Freerunning and parkour made Brian Orosco one of the most recognizable participants on the hit summer obstacle course program American Ninja Warrior (ANW). He won the inaugural season in 2009 and went on to compete on Sasuke, the Japanese version of the show. He qualified for Japan again in the second season and was one of four Americans to make it to the third stage before falling off the roulette cylinder, a rolling metal spool skewered with vertical poles that resembles a medieval torture device.
This season, which premieres July 1 on NBC and G4, will be the mustachioed Orosco’s fifth time competing on the show. The self-proclaimed “illinest, killinest, mad flippin ginja ninja you’ve ever seen,” attributes much of his success on ANW to his parkour and freerunning background. Training as a traceur helped Orosco navigate the challenges of ANW. “Through practice and movement, we’re able to adapt to these situations pretty easily,” he says.
Freerunning also gave Orosco a unique sense of spatial awareness and helped him improve his stamina. ANW contestants have 90 seconds to finish a course, the same amount of time allotted in many freerunning competitions. “Just having that experience, knowing that you can keep pushing without totally gassing out, definitely helps,” he says.
Since competing in the first season, Orosco has noticed a change in the way people prepare for the competition. Instead of applying skills from other disciplines to ANW challenges, contestants train specifically for obstacles like dance bridge or quintuple step. “Now people’s skill set is ninja warrior,” Orosco says.
Orosco’s own training changed over the years as well. While he still freeruns outside, he reluctantly spends half of his practice time in the gym. “The real world is where it matters,” he says, but the need for self-preservation trumps fresh air. As a professional stuntman and a member of Team Tempest Freerunning, he cannot afford to hurt himself in training.
Training as a traceur gives Orosco a big advantage over the “gym rats” he competes against on ANW. “A lot of the athletes that show up, they look really strong and look really tough,” he says. “But when it comes down to moving, it’s like, ‘Hey man, you’ve got nice muscles. But can you use them?’”