Bethel resident Nate DeHaan took the next logical step in becoming a ninja this week. On Monday, the local pilot and dog musher made it through a qualifying round of American Ninja Warrior, a popular fitness competition on NBC.
At 7 p.m. Monday, Nate DeHaan was a man on a mission. The challenge? Leap from step to step across a moat of water, swing through a steep set of red metal rings, and jump on a trampoline with enough gusto to grab onto a swinging cylinder of foam hovering above him. It looks like a punching bag, and it’s always just out of reach.
For those of you who don’t watch the show, American Ninja Warrior is a fitness contest that’s comprised of a series of obstacle courses. It’s designed to test athletes' agility and strength, and it’s different every episode. Contestants don’t see the course until right before they compete.
“It’s pretty intimidating, at first, to try to figure out,” said DeHaan. “You’re acting on instinct at that point.”
Nate is a laid back bush pilot with a wide smile and an unkempt beard. He lives in Bethel with his wife, baby girl, and 15 sled dogs. For the past year he’s been doing CrossFit at Tundra Family Fitness and running up a wall modeled after one of the competition's obstacles that he built himself in his front yard.
DeHaan won Bethel’s half-marathon earlier this summer. He says that he was inspired to become a ninja warrior by his close friend Nick Hanson, the self-styled Eskimo Ninja from Unalakleet. Hanson is also competing in American Ninja Warrior this year, and made it through one of the show’s qualifying rounds too. DeHaan says that they train together whenever they can.
“It’s important to go in confident in yourself, but not so much so that you get sloppy,” said DeHaan.
“The most intimidating obstacles are the balance obstacles,” he added. “That’s the one where you’re like, 'Oh jeez, how am I gonna do this?'”
On Monday DeHaan ran, climbed, and jumped his way through most of the Ninja Warrior challenges: the floating steps, the ring set, and the bouncing spider trampoline. But he was stumped by the railrunner, a narrow metal rail suspended above a pool of water that he had to work his way across.
While DeHaan fell in the middle of the course, so did pretty much everyone else. The trampoline challenge took out about a third of the ninjas; the floating steps took out more. Because of his elapsed time and the number of obstacles he completed, the show ranked DeHaan as one of the top thirty ninjas competing on Monday and he lived to fight another day.
When asked if he had any advice for the future ninjas of Bethel, DeHaan laughed. “You just have to get out there and try it,” he said.
DeHaan actually competed in Ninja Warrior last May - the show is prerecorded - and he can’t tell us how well he did yet because of his contract, but he says that he’s proud of his performance. You can watch him compete against more ninjas in August, when NBC airs the next episode that features him.