Jesse Villarreal’s unorthodox training methods — including climbing metal sculptures in downtown Portland and bounding across seaside boulders in Cape Elizabeth — paid off big Monday night as he advanced to the finals of the NBC reality show “American Ninja Warrior.”
Villarreal, 24, was seen Monday night running the show’s obstacle course during a Northeast regional qualifying round held earlier this year in Miami.
Now that he’s made the cut, the Westbrook resident will be one of 100 athletes vying for the show’s $500,000 prize in the finals in Las Vegas. That round will begin airing July 8.
Villarreal was pointed out as a favorite to qualify early in the one-hour show by co-host Jonny Moseley, an Olympic gold medalist in skiing. When Villarreal began his run on the obstacle course, Moseley said he was so graceful that he looked like he was “dancing out there.”
Contestants are timed, and must negotiate all obstacles without falling into the water below. While running the course, Villarreal wore a velociraptor mask over his mouth, which he said helped him “attack” the course.
He did attack the course, mostly flawlessly. He had no problems with jumping onto the “quad steps,” which were a kind of fabricated boulder field, or hanging on to a swinging log. But he tripped on a bridge made of Bungee cords, and fell. He didn’t fall off the bridge, though, and was able to keep going.
Other obstacles he handled with ease included a series of “jumping bars,” where he had to use a trampoline to reach one elevated bar, then swing himself to the others.
Then he had to lift several movable walls, climb a couple of cargo nets, scale a curved 14-foot wall, and swing through the air using several hanging wheels.
“He really impressed me,” Moseley said.
At one point during the show, Villarreal was seen doing some of his training at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth, and hauling sea clams while on a boat in Casco Bay.
The show’s announcers referred to Villarreal as a fisherman. While he has fished, he’s currently a painter and considering becoming a police officer.
While he was seen jumping on the rocks and leaping off old gun batteries at Fort Williams, Villarreal talked about his passion for parkour, or “free running” — the sport of finding the quickest way around obstacles. He found out about free running while in high school and has been doing it — on his own, not part of a team — ever since.
At the beginning of Monday’s episode, there were 30 contestants in the Northeast regional round, but only 15, including Villarreal, moved on.
The other competitors on Monday’s show included stuntmen, gym owners, golf course workers and police officers. Many were long-time free runners, like Villarreal.
The show is based on a long-running Japanese competition show called “Sasuke.”
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: [email protected]