson home could not afford the monthly tuition and consequently Najee would not be allowed to train for a period of time during the competitive season. This had a great impact on not just the preparation, but the motivation for Najee to continue throughout the season, and his performances leading up to the Regional Championships showed. Despite having the worst season of his gymnastics career, Najee was still named the 2009 USA Gymnastics Most Outstanding Senior in the State of Pennsylvania. Giving him new life Najee would train for his last Junior Olympic National Championships harder than ever before. Unfortunately the troubles of Najee’s season would only escalate. A week prior to the National Competition, Najee took a nasty fall on a floor pass during an evening practice injuring his knee. Ignoring the advice of his trainers and doctors Najee would still go on to compete in the National championships, performing easier routines than he was known for doing all season. Weeks later after suffering from extreme pain Najee would learn that he had in fact tore his lateral meniscus. After 3 years of off and on training, Najee at the age of just 21 years old would choose to retire for good from the sport of competitive gymnastics. “I had to accept that because of my injury I would never be able to be that powerhouse I was known for being ever again. That was my style and I didn’t want to come back into the sport as a lesser version of myself.”
The next couple of years following Najee’s Retirement would prove incredibly difficult for the former elite level athlete. Najee attended the Art Institute of Philadelphia shortly following his retirement and after 1 semester, did not return to the institution. He then attempted a career as a personal trainer which he acquired a certification for, but after a short year quickly lost interest in. Falling into a deep depression Najee struggled to find the motivation to leave his home, even mentioning at times not leaving his room for days at a time. Najee credits one moment during his darkest period as the wake up call he needed to get his life back on track. “I just remember being so frustrated and lost. I’m 22 years old I don’t have a college education, I had a negative balance in my bank account, I had absolutely nothing going for me in my life and the one thing I was ever passionate about, I no longer had. It was as though the last 9 years of my life was one big joke. I remember thinking one night, how easy it would be to just not wake up the next morning and I started researching peaceful ways to make that happen. It immediately terrified me that those ideas were even creeping into my mind and that was the moment I knew I needed to make a change” Najee dedicated the next 2 years of his life after that moment to not only living a healthy lifestyle but having a healthy mindset. He returned to his Martial Arts roots, by training in MMA as well as spending time in the gym as a physique builder.
In 2014 after recognizing an old gymnastics teammate on a popular competitive TV Show, Najee was introduced to American Ninja Warrior. “I was horrible! It took me like 10 tries just get up the warped wall, I could only make 2 moves on the peg board, and the Salmon Ladder may as well have been morse code, it was so hard for me to understand, but after I left, I was hooked!” Najee recaps from his first visit to a Ninja Warrior inspired gym. After being encouraged by his former teammate and Ninja Warrior competitor Dan Galiczynski to apply for the show, Najee decided to give it a try and subsequently was invited to compete on the competitive TV series in the summer of 2015. During his first (Rookie) season of the TV series he wouldn’t make it past the 3rd obstacle in the qualifying rounds of the show. “It was so embarrassing. Here I am, this former top gymnast and I can’t even last 2 minutes on the course. But at the same time that was the moment that the athlete and competitor in me was reborn. Even in that moment of failure, I was already thinking about how I would be better the next season.” Adopting the nickname “The Phoenix” Najee would return the next 3 seasons of the show as a standout athlete and fan favorite, finishing in the top 3 of the National finals in both 2017 and 2018. He would go on to also compete in many of the brand’s off session competition shows such as, American Ninja Warrior USA vs The World, All Stars, and Ninja Vs Ninja.
An avid superhero fan and long time admirer of action films, Najee would pursue a career in Acting, landing small roles in ABC’s How To Get Away With Murder, and most previously The Code on CBS. In 2018 Najee also gained the attention of The American Lung Association for his performance on American Ninja Warrior while also suffering from Asthma, and was offered the position as the 2019 National Fight For Air Climb Ambassador.