Part Man, Part Orangutang
Jake Murray is climbing his way through the American Ninja Warrior rankings. Jake has made a huge splash on NBC’s heart-pounding competitive series and making himself a house hold name.
Rock|Life: When did you first hear about American Ninja Warrior?
Jake Murray: I first heard about American Ninja Warrior when I was 13, though at the time it was actually the original Japanese version called “Sasuke.” I grew up without cable, so I would always watch television at my friends house.
RL: What was it about American Ninja Warrior that made you want to give it a try?
JM: I was a squirrely kid growing up, always monkeying around on playgrounds and whatnot, so when I saw the show on the G4 channel at the time, which is now Esquire, I was stoked on it. All my friends were like, “Oh yeah, you’d be so good at that!” Though I didn’t think much of it after that. Then I saw it in America when I was in my early twenties and I thought it would be cool to try.
RL: What was the experience like to try out for ANW?
JM: I think when the show first started in the US, you had to travel to California to get on it and at the time I wasn’t really interested in doing that. A few years went by and one day my roommate at the time was like “Ninja Warrior is coming to Denver sometime next week!” I was super excited and really wanted to give it a try. One thing I didn’t understand though was that you had to submit an application and a video to get accepted to run the course. So I got online to see how to apply and found out that I was way past the deadline. Though, I read online that you could wait in the walk-on line once they started building the course. So, I figured I would just do that and try to be the first person in line. I decided to go out the day of, like, ten hours early, hoping that no one would be there. I was very wrong. I ended up being 65th in line by the time I signed up. I learned the hard way that year that you have to show up, like, days prior. I think the most anyone had waited that year was, like three, maybe four days. Which seems like a long time, but now people are waiting 20 days or something like that. The following year, the show was coming back to Denver, which was kind of crazy because the only city they typically repeat is Los Angeles. Since the show was coming back, I had no plans of blowing it this time. I told myself I would wait a week if I had to so I could be number one in line to guarantee my spot. Usually it’s pretty much a guarantee for the first person, but after that they just kind of sprinkle other people in where they can fit them, but they’re not obligated to let the walk-ons run. That’s why you want to make a good video! So I ended up waiting until like 5 days out and I see that some people are starting to get in line. So I cruise on my bike down to the park and hop in line. I ended up 12th in line. I was feeling pretty good being 12th, but a little bummed because I wanted to be at least in the top ten. They had let in 37 people the year before so I figured I was in a good shape. I waited for 5 days through some good and bad weather, including snow and sleet. Long story short, I didn’t get my shot to run that year, even after waiting for 5 days. I was pretty torn but it was okay because I got to test the course. Which is awesome because they only let a certain number of people test the entire course and I cleared every obstacle. However, there’s a silver lining to not getting to be on the show, because I was out with a vengeance to make an amazing application video that they could not refuse. That’s when the Foot Loose video came about! I thought it would be pretty funny if I did it right. Usually they start accepting applications in January and close in February, like Valentine’s Day, but that year they opened up in September and closed in January. So they opened up freakishly early, and I was like “Oh God!” Supposedly, if you get your video in right away, there’s a better chance that they’ll actually watch it. At that point in time, they were getting like 40,000-50,000 videos. With that many videos, they probably watch the first ten seconds and if your personality isn’t what they want, they probably skip it. That’s just speculation on my part, but that’s what I’ve heard through the rumor mill. So, I was scrambling to finish the video, and I got it in. A friend of mine saw it, and thought it was funny so he uploaded to Reddit and didn’t tell me. Once it started to blow up, he messaged me on Facebook and was like, “Hey man, I thought your video was funny, so I put it on Reddit, and it’s starting to blow up.” That’s kind of how it went viral. It ended up catching ANW’s attention, and I got my chance to run the course.
RL: What was it like to finally compete on ANW?
JM: It was pretty crazy. The year I made the Foot Loose video I competed in Kansas City and made it all the way to the finals. This year I competed in Indianapolis for my region and made it to the finals again, though we (the viewers) all know how that ended. It was a big bummer, it really was. There’s a lot to take into account when you watch the show. I mean, you realize it’s nighttime when you watch the show, but we film the show from sundown to sunup so it’s an overnight shoot. So a lot of people could potentially be running the course at like 4:00 or 5:00 a.m.
