There are two new ninja warriors in town.
Valley natives Holly Cavazos and Gloria Orta were first-time contestants on NBC’s latest season of “American Ninja Warrior,” a reality sports competition show in which challengers test their strength, agility and speed in intense obstacle courses.
They competed alongside veteran challenger Abel Gonzalez, an Edinburg native who first appeared on the show in 2014 during Season 6, and has competed in every season after. Challengers in the show vie to complete the obstacle courses with the quickest time. Though, most contestants fall into the pool below before finishing the course.
Four years ago, Gonzalez’s passion for the sport led him to opening his own obstacle-training gym, AXIOS Warrior Academy in Mission. That is where two years ago, he met Cavazos and Orta — it was the genesis of American Ninja Warrior’s “South Texas Team.”
The trio’s episode will air 7 p.m. on Monday on NBC.
Cavazos, a Mission native, said she has been watching the show for more than a decade, and remembers watching Gonzalez’s appearances.
“It was super cool that someone from Edinburg, someone from the Valley, was there,” she said.
Little did she know that, years later, she would join him in representing the region during Season 12.
Cavazos and Orta began taking classes at AXIOS Warrior Academy a couple years ago, at which time Gonzalez noticed their skills and encouraged them to give “American Ninja Warrior” a shot. As a veteran, he warned that ninja training requires a level of tenacity that not everyone has, and diligent training for which many do not have the patience.
“It takes an extreme amount of dedication because the courses are designed for some of the best, well rounded athletes in the world,” he said. “It’s a tough, tough athletic event. It takes such a high level of coordination and self awareness and skills to get through the courses.”
Gonzalez has advanced to the show’s Las Vegas finals twice.
The warriors trained and conditioned at 6 a.m. almost daily for two years. In the Mission gym, training varied from cardio drills and muscle endurance, to yoga and gymnastics — a ninja, after all, should be ready for anything.
“Your body has to be very conditioned to take you through and withstand the course,” Gonzalez said. “You have to have an elite level of endurance.”
In June, the group learned that, out of 70,000 applications, the three of them were among the 150 selected contestants.
Usually, the show films in several cities across the state, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the entire season was shot in two weeks at St. Louis, Missouri in July. Social distancing precautions were implemented, Cavazos said, and masks were only taken off while on the obstacle course.
Being on the set of the show she has watched for a decade was awe striking for Cavazos.
“Getting to experience the behind the scenes and just seeing the course in person was really cool,” she said. “Just being there and being able to say that I am a contestant, saying to myself that I am walking up these steps and I am about to give the obstacle course a shot — it was a dream come true, I had a lot of fun.”
Muscle wasn’t the only thing the trio built. Though they were each other’s competition, they trained together and formed a strong friendship.
Orta, the youngest among the group at 19, said she considers Cavazos and Gonzalez as family.
“They are such amazing training partners, and our friendship really does not end with the course or inside the gym — it goes way beyond the gym,” said Orta, who is studying psychology at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. “I could not have had better mentors and coaches. They are just so full of determination, they are just the best role models to represent the Valley.”