East County ninjas
During a camp to transform East Multnomah County kids into young ninjas, the clustered group stared at an imposing obstacle — the warped wall.
Beginning with a gentle curve upward, the daunting challenge eventually has participants running up a vertical surface in an attempt to grasp, or at least touch, a small ledge at the top. The obstacle is arresting, and often serves as a centerpiece barrier for international ninja warrior competitions.
But the local youths had a leg up — the expertise and support of the famed "Troutdale Ninja" Caiden Madzelan, who has been shining as a teenage competitor all summer long on the televised "American Ninja Warrior" competition.
For the warped wall, Madzelan likes to begin with a jog, then speed into a sprint the final few feet. He keeps his chest up and feet wide as he runs up the wall, and ends with an explosive burst upward to reach for the ledge. And as the kids mimicked his movements, the 16-year-old watched as a spotter to make sure no one got hurt.
"You got this, don't give up," Madzelan told the campers.
The first few attempts by the kids were a mixed result, with most struggling to find purchase up the wall. But as they continued to try, and with Madzelan's encouragement and advice, they began to succeed, defying gravity as they scampered up the wall. And with each success, Madzelan celebrated, mirroring the kids' beaming smiles.
"Getting to be around the kids is the best part of these camps," Madzelan said. "I love when they have that drive and never give up."
Madzelan hosted the weeklong Ninja Warrior Camp fresh off his qualifying performance for the American Ninja Warrior Finals. The camp ran Monday-Friday, Aug. 16-20, at Revolution parkour, 1618 N.E. Eighth St., a Gresham gym where Madzelan does much of his own training.
For the 11 kids, ages 8 and up, who participated, the fun-filled afternoons were an opportunity to improve their own parkour skills while shadowing Madzelan, a Reynolds High Schooler who has become a local celebrity after his performances on American Ninja Warrior.
"Caiden's first parkour camp was right here in this gym when he was about this tall," said Revolution Parkour owner Ryland Lanagan with a laugh, holding his hand down around his chest. "Now he is back — a little taller — training more kids."
Pride of Troutdale
Troutdale has never been in the spotlight more than it has the last few months thanks to Madzelan, who competes on "American Ninja Warrior" Season 13 as the "Troutdale Ninja."
"Caiden has done a wonderful job representing Troutdale and the values we as a community embody, all while showing what teenagers can be capable of given the proper guidance, training and family support," said Troutdale Mayor Randy Lauer. "Caiden, keep on inspiring millions."
The 6-foot-1-inch teenager takes on courses designed to break the most athletic competitors with a moxie rare among someone so young. During the qualifying rounds in Tacoma, Washington, Madzelan hit the buzzer after completing the course, something few ever achieve.
"To hit the buzzer as a rookie, I felt so much excitement and relief," he said.
Normally the show requires competitors to be 19 years or older, but this season they invited junior ninjas to take on the adults.
During his semifinals appearance, which aired Monday, Aug. 9, Madzelan brought a prop with him to the starting spot. He proudly hoisted a fake trout, before diving into the course. He was sailing through the course until he hit the "Padlock" — a series of technical aerial obstacles that spin if not balanced. While attempting to drop down onto the ledge, Madzelan removed his left hand and fell into the water.
"I should have placed my right hand in the center before dropping," Madzelan said.
But his performance was enough to qualify for the National Finals.
"To achieve this at 15 years old is a dream come true," he said — Madzelan has since celebrated his 16th birthday, but with the schedule he competed on "American Ninja Warrior" as a 15-year-old.
All of these competitions already have taken place, but Madzelan has to be coy about the results until they hit broadcast. The "American Ninja Warrior Finals" took place in May, and will air Monday, Aug. 30. Watch the broadcast on NBC (locally KGW 8).
"Ninja Warrior competitions are one of the hardest physical challenges," Lanagan said. "Caiden started as a student, and now he is inspiring more to try it out."
And the best part for Lanagan is tuning in and watching Madzelan on television.
"I'm so proud," Lanagan said. "I think Caiden spends more time hanging from one hand than he does with his feet on the ground."
Madzelan became a ninja competitor after falling in love with the TV show as a fourth grader. While he also enjoys traditional sports like cross country, wrestling and track and field, in his heart he 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. He also trains as Revolution Parkour and Skyhook Ninja Fitness in Tigard. The most important thing, he said, is building strength and endurance.
"It is really tiring running those courses, and it is amazing how those six obstacles can take your breath away," he said.
Madzelan's ninja camp was equal parts hard work and fun.
The days began with a warm-up and workout, to help the children build strength and prevent potential strains and pulls. Then they practiced on the individual challenges, with Madzelan and Lanagan offering advice and tips. Then the day concluded with each participant taking on a course designed by Madzelan, incorporating a series of challenges. The campers competed against themselves, attempting to complete the course without errors and best their previous times.
"These camps are about inclusion and trying to make personal growth," Lanagan said.
Anytime one of the campers seemed frustrated or were struggling to figure out a technical move, Madzelan was right by their side, offering quiet assurances. During water breaks, he often would spend a few minutes helping a camper one-on-one.
"It's fun, but different, working with kids," Madzelan said. "I never had a coach growing up, so I have to learn how to teach others."
Painted on the walls of Revolution Parkour are famous superheroes — Black Widow, Batman, Spiderman, the Hulk, Captain America and more.
But for the kids at the camp, the real hero was Madzelan. Anytime he demonstrated how to take on one of the obstacles, which he accomplished with graceful ease borne of hundreds of hours of training, the youths' jaws would drop. One young boy told Madzelan, "You are impressive."
Maybe someday Revolution Parkour will paint a mural of the "Troutdale Ninja" alongside all those superheroes. But for now all Madzelan wants to do is continue to shine for East Multnomah County.
"It is overwhelming and humbling," he said of all the messages of support. "My goal is to inspire the next generation of ninjas."
Revolution Parkour offers a variety of classes and trainings for people of all ages. Learn more at rvpkgresham.com
Follow Caiden Madzelan's ninja journey on Instagram @troutdale_ninja
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