Aside from his family, Steve Mascaro has two passions in life: robots and “American Ninja Warrior.”
Mascaro, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Utah, will show America how those two things meet when his attempt to tackle the “American Ninja Warrior” obstacle course airs Monday at 7 p.m. MDT on NBC (KSL, Ch. 5, in Utah).
Mascaro, at 45, looks more the bespectacled academic than the muscular athlete. But that may be to his advantage.
“To be good on the show, you can’t be too musclebound,” he said recently. “You have to have a good power-to-weight ratio. The ones who do well are the rock-climber types.”
Mascaro’s journey to “American Ninja Warrior” started with the class he teaches in robotics, called “Mechatronics” (a combination of “mechanical” and “electronics”).
Last year, he had an idea. “What if I make a ‘Robot Ninja Warrior’ obstacle course for my class?” he said.
He worked last summer to design the robot obstacle course. It included a balance board, a sliding door to open, a U-turn to navigate, monkey rails over a gap in the track, and the trademark curved wall at the end.
The challenge to his junior-level students: Design, build and program a robot that could autonomously conquer the obstacles. To sweeten the deal, Mascaro vowed that if his students could make their robots, he would start training to compete on “America Ninja Warrior.”
He began training in January at Ninja Warehouse, an extreme gym in Salt Lake City where he could practice the leaping, climbing and swinging required for the grueling obstacle courses. The gym’s owner, Karson Voiles, has reached the Las Vegas finals of “American Ninja Warrior” three times and competed in the 2016 spinoff “Team Ninja Warrior.”
“I’m in the best shape of my life now,” said Mascaro, who’s married with three young sons and enjoys mountain biking, rock climbing and snowboarding.
He competed in Minneapolis, one of six cities to play host to qualifying rounds. Mascaro is not allowed to divulge the outcome of his run before it airs Monday.
The top 30 in each city go on to the “city finals,” and the top 15 in each city from that round go to the national finals in Las Vegas.
The experience was “amazing,” Mascaro said. “You get to meet people from all walks of life.
“They film it at night. They start filming as soon as it turns dark, and they go until 5 in the morning. … You don’t know what the obstacles are [in advance], and you get one try and that’s it.”
Mascaro said his robots in his audition video helped secure him a spot on “America Ninja Warrior.”
“The ‘Robot Ninja Warrior’ was kind of my way in,” he said. “I knew it wasn’t going to be my physical prowess that got me on the show.”
Update: SBNation reports that Mascaro made it through the Floating Steps but then, despite the support of the homemade robots cheering him on, fell on the Double Twister.