June 19th, 2024

Home-grown ninjas: Hatters bound for Ultimate Ninja championship

By Ryan McCracken on June 28, 2018.

Dylan McDougall (left) and Dylan Look lift themselves horizontally at the Family Leisure Centre playground Tuesday, June 26, 2018. The pair of Medicine Hat athletes will be competing at the Ultimate Ninja Athlete Association World Championship Finals in Albuquerque, NM., July 19 to 21.


If you see two grown men swinging from monkey bars at your local playground this week, it’s because they’re training to become ninjas.

Dylan Look and Dylan MacDougall have been hitting playgrounds across Medicine Hat in preparation of the Ultimate Ninja Athlete Association’s World Championship in Albuquerque, N.M., from July 19 to 21. While Look says they tend to turn some heads while training on the jungle gym, they aren’t left with many other options.

“I think me and Dylan are the only adults who will run around the city and stop in playgrounds to do our training there,” said Look, who works as a climbing instructor at the Downtown YMCA. “All the kids look at us like, ‘You guys are crazy, why are you here with us?’ But we’re just telling them this is what we’re doing because there’s no gym here. And they’re all shocked and like ‘Open a gym!'”

The closest gym offering a ninja course — like the one made famous by the television show American Ninja Warrior — is Cor Fit in Calgary. While the pair of Dylans often make the trip into the big city —including at December’s regional qualifier, where they took the top two spots to punch their ticket to next moth’s World Championship as a pair of overlooked out-of-towners — Look says they’ve been forced to get more creative on home turf.

The duo built up a few makeshift versions of obstacles in their garages and backyards since joining forces as aspiring ninjas just over two years ago — but one of last year’s windstorms destroy their backyard training equipment and forced them onto the local jungle gyms.

“We started building these obstacles in our backyards and in our garages, and traveling around Alberta to try and find these ninja warrior gyms. We kind of fell in love it,” said Look.

Medicine Hat has yet to jump in on the trend, but the sport has been rising in popularity since American Ninja Warrior hit the airwaves in 2009 — a spectacle that MacDougall says pulled him in immediately.

“I saw the show and I know I had been working out when I saw the show so I figured I could try it out and it started building from there. I kept training and now I’m where I’m at now,” said MacDougall, a personal trainer at Back Alley Fitness. “You definitely have to be confident in yourself, you can never second-guess. You’re doing a lot of unique different exercises so you definitely have to work a lot of your upper body, constantly train and keep your mind on it.”

Look added nothing quite compares to the feeling of overcoming an obstacle on the grueling course. While he says it’s definitely all as fun as it looks, none of it is simple.

“Do you remember playing on monkey bars as a kid? Easy, right? I recommend anybody try playing on a playground as an adult,” said Look. “The first time that you land a rung on the salmon ladder or the first time you jump from a bar eight feet across to another bar, you feel like a monkey.”

America Ninja Warrior hasn’t ventured into Canadian territory but the UNAA features many of the same athletes that appear on the show. Look got a taste of competing against the show’s stars at an event in Denver last year and says he’s thrilled to see how two kids from Medicine Hat will fare against the world’s best.

“It’ll be really fun. I did that last year in Denver with them and they’re all nice, just regular people like us,” said Look. “They don’t think they’re famous at all — a couple of them do, some of them are hot heads.”

“It’s definitely going to be pretty cool and I know the competition is going to be tough but I think me and Dylan definitely have what it takes,” added MacDougall. “We’ve been training for quite a while, so we’ve got to look at it as, we’re just as good as them and we’ve all made it to the finals so we’re all going to be high competitors —but I’m definitely looking forward to meeting some of them.”

For the time being, Look and MacDougall will be doing their best to stay sharp using the best playground equipment Medicine Hat has to offer. While it could be the start of a fruitful career for each of the local athletes, Look says his big dream is far simpler — he just wants to share just love for the sport with the city that raised him.

“I’ve been working hard for the past two and a half years to try and get a gym open around here. Now that I work for the Y, I’m trying to incorporate it into the Y, but being a charity that’s not their first priority, to upgrade to a ninja gym,” said Look. “That’s still my life goal. Not to compete on the show, not to win all that money, just to open a gym here so people can play around in a safe place to jump around.”

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