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High school sports were fun, but as far as Arizona State University alumnus Andrew Hanus is concerned, participating in track, wrestling and football did not make him an athletic titan.
That actually came years later, when the 32-year-old, 2015 School of Public Affairs graduate’s dedication to physical fitness earned him a spot on the prime-time network television athletic competition, NBC’s “The Titan Games.”
He’ll be seen competing from 7 to 8 p.m. Arizona time, Monday, July 20, on KPNX-TV (Channel 12).
But, back in high school, he was far from the chiseled 5-foot-8, 190-pound athlete he is today, and, admittedly, far from a standout in any of the sports he went out for.
“I had found I was relatively cruddy at all of them,” Hanus said of his teen years in the Cleveland area. “I was a good sprinter in track, so when football came around they put me at cornerback.”
At that position, he said, he was able to use his brief bursts of speed to keep opposing receivers from catching passes.
For a while after joining the U.S. Air Force at 21, he said his attitude about fitness wasn’t too much different, just performing to minimum standards for pushups, situps and running, none of which were too challenging, he said.
Then, he became interested in the emergency services team (EST), a distant cousin to police SWAT teams in civilian life, and his view about being in shape, really good shape, changed.
“I pushed myself. I found I really liked fitness. I enjoyed it. I learned the benefits of fitness and that through it there were opportunities for advancement,” he said. “I got so developed in the physical culture that I tried a bodybuilding contest.”
Hanus kept going. He entered “strongman” and other powerlifting competitions involving lifting great amounts of weight. It was a mix of being fast, athletic and having basic brute force strength that he said he found appealing. How appealing?
“I pulled a truck,” he said, quickly adding it wasn’t a pickup at the other end of that line around his waist — it was a semi-tractor trailer.
He spent the next decade involved in amateur strongman sports as he moved to seven different states, including Arizona. He received certifications and taught fitness classes, saying it was always his hobby, not his work, which explains why his degree wasn’t in physical education. (It’s in science and technology policy.)
“It allows me to be genuinely me in terms of my physical fitness desires,” he said.
Hanus’ athletic career might have stayed just like that, a rather intense hobby apart from his career, in which he today works as a grants manager for a small community college in the Philadelphia area, where he recently moved from Atlanta.
Except, a random opportunity caused it to level up.
“While I was in Atlanta there was a friend at a gym I trained at. ‘The Titan Games’ reached out to her, recruiting her for Season One,” he said. “They also had online sign-ups, so I applied.”
Show representatives didn’t reply. Hanus said he had completely forgotten about his submission, until the casting producers reached out to him in fall 2019 to see if he was interested in Season Two this year.
An original list of about 10,000 applicants was pared down to 30 men and 30 women.
Hanus was invited to a “combine,” a trial process with a large number of participants, involving several tests of speed, agility, grit and endurance. Hanus also went through several interviews, recording answers on video to submitted questions.
“They were 60 amazing people. I still talk to many of them,” he said.
The list of 30 and 30 was again reduced to the 18 men and 18 women chosen for the series, which was recorded in January and originally planned for fall broadcast.
That was, of course, after the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, for which NBC had broadcast rights. After the Olympics were postponed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, “The Titan Games” was moved up to summer broadcast, with the first episode shown on May 25. It’s a grueling series of climbs, lifts and pulls, with each contestant doing everything they can to beat their opponents and earn the right to challenge the reigning "Titan," who is perched on his or her own Mount Olympus.
Cheering Hanus on is School of Public Affairs Associate Professor Christopher Hayter, one of Hanus’ mentors while attending ASU and part of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions’ Center for Organization Research and Design.
Hanus said that while he was a student, his professor motivated him to go to Washington, D.C., and explore career choices, recommending Hanus for internships with the McCain Institute for International Leadership and with the Obama administration.
Hayter called Hanus “a wonderful combination of gentleman, scholar, athlete and friend. It’s just a really wonderful combination of those things, plus he’s a super nice guy. That’s an unusual combination.”
Hanus’ earning a spot on “The Titan Games” was not a surprise, Hayter said.
“It reinforces his personality,” Hayter said. “He does it because he enjoys it. I’m very proud as a former professor. We’re colleagues and friends now.”
The two are currently collaborating on a project that examines the origins of autonomous vehicles and is funded by the National Science Foundation.
“He’s that faculty member who never left (my life) and has grown into a friend,” Hanus said.
“ASU taught me the importance of mentorship and what that may mean, about finding someone who can guide you to take the right steps,” Hanus said. “I don’t like it when people look for mentors as only people to tell you what to do. A good mentor helps reveal the best options for yourself.”
ASU will always be special to Hanus for another reason. It’s where he met his wife, who is from Arizona. Alexandra Bhatti received her bachelor’s degree in molecular biosciences and biotechnology from ASU, and today is an attorney in the health care industry who continues to teach an online course at the ASU College of Health Solutions.
Hanus can’t reveal the results of the competition ahead of time. Since participating, though, he said he and about two-thirds of his fellow on-the-air competitors stay in daily touch via group online chat.
“Everyone clicked so well and we’ve been friends ever since. We talk every day and share with each other,” he said. The topics include how COVID-19 affects them.
“We’re all high-performing athletes who had their gyms, their support taken away (through government-ordered closures). So, this is kind of another support to dig into,” he said, saying he thinks he’ll be friends with many of them for a long time.
“The show was great. The people were greater.”