Published: Aug. 30, 2021

'American Ninja Warrior' tests physical and mental toughness. Thanks to his training regime and Leeds, Nate Hansen has both.

Nate Hansen celebrateing after completing the course on 'American Ninja Warrior.'

Nate Hansen Bus'22—better known as Gnarly Ninja Nate—celebrates winning in the semifinal on 'American Ninja Warrior.' That victory sent him to the finals, which begin Aug. 30 in Las Vegas. (Photo: Elizabeth Morris/NBC)

One of Nate Hansen’s favorite childhood traditions was Monday nights, when the family would gather on the couch for ice cream and “American Ninja Warrior.”

Today, he’s not just Nate Hansen, but Gnarly Ninja Nate, a physics-defying athlete who has qualified for the show’s Season 13 national finals, which airs beginning tonight. And while he’s one of 64 finalists who’ve trained for the obstacles they must overcome to win, what those other competitors don’t have is an education from the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado Boulder. 

Cheer on Gnarly Ninja Nate on Monday, Aug. 30, at 6 p.m. on NBC. The show can also be streamed on Peacock and Hulu.

And if you think those obstacles are just physical, Hansen—a senior studying marketing and real estate—will be quick to correct you.

“Success in the physical challenges on the course comes down to your mental state,” Hansen said. “If you can approach each challenge with confidence, that’s when you’ll be successful.”

That attitude has helped him train as a ninja, but it’s also made him a better student. Hansen arrived at Boulder with a prestigious Daniels Scholarship, but admits his academic career got off to a difficult start, especially as he started training for the show. 

Three photos of Nate Hansen completing obstacles on 'American Ninja Warrior.'

Many of the show's physical challenges are extra difficult for Nate Hansen, who has growth hormone deficiency and is much shorter than other athletes. He enjoys using the show as a way to reach and inspire others—especially children—with GHD. (Photos: Elizabeth Morris/NBC)

“My hobbies took over my education, and I developed some bad habits,” Hansen said. Later in his freshman year, he said, “I realized I couldn’t be a full-time student, a full-time athlete and an inspiration to all these people without being disciplined.”

His marketing classes has been crucial in helping him build a brand for himself on social media—an important consideration for contestants on the show, who need a story to go along with their physical prowess.  

“When I started on the show, I realized it was a job as an athlete, but also a job as a marketer—I need to be able to promote myself,” he said. “My Leeds education has helped me with that. I’ve learned not just to read a textbook, but how to apply what you’ve been taught in different ways. That’s influenced me as an athlete—you can learn a skill over and over again, or you can learn the movement behind the skill and then use that movement to overcome new challenges.” 

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“You have to prepare for the uncontrollable. You don’t always know how a new obstacle will behave, or how hard a test or project will be.”

Nate Hansen Bus'22

Overcoming challenges is old hat to Hansen. At age 12, he was diagnosed with growth hormone deficiency; he absorbed more than his share of abuse from bullies as he went through school. At 5 foot 2 inches, he’s easily among the show’s shortest contestants, but he uses his height and his platform to be a model to others with GHD. 

“I didn’t have anyone to look up to until I met Brian (Arnold, a longtime “Ninja” contestant)—and I still found it hard to relate to him, because he was so much taller than I was,” Hansen said with a laugh. “I want to be that role model for other kids, so they can look at “Ninja Warrior” and Gnarly Nate and say, ‘I can conquer anything and be just like him.’” 

Because he’s smaller than most competitors, he has to approach the challenges on the course differently. Watching him leap across platforms or swing from bars high in the air, you realize how much extra training Hansen has done to ensure he can complete the course.

'Prepare for the uncontrollable'

“‘Ninja Warrior’ has taught me there are going to be difficult, dangerous, challenging situations, and sometimes you can’t predict them,” he said. “You have to prepare for the uncontrollable. You don’t always know how a new obstacle will behave, or how hard a test or project will be.”

Hansen’s short-term goal is not to win Season 13 of “American Ninja Warrior,” but to become the show’s first multiseason champion. In the longer term, he’s hoping his Leeds education helps him create a gym that emphasizes becoming a better version of yourself, as opposed to just training and working out. That’s meant carving out more time for classes even as he’s focused more on athletics. 

“I never want to go into a competition—whether that’s ninja or a test—thinking there was something more I could have done to improve my performance,” he said. “I want to be sure in my education and athletics that I’m giving 100 percent at all times.” 

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