RL: What’s been your favorite part of the whole Ninja Warrior experience?
JM: That’s tough because it’s pretty much my life now. I mean, I’m still having a lot of fun rock climbing and skating here and there but I center my life around training and traveling for the competitions. I love the traveling I get to do and the people I get to meet. It’s so fun! The one thing I learned about myself during this is that I love competing. It’s you against the course, not you against other people. I meant that’s what skateboarding is, you push yourself as hard as you want and there’s no coach yelling at you. You are your own motivation. I’ve come to learn that I’m a pretty persistent person if I’m passionate about something and I am definitely my biggest motivational factor. I love progression and I have to motivate myself in order to progress.
RL: Is winning the grand prize the only way to get compensated as a Ninja Warrior athlete? Do Ninja Warrior athletes have sponsors?
JM: There could totally be! There are a lot of sponsorship opportunities but not a lot of companies are jumping at it, which is understandable. We are not allowed to wear clothing brands on the show. Unless you own the rights to it, like if you’re starting a little gym or something, they might let you get away with it if you sign waivers and stuff. But otherwise, no, the only money you can make is during the season and during qualifying. The top 3 spots of qualifying pay out a little bit of money and then in the finals you can win the $1,000,000. That’s really the only way you’re making money. So there’s no consolation prizes or anything like that. They do pay for your trip out to Vegas, your hotel, and give you a stipend if you qualify. But you pay for everything on the way to qualifiers. For people who are serious about it, like myself, I think it’s a no brainer. So I’m willing to pay $200 or whatever for my flight out there because I’m confident that I can win it all. More Ninjas are starting to get sponsored, but not a lot. I do not have any sponsors. It’s a bummer but at the same time it’s nice to not have any extra pressure. Ultimately, this is fun and that’s always the basis of why I do what I do.
RL: What does the offseason look like for Ninja Warriors?
JM: There really isn’t an offseason because the scene outside of the show has grown so much. In the past year there have been so many Ninja gyms that have opened up around the country that are constantly hosting competitions that allow me to travel and compete. It’s essentially extra training. That’s how I look at the competitions outside of the show. I could potentially pay rent for a couple of months if I win them. Usually the obstacles are a little more difficult than the show, so it’s really good physical and mental training to prepare you for the regular season.
RL: What are your hobbies outside of American Ninja Warrior and skateboarding?
JM: I answered this question in an online interview like a month ago, and it made me realize how few hobbies I have and how all of my hobbies are physical, except for video games (Laughs). I’ve dabbled a little in Parkour. It’s super fun. The movement in general is super cool. Skateboarding is definitely one of my bigger hobbies, though my skateboarding sessions are few and far between these days. Training and rock climbing have taken over. They’re definitely my new love but skateboarding will always have that special place in my heart.
RL: Pretend they’re recasting for Indiana Jones or Ren from Footloose. Who would you want to be?
JM: Dude… Indiana Jones for sure, I mean I love Footloose, but I would be stoked to star in an action movie and that’s coming from somebody who doesn’t know the first thing about acting in a movie. When I was growing up I was like “yeah, that’s the guy I want to be!” I want to go on adventures and kick ass for a living. I’d have to say Indy for sure. Ren McCormack is a bad ass in his own right, but Indy was the man’s man.
RL: You get to be Indiana Jones or you get to win it all for American Ninja Warrior?
JM: Win it all for sure! That’s like pretending to be someone else, or being myself, and I’d take being myself any day. That’s a tough one to answer, but I’ve worked so hard at this, and I really do think I have what it takes. So to see all this hard work pay off, and not just for me, but my girlfriend has been backing me hard too. Like when you’re not on the climbing end of the rope in a gym it’s called belaying, she’s my belayer whenever I have to do endurance and so like once or twice a week for like 6 weeks, she’ll be belaying me for 15 minutes straight and then I take a 15 minute break, and then I get back on for 15 minutes, and you know I do that four times for endurance. And she has to do that, like, every time I want to do endurance, for weeks on end. So it’d be sweet to have it pay off for her and me, and family would be so proud, and it would just be really fulfilling.