Apparently, Maine doesn’t have enough bridges made of giant, spinning balls strung together.

Jesse Villarreal of Westbrook found that out the hard way when he slipped off just such an obstacle while competing on the reality show “American Ninja Warrior.”

Villarreal, 24, was seen slipping off the spinning ball bridge during the first round of the show’s finals, Sunday night on the G4 cable network. The fall ended Villarreal’s quest to win the obstacle/stunt course reality show and its $500,000 prize.

Villarreal has practiced his style of obstacle course running — known as free running — using Maine’s natural obstacles. He has hopped rocks on the shores of Cape Elizabeth, and climbed monuments and buildings around Portland.

But when he was faced with a spinning ball bridge in the finals — which were taped in Las Vegas a month ago — he wasn’t sure what to do.

“When my foot touched the last ball it just slid, and the ball spun and I couldn’t get my footing,” said Villarreal on Monday. “There was no real way to prepare for that.”

Villarreal, who works as a house painter, had qualified for the finals by competing in a regional competition in Miami in the spring. He was one of 100 people from around the country who made the finals.

Before the spinning balls got him in the finals, he successfully navigated six other obstacles, which involved climbing and jumping over various obstacles, and swinging on ropes and bars.

Villarreal hopes to use the experience and exposure he got from the show to launch a career doing stunt work.

“I’d like to do TV, movies, live shows, other competitions, whatever I can do to make a career out of this,” he said.

Villarreal began “free running” — in which athletes run, jump and climb while navigating all obstacles in their path — while he was a student at Deering High School in Portland.

It’s not a widely known sport, so Villarreal was excited when he learned about “American Ninja Warrior” and saw that its obstacles were made with free runners in mind.

In fact, he said he hopes to try out for the show again next year.

Now if he can just find spinning ball bridges to get some practice.


Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

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