By Sophia Ricco
Strength, skill and speed propelled David Futeran far on the American Ninja Warrior Junior course this season. The fifth-grader in Elwood’s James Boyd Elementary School made it to the semifinals of the kids’ version of the popular American Ninja Warrior television show, taking on challenging obstacle courses that tested his dexterity.
Futeran has wanted to compete on American Ninja Warrior Junior since the first time he watched the show. He started by “literally climbing the walls” of his house and progressed to pursue gymnastics, climbing and ninja training.
“Before watching it, I was still pretty active and it was a dream,” Futeran said. “But over time I built up to it and it became more of a goal than a dream.”
The 10-year-old dedicates himself to practicing gymnastics three times a week and climbing two hours a week. He showed off his skills at a local “ninja gym” where he ran through obstacles like those on the show, and submitted six videos. His believes his training in gymnastics greatly helped him to tackle these hurdles.
“For gymnastics, I stretch then practice all the events,” Futeran said. “Most days it usually goes, vault, high bar, floor, pommel horse, t-bars then rings.”
The ANWJ course puts competitors head-to-head. Warriors run side by side to reach the finishing button first. Futeran had practiced on obstacle courses, but nothing would prepare him for the atmosphere of the race, he said.
“It’s basically the same thing, except a bigger crowd and more on the line,” Futeran said.
His quick moves, long leaps, and love for feeling weightless earned him the nickname “Flying Squirrel.” They also took him far and earned him a best time of 42.37 seconds.
His key was staying hyper-focused.
“I would take a couple of deep breaths and wipe my feet off,” Futeran said. “I cleared out every other thought from my head.”
Kids compete in age brackets of 9-10, 11-12 and 13-14 on the original ANW six-obstacle course.
“They’re just scaled down just a little bit for the different heights and the different sizes of the kids we’re dealing with,” executive producer and director, Kent Weed said.
The tic toc was reduced to a 30-inch diameter and the warped wall scaled down to 13 feet. The warped wall challenges contestants to climb a steep wall and grab a ledge at the top. Futeran had attempted the warped wall prior to the competition, while adapting to the rest of the challenges on the fly.
“I didn’t have the opportunity to practice those specific obstacles, because we didn’t know what they would be,” Futeran said. “But once I saw them, I knew I had done stuff that was pretty similar to it in gymnastics.”
Futeran got to know his fellow competitors and enjoyed meeting kids with the same passion and interests. He was also supported by ninjas he had met training back home.
“I don’t really have a coach or a team, but there is a sort of an unofficial group of East coast ninjas. We have no coach but are pretty much on the same team because we help each other,” Futeran said.
American Ninja Warrior Junior airs on Saturday nights at 7 p.m. on Universal Kids. Futeran was thrilled to see himself race in the semifinals on the episode that aired April 6.
“It was very different watching myself, because I knew what was gonna happen,” Futeran said. “But it was also really cool to see how they projected me and what they said.”
Looking to the future, Futeran is determined to return and win the adult version of American Ninja Warrior.