Jake Smith is nonchalant about being a ninja. "It's just an obstacle course," he says of the gauntlet of athletic feats featured on the television show American Ninja Warrior. "The ninja part is just the romanticizing bit of it."
The 24-year-old parkour badass is selling himself short. Smith and six others from local parkour gym APEX Movement were among the hundred competitors to tackle the course this year.
Their attempts will be broadcast Sunday on the G4 television network and again on Monday on NBC. This year was the third time Smith tried out for the show and the second time he's made it. American Ninja Warrior is a spin-off of a Japanese show called Sasuke and last year, the top ten American competitors traveled to Japan to compete in the finals against Japanese competitors. Smith was among them.
"I'm almost prouder of that as an achievement than this last year," Smith says. Being one of only ten Americans, he adds, was "a little bit more prestigious. It was really, really awesome." Unfortunately, Smith didn't complete the course in Japan, which is split up into four stages, each harder than the next. He got knocked out in the second stage on an obstacle known as the salmon ladder. To see what it looks like, check out the video below.
This year, one hundred Americans competed in a final matchup of their own in Las Vegas. Smith can't reveal how he did on the show.
Smith says that not everyone on American Ninja Warrior does parkour, described by former Westword staffer Joel Warner in a 2009 cover story about APEX Movement as "the art of moving from one place to the next as fluidly and efficiently as possible."
"But the people who generally do the best do," Smith says. He attributes it to "a general comfort with obstacles, since parkour is about traversing obstacles or having your body be able to accommodate very weird things."
Smith has been practicing parkour since high school. He now works as a computer and television cable installer by day and is on the APEX Movement Pro Performance Team, which travels around the country sharing its skills. Smith says he didn't train specifically for American Ninja Warrior. "I pretty much just go to the gym or go outside and have fun working on different challenges," he says. "I just jump around and play."
Brandon Douglass echoes Smith. He works at APEX Movement and was also a competitor on American Ninja Warrior. "I think it's fun," Douglass, 22, says of the competition, "but if I expect too much going out there, I'm going to be disappointed."
Neither Smith nor Douglass has let the fame go to their heads. When asked about being on TV, Smith shrugs it off the same way he shrugs off the title "ninja warrior." "I think I've been recognized by two little kids, but that's it," he says.
The five other American Ninja Warrior competitors from APEX Movement were Paul Kasemir, Sat Khalsa, Alan Coneally, Brian Arnold and Risa Scott.
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Note: This post has been edited to delete a reference to how the local competitors did.
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