Ninja Warrior UK: We try new assault course open to the public
It’s the toughest assault course on TV. Now Ninja Warrior UK has launched a new adventure park in Stoke. Our man Pete Madeley limbers up . . .
I’ll let you into a secret.
I enjoy a kebab. And the occasional McDonald’s, a Chinese takeaway on a Saturday night, and every now and again, a taco goes down quite nicely.
There’s no end to my love for a can of beer. Or two. My WV Active membership card has been used precisely zero times since I started paying for it five months ago.
In fact, the last time I saw the inside of a gym was when I accidentally walked into one at Dudley Leisure Centre in the late 1990s while looking for the bar.
It’s safe to say that since my football career hit the buffers around a quarter of a century back, I’ve let myself go.
So faced with taking on Ninja Warrior UK’s new adventure park obstacle course – an endeavour that clearly requires strength, stamina and the ability to run up a 14ft vertical wall – I was more than a little concerned.
WATCH Pete tackle the course:
“Will there be an ambulance there to take you away when you die?” my 10-year-old son asked helpfully the night before I was due to go.
He had a point. I’m sure the last thing the good people of Ninja Warrior UK wanted on their big opening day was to have to cart a shamefully unfit, pot-bellied 45-year-old out on a stretcher.
Not a good look – for them or me.
On the drive to the venue in Stoke I spent 45 minutes ruminating over whether or not to eat the bacon sarnie I had made that morning BEFORE taking on the obstacles (a last meal, if you will), or to leave it as a special treat for afterwards. I opted for the latter, for obvious reasons that don’t need explaining in a family newspaper.
The soundtrack to Rocky IV was played in its entirety in an ambitious attempt to fire up the adrenaline that might just push me over the line.
Entering the park it appeared that all my worries were for nothing.
The course in front of me featured a soft ball play-pit, ladders to clamber up and what looked like a wall made of soft blocks that looked ripe for smashing down. The high bars weren’t even that high. In fact I could probably have reached them without needing to jump.
It’s nothing more than a glorified Wacky Warehouse, I thought. This might not be so bad after all.
“That’s the kids section,” one of the staff tells me, bursting my bubble in an instant.
“The adults bit is around the back.”
Faintly embarrassed I wandered through the large – and very swanky – café area and made my way around to the grown-ups course.
On the way I passed by a large gym mat where people were taking it in turns to perform the type of dizzying floor exercises I had only previously seen in the Olympics.
Flips, kicks, spins, somersaults, cartwheels, you know the drill.
It meant that by the time I had descended the stairs to ‘ground zero’, I was already giddy.
The adults course stretched out more than 60 metres in front of me and looked a lot like the one off the telly, only without the water.
There was people who looked like they should have been back on the kids course leaping several feet into the air and swinging themselves from bar to bar.
Some of them were hanging upside down, shifting their weight from their feet to their hands as they moved effortlessly from one set of obstacles to the next.
Fortunately, there are people on hand to guide me through it.
Former professional footballer Chris Kamara, presenter of ITV’s Ninja Warrior UK for the last three years, must have a few ideas, surely? He may still look as fit as a butcher’s dog, but the man is 60 years of age. If he can do it, so can I.
“Chris won’t be attempting any of the obstacles today,” I’m told.
The man himself is standing a few yards away, but offers only a hearty laugh and: “A lot of people find it all a bit tricky,” as a pearl of wisdom.
It was time to turn to a real expert.
Monty Gupwell, better known as The Ninjesta, knows his way this type of thing better than most, having become a fans favourite on the show for his somewhat unorthodox but effective way of approaching the obstacles.
He also does it all with a smile, and while wearing a red and yellow jester suit.
“I’ve always swung off things and climbed things,” says Monty, from Solihull.
He works as a professional jester – yes, there is such a thing – at four castles, teaches circus tricks, which sees him juggle and breathe fire, and has been a rock climber for 30 years.
He first appeared on the show at the age of 40.
“Most people buy a sports car, I applied to this,” he says.
“I ride unicycles, walk on stilts and walk on tightropes, so for me balance isn’t an issue.
As I don’t do any of those things, balance may well be an issue for me, I tell him.
“Just make sure you commit yourself, whatever the obstacle,” he says, cutting to the chase. “If I can do it, 44 years old and dressed as a jester, then anyone can do it.”
Apparently the majority of the obstacles are ‘very upper body intensive’, which is probably not great for my 15-and-a-half stone frame.
Use your feet and loosen your legs, he goes on. “Try not to think too far ahead. Focus on what’s in front of you. And you know what, if you fall, at least you don’t get wet.”
That’s true, but I do run the risk of falling flat on my face against a rubber mat that feels a lot harder than it looks.
WATCH: Kammy on the new course:
I first have a crack at the rolling log, which Monty tells me is his nemesis.
The aim is to cross a pit by running along a ‘log’ split into sections, each of which rolls around as soon as it is touched.
“Just look straight ahead and run,” another former competitor from the show pipes up.
That’s what I did – and it worked. With a minimum of fuss obstacle one is in the bag.
Buoyed by this early success I decide to try it again, this time hesitating for a split second that proves costly as I’m sent crashing to the mat in my final stride.
The next few obstacles see me make a concerted effort not to cause myself serious injury as I perform what feel like endless swinging manouvres that make my arms feel as if they are about to fall out of their sockets.
I manage to get through it relatively unscathed, even managing to keep a little bit left over in the tank for the infamous warped wall.
Standing 14ft in the air, the aim is to run up the concave wall, grab the lip, and haul yourself on to its top.
It can be a nightmare for competitors on the TV show, coming at the end of the course and requiring one last monumental push to get the job done.
“It’s all about technique,” according to Monty. “You’re a big strapping six footer, so just take two steps and jump. Don’t overthink it. Nice big high steps, push with your legs and stretch with your arms and remember top throw yourself over the top.
“You’ve got the right trainers on anyway, so that’s a start.”
I did exactly what he said, taking two steps and grabbing the top edge of the wall.
With one almighty haul I was up, surviving the first twinges of cramp that would return in cruel fashion several hours later and leave me rolling around in agony.
But sitting there on top of the wall it all felt worth it – and no ambulance had been required.