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Ray Routhier

Portland Press Herald staff writer Ray Routhier will try anything. Once. During 20 years at the Press Herald he’s been equally attracted to stories that are unusually quirky and seemingly mundane. He’s taken rides on garbage trucks, sought out the mother of two rock stars, dug clams, raked blueberries, and spent time with the family of bedridden man who finds strength in music. Nothing too dangerous mind you, just adventurous enough to find the stories of real Mainers doing real cool things.

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Posted: February 6, 2017

Local fans of ‘American Ninja Warrior’ can get their fix live on Saturday

Written by: Ray Routhier
Daniel Goodman works out on the salmon ladder while training at Maine Warrior Gym in Westbrook. Staff photos by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Daniel Goodman works out on the salmon ladder while training at Maine Warrior Gym in Westbrook.
Staff photos by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Ever since he started training for ninja obstacle course races – running up walls, swinging from chains and leaping over stuff – Dan Goodman looks at everything a little differently.

“I’ll be jogging along and see something – a rock – and think about jumping over it, or landing on it, or doing a palm spin off of it,” said Goodman, 31, a doctor at Mercy Hospital in Portland. “Doing this sparks your imagination. You start to view the whole world as a big jungle gym, which is great, because it stops you from taking yourself too seriously.”

That’s not to say that Goodman and others who train at the Maine Warrior Gym in Westbrook aren’t very serious athletes. You have to be to run up a 14-foot wall. Or to successfully climb the gym’s “salmon ladder,” a sort of monkey bar setup where you swing onto a bar, then remove it from the pins it’s suspended to and swing the bar a foot forward to the next set of pins, without falling. Then you do that five more times.

Nate Marcinuk, Caleb Demmons and Daniel Goodman are training for an upcoming Ninja Warrior Race at Maine Warrior Gym in Westbrook.

Nate Marcinuk, Caleb Demmons and Daniel Goodman are training for an upcoming Ninja Warrior Race at Maine Warrior Gym in Westbrook.

Such crazy obstacle-course skills are the kind seen on the NBC TV show “American Ninja Warrior.” But they’ll also be on display Saturday at Maine Warrior Gym. That’s when the gym holds a local qualifying event for the national Ultimate Ninja Athlete Association’s national tournament.

Top qualifiers, in adult and kid divisions, go on to compete in a regional competition and perhaps the national competition in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Last year’s national competition attracted about 300 qualifiers from more than two dozen ninja warrior-type gyms around the country. Last year’s grand prize was $10,000, while this year’s has not been announced.

Maine Warrior Gym, the only one of it’s kind in Greater Portland, opened in October of 2015. One of its trainers, Jesse Villarreal, is a two-time competitor on “American Ninja Warrior.”

Gyms like Maine Warrior Gym have been opening steadily around the country since “American Ninja Warrior” first went on the air in 2009. And their success has also fueled by the sport of parkour, or free-running. Many “American Ninja Warrior” contestants, and people who train at Maine Warrior Gym, start out by doing parkour.

Parkour is sort of like urban skate-boarding, without skateboards. The idea is to run over anything in the urban landscape, from stair railings and statues to building ledges or hedges. The sport, with no real rules, became popular in the late 1980s and is based on training methods used by the French Army’s special forces.

Caleb Demmons trains for the upcoming Ninja Warrior Race at Maine Warrior Gym in Westbrook.

Caleb Demmons trains for the upcoming Ninja Warrior Race at Maine Warrior Gym in Westbrook.

Caleb Demmons, 20, a trainer at Maine Warrior Gym, started doing parkour around Greater Portland when he was about 14. He was out skateboarding one day when he saw somebody doing the same stunts as he was, flying over steps and balancing on handrails, but with no skateboard.

“The great thing about parkour is you can take it wherever you go,” said Demmons.

Demmons takes his parkour skills indoor at the Maine Warrior Gym, which is filled with man-made obstacles that test strength, stamina and sanity. There’s the 14-foot curved wall to run up, the aforementioned “salmon ladder,” monkey bars some 12 feet in the air and something called the Devil’s Steps. Those are bars on the inside of a stairway that you climb with your hands by lifting yourself from one bar to the next. For the competition on Saturday, a dozen of the gym’s obstacles will be set up at the same time. Competitors will then try, and often fail, to complete each one in succession. The people who complete the most in the fastest time will move on.

Last year, Demmons competed in the national event and ended up finishing 20th. He watched some 40 people fail to complete the obstacle course, so he took his time a little bit to make sure he could finish. But, in the end, his overall time wasn’t fast enough to win.

“I think I took a few too many water breaks,” said Demmons.

Nate Marcinuk works his way across the monkey bars while training at Maine Warrior Gym in Westbrook.

Nate Marcinuk works his way across the monkey bars while training at Maine Warrior Gym in Westbrook.

Nate Marcinuk, 22, of Casco also competed in the nationals last year representing Maine Warrior Gym and will compete in the local contest Saturday. He finished 55th last year and said he realized that most of the obstacles require incredible grip strength. Many of the obstacles require a person to hold onto something small and slippery, like a chain or a bar, with one hand while trying to grab the next chain or bar and keep moving.

To increase his grip strength Marcinuk has been climbing at local rock climbing gyms and at Maine Warrior Gym. He said he’d love to try out for “American Ninja Warrior” some day. But if he never gets on the show, that’s all right. He said doing ninja-style obstacles is something he loves and a way to work out while having fun at the same time.

Goodman, who will be competing in a Ultimate Ninja Athlete Association event for the first time Saturday, agrees.

“It’s a great workout but without treadmills and repetition,” Goodman said. “It takes stamina and muscle and a different way of looking at things.”

NINJA COMPETITION

WHEN: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Maine Warrior Gym, 865 Spring St., Westbrook (near Route 22)
HOW MUCH: $10 to watch, $49 to $55 compete
INFO: mainewarriorgym.com
WHAT ELSE: The obstacle course event is a qualifier for the Ultimate Ninja Athlete Association’s national championships, to be held in the summer in New Mexico. A kids’ competition will be held at 1 p.m.

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