Teen vs. adults in American Ninja Warrior
He's 15 and a Reynolds High School sophomore, but Caiden Madzelan doesn't fear competing against grown men.
He welcomes it. He's ninja like that.
Madzelan, an accomplished obstacle athlete and junior competitor, will move up to the adult division for the upcoming American Ninja Warrior Season 13 competitions at the Tacoma Dome in Tacoma, Washington. Organizers invited some 30 teenagers, including Madzelan, to be part of the next wave of American Ninja Warrior adult competitions, which will be broadcast on NBC (locally KGW 8), and which include city qualifying contests in Tacoma starting March 29, city finals in Los Angeles in mid-April, and nationals in Las Vegas in May.
One step at a time — Tacoma — but Madzelan feels confident. He's been training with Michael Larlee, aka "Rose City Ninja," a former ANW Season 10 competitor, and Madzelan looks forward to competing against Larlee and other adults on the big stage.
"I've been competing with adults since the seventh grade," the Troutdale teenager said. "I've been beating ninjas you see on the show.
"The big thing on the show will be staying mentally strong. 'I've got this, I've been training for this.' If I do my thing, I'm confident I'll move on. If all goes according to plan, I'll be in Las Vegas for the national finals."
Of course, because it's a television show, we won't know the results from the ANW city finals in Tacoma — or LA or Las Vegas — until it airs on TV.
There will be about 400 athletes in Tacoma — five divisions of 80. In the past, about 30 from each "city" have advanced to the city finals and then the top 15 to nationals.
"You usually have to be 19 years old and up (for ANW), but they're throwing junior ninjas in with adults," Madzelan said. "They think having teenagers on the show will attract more of an audience. … Teenagers are the future of the sport, and they want us to try the course."
"We wholly believe that Caiden is capable of completing any course that ANW challenges him with," his father, Matt Luce, said. "Ninja is an unforgiving sport, but if everything falls into place, we knew he can go far in this competition."
Teens can compete with adults, the 6-1, 160-pound Madzelan said. It's all a matter of handling your own body on various hanging obstacles and being able to balance well on other parts of the course.
"When you watch the show, you don't see a lot of these athletes with huge arms and veins popping out," he said. "Typically it's lean muscle that's been very important for me; I make sure not to have too much muscle." He also trains with ankle weights and a weight vest — "anything I can do to make sure I don't feel the weight."
He adds: "What gives juniors an edge is the strength-to-weight ratio."
Madzelan likes traditional sports such as cross country, wrestling and track and field, but he's a ninja all day, every day. Madzelan said he trains seven days a week. His father's house includes an obstacle course in the backyard, his mother's house a workout equipment room in the garage.
"Seven days a week — I've never done a rest day," he said. "Some days I take it lighter, but there are not days where I do absolutely nothing. I'm not worried about burnout. I'm confident in myself and my abilities."
He started doing ninja training and competitions in the fourth grade, while also doing basketball and baseball, swimming, running, taekwondo, soccer, parkour and rock climbing. He enjoys all the sports.
"Ninja Warrior started as something I'd do every now and then," Madzelan said. "Slowly it moved on to, 'This is pretty cool.' Then it turned into my hobby, and then into my passion, and then into my addiction."
At his mom's, Mondays through Thursdays, he'll do strength and conditioning training — running, sprinting, jump-roping, squats, push-ups, pull-ups, dead hangs (from pull-up bar) and lock-offs (locking arms at 90 degrees on pull-up bar). He'll mix in parkour gym flips. On Fridays and Saturdays, he'll train on his dad's backyard obstacle course.
He also trains at Revolution Parkour in Gresham and Skyhook Ninja Fitness in Tigard.
Madzelan said his work ethic separates him from other athletes, as "I'm confident to say you won't find another kid who has done more work than me."
"He watches old videos of himself and other ninjas on courses to study movement and learn new strategies," his father said.
Madzelan only been injured once, as a fourth-grader, when his foot got stuck in netting on a climbing net. He fell and suffered a broken arm when his arm hit metal.
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.
As confident as he is, Madzelan said he doesn't like to talk about his ninja abilities with classmates.
"I don't want to come across as, 'Hey, look at me,'" he said. Madzelan maintains a 4.0 grade point average and is active in student government and sports. He likes spending time in the outdoors, including hiking.
"When Caiden decides to do something, he goes all in," his father said. "His mom and I have worked hard to make sure he has some balance and remind him that student-athletes are students first."
Madzelan admits to enjoying individual sports.
"If I win, it's because of me; if I lose, it's because of me," he said.
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