By day, 31-year-old Gabe Hurtado is a shoe salesman. But by night, he’s a ninja — an “American Ninja Warrior.”
After three auditions for NBC’s obstacle-course competition, Hurtado has proven to be a bolt of lightening — challenging his body with intense, muscle-scultping exercise regimes.
Born and raised in Fresno, Hurtado said he had a normal childhood — he just wanted to play. He expressed his energy through hands-on sports like football and soccer.
“I played almost everything in elementary [school],” he said. “Soccer was my first love.”
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While watching “American Ninja Warrior,” Hurtado recalled being immediately intrigued by the obstacle-course competition. After doing a search on Google, he found a resident of Clovis with an obstacle course built in his backyard.
Jason Huewe, a full-time competitor, invited Hurtado to his home.
“I did horrible my first time,” Hurtado admitted. “I came straight off the couch to check it out but I loved it, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
After beginning training nearly three years ago, Hurtado knew he wanted to participate because of his competitive personality.
“I’ve always been competitive, even at recess in elementary [school],” he said. “We [he and his classmates] were always trying to one up or be the best at this sport. I’ve always just been competitive and up for the challenge of it. It’s a fun challenge, that’s the main thing with me. It just looks like so much fun. I want to see how well I can do.”
Huewe said Hurtado contacted him to take a beginner ninja training class that he taught at the Central California Ninja Warrior Training Course.
“It was the largest private training course for ninja training in the United States,” Huewe explained.
Early on, Huewe said Hurtado stood out during his training.
“He showed a lot of good promise from the very beginning,” he said. “He came at almost every open training day after his beginners class, and he came to pretty much every single competition we ever held there.”
Hurtado trained at the CCNWTC for about a year and a half until the course was retired, but he continued his training to ready himself for the obstacle-course competition.
“Physically, it’s just a lot of calisthenics: pushups, pullups, body weight exercises, actual obstacle training,” Hurtado said. “ Mentally, that’s the toughest thing to train because it’s either you have it or you don’t. You have to have the confidence in yourself. You have to know what you can do — what you’re capable of. Even if it looks hard, you just have to find that perseverance.”
Hurtado applied and auditioned three times for American Ninja Warrior before he finally got a call: He was offered the opportunity to compete. The qualifying course run took place at Universal Studios in Hollywood, which was a new experience for Hurtado as a competitor.
“I’d been out on the course before as a tester the last two years, going up, trying out the obstacles for the producers so they can determine if it’s too hard, too easy,” he said. “That was good experience for me for this moment.”
Hurtado explained that previous season’s tryouts took place in Venice Beach, which allowed spectators and competitors to arrive early, scope out the course and plan their run. At Universal Studios, the course wasn’t accessed as easily.
“It was hidden, so I didn’t get to see the course till the day of when they did the course walkthrough with the rules,” he said. “You don’t have a whole lot of time to try and plan out your attack. Showing up and seeing the course as a competitor was a different experience.”
Hurtado said being on “American Ninja Warrior” was fun, challenging and an overall positive venture.
“It was a kid in a candy store kind of thing,” he said. “I was so happy to be there and so excited to run. To actually be on the course as a competitor was a long-time goal for me. It was really great.”
Participating on “American Ninja Warrior” has allowed him to meet other competitors and learn new training methods.
“A lot of people you see on the show I’ve met and trained with, which is pretty cool,” Hurtado said. “It’s like one big family, that’s the best part about all this. We help each other with tips and we all grow together because it’s ninja versus the course. It’s a really good, family-oriented community.”
After going through the run, Hurtado said he learned a lot about his own inner strength.
“There were a couple times that I felt I almost didn’t make an obstacle,” he said. “Not giving up and staying mentally focused helped me. Just knowing that even if I’m close to failing, I’m still pushing to not fail. I proved to myself how mentally strong I really am.”
Hurtado said having his family watching him on the sidelines, especially his two daughters, was a great source of motivation.
“That’s what made the experience even more enjoyable,” he said. “Them enjoying it and being right on the sideline as I was running and hearing them cheer and root for me, it helped the experience be that much more special. They had happy tears. They were so proud and really enjoyed the moment.”
Hurtado’s oldest daughter, 12-year-old Zenia, said she enjoyed watching her father compete.
“It was surreal,” she said. “It’s difficult to do, but it’s cool when you actually can do it. It has been his dream to get up to the [warped] wall and go to Vegas.”
Along with his own personal training, Hurtado works at a Sketchers Shoe Store and also coaches Ninja Warrior parkour to kids, teens and adults. He brings his daughters with him and encourages them to participate.
“They will run around and play, or they’ll actually jump in the class,” he said.
He explained that his youngest daughter, 4-year-old Zaylee, has a lot of fun trying out the different exercises with him. His daughters help to motivate him and sometimes improve his training.
“When they were smaller, I’d throw them both on my back and do pushups,” he said. “The cuteness factor does help with trying to do a submission video.”
Gabe Hurtado’s backstory and qualifying run will premiere on Season 8 of American Ninja Warrior in July.