Saturday, May 25, 2024

As a Ninja, Nate Pardo, 14, has his own way of taking the stairs. (Photo: Jean Cummings)

Some ninjas train their whole lives for the skill not to be seen, but Nate Pardo’s short lifetime of Ninja training is bringing him to national television.


Nate, a 14-year-old first-year student at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, is one of the first competitors in the new “American Ninja Warrior Junior” television show – a spinoff of “American Ninja Warrior,” which has been sending adult competitors through obstacle courses for 10 years. The courses are a crazy mix of gymnastics, rock climbing and aerial work, all over water. It often looks ridiculously hard, and always looks like a blast.

Last winter, hearing there was going to be a junior version, Nate joined scores of kids from his gym alone trying to make it onto the show. More than 6,000 kids sent in submission videos.

In July, after phone interviews and several follow-up videos, Nate got word he made the show, one of 64 kids in the 13-to-14 age group chosen to compete, and two weeks later he and mother Lissa Galluccio were in Los Angeles for four days of filming.

“I couldn’t even believe it,” Nate said. “I always thought I’d have to wait until I was 19 in order to compete in the adult version.”

The obstacles are like the adult version, but the junior version has two competitors side by side where you eliminate your opponent, rather the adults’ one-at-a-time race against the clock. The hosts of the show, as with the original, are Matt Iseman, Akbar Gbajabiamila, with Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez added. 

Discovering Ninja

Nate was one of those kids who always climbed around on the outside of playground equipment and spent a lot of time hanging from the monkey bars, he said. The real spark came four years ago when he went to his older brother’s Ninja birthday party at the Action Athletics gym in Newton (now moved to Wellesley) after they had been watching the adult TV show for a couple of years. He found out he was really good at it. The gym owner wanted to start a team and recruited Nate and his brother after watching them at the party.

Since then Nate has been going to the gym regularly. He joined a team and competes year-round in regional and national competitions; he also competes individually in the National Ninja League. Two years ago, Nate finished second in national finals in his age group, and last year finished eighth in his 13-to-15 age group, said Galluccio, who shows her commitment by driving her son to all the practices and meets. Nate now even has a job as a staff member at the gym.

“It is such great exercise [for] your whole body,” Galluccio said. “My favorite part of it is that it’s really about the kids beating the obstacle. It’s also a game of strategy. Competitors are shown the course, but they can’t touch anything,” she said.

“As kids are competing, if they fail, they are able to help the other kids who came after him” to help figure out the obstacles, Galluccio said. “They are really tight – it’s a really nice community, and they are really supportive.”

Nate’s favorite part is something called the salmon ladder, in which you hang from a heavy metal bar wedged between two wooden “teeth.” Using arm strength and momentum from swinging your body, you have to jerk the bar out of the teeth and move you and the bar up or down to the next set of teeth. Here’s a video of Nate doing it at an event a couple of weeks ago:

Nate did 49 rungs in one minute, his mother said – with the next closest competitor in the low 20s.

Nate’s episode airs at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Saturday on Universal Kids Network or online here. Family isn’t allowed to say how he did before it’s aired, so you’ll have to watch to see.