When Caiden Madzelan steps up to take on an obstacle course designed to break the country's best athletes, he pauses to take a few deep breaths.
"Whenever I get to the starting line there are lots of nerves," Madzelan said. "But then, as soon as I hit the course, I'm in the zone."
The "Troutdale Ninja" was definitely in the zone for his debut American Ninja Warrior performance in Tacoma last month, as part of Season 13 of the popular television show. Despite only being 15 years old, the East Multnomah County native took on the course with the confidence and poise of someone much older.
That moxie led the 6-foot-1-inch incoming Reynolds High School junior perfect through the "Log Runner" and "Air Surfer" — which he said was the hardest obstacle — before cruising through the "Pretzel Twist." He even nearly made it up the "Mega Wall" on his attempt, touching the lip.
In the end, he completed the course and celebrated an accomplishment few achieve.
"To hit the buzzer as a rookie, I felt so much excitement and relief," Madzelan said.
Madzelan decided to become a ninja after falling in love with the television show in the fourth grade. While he also loves traditional sports like cross country, wrestling and track and field, in his heart Madzelan is a ninja.
He trains seven days a week — his father's house has an obstacle course in the backyard, while his mom's house has workout equipment in the garage. While he trains at Revolution Parkour in Gresham and Skyhook Ninja Fitness in Tigard, Madzelan said the most important thing to improve is cardio and strength.
"It is really tiring running those courses, and it is amazing how those six obstacles can take your breath away," he said.
Madzelan is already decorated as a ninja. He finished fifth in a United Ninja Athletic Association event in 2017 and placed in the top 16 (semifinals) of the 2018 American Ninja Warrior Junior nationals at age 13.
In Tacoma, he competed alongside 400 athletes. Normally, you have to be 19 years old and up to compete on the big stage, but this year they allowed junior ninjas like Madzelan to compete with adults.
"Teenagers are the future of the sport, and they wanted us to try the course," Madzelan said.
His incredible run in Tacoma qualified him for the Los Angeles semifinals that will conclude airing after the Tokyo Olympics. Madzelan's run in LA is expected to air Monday, Aug. 9, though sometimes producers will cut out attempts for time. It will be broadcast on NBC (locally KGW 8).
If he finished in the top-15 there — the competition took place in mid-April but he has to be coy about the results until the show hits screens — then he would have qualified for the national finals that took place in May.
The next competition on the docket for Madzelan is a national gathering in Las Vegas for a ninja league that cropped up due to the popularity of the American Ninja Warrior show. The Vegas competition is through the Ultimate Ninja Athlete Association, and Madzelan qualified after winning local and regional competitions throughout the year.
He will face off against athletes in the 15-16 year old division.
"There will be athletes from around the world, so I am looking forward to taking on that course," he said.
For Madzelan, one of the most important aspects is representing his hometown. He loves growing up in Troutdale, with nearby access to the Columbia River Gorge and Sandy River.
"There is no one else here who does Ninja Warrior competitions, so it is important for me to showcase Troutdale," he said. "I want to inspire others to take on the obstacles."
The youth is starting to get recognized and celebrated on the streets thanks to his television debut, and he has received many messages of support.
"It is overwhelming and humbling," he said. "My goal is to inspire the next generation of ninjas."
Become a Ninja
Caiden Madzelan wants to share his passion for ninja competitions. Local youth are invited to join his weeklong Ninja Warrior Camp from noon-2:30 p.m. Aug. 16-20, at Revolution Parkour Gresham, 1618 N.E. Eighth St. Sign up online at rvpkgresham.com
Follow Caiden Madzelan's ninja journey on Instagram @troutdale_ninja
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