What does it take to become an American Ninja Warrior?
For Jay Flores, it’s understanding the physics of your movement against the challenging obstacle course, along with plenty of mental fortitude.
Flores, a mechanical engineer and STEM advocate, will be part of season 14 of NBC’s American Ninja Warrior, a reality show pitting contestants against the clock to jump, reach, lift and run to the buzzer through a set of obstacles.
To prepare, Flores consistently trained at a gym that offers obstacle course-like challenges, which can be reconfigured to fit the needs of any athlete. He’s also no stranger to reality show challenges, having appeared on Telemundo’s Exatlon Estados Unidos.
Plus he’s faced years of overcoming hurdles by becoming an engineer.
“There are a lot of lessons around perseverance and not fearing failure and learning from your mistakes,” he says about the connection between Ninja Warrior and engineering. “That’s very relevant to engineering and innovation, especially early on when it’s important to get out of your comfort zone and really push into new areas.”
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Flores is tackling another challenge as well: Changing the mindset that engineering and other STEM careers are too hard, too challenging, too impossible.
“Engineering is supposed to be hard because we're trying to do things that have never been done before,” he says, but it’s a worthwhile pursuit.
CAD Innovation & the Next Generation
Flores, who grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and attended the University of Wisconsin, wants to help inspire the next generation to pursue STEM and show them how “there’s STEM behind all of your passions.”
He focuses on meeting students where they are by tying any interest to the engineering behind it.
“I started thinking about just how much society celebrates sports, and how athletes – especially in underrepresented communities – are often the heroes of those communities,” Flores says. “If students learned enough about the science behind basketball, about analytics, about how we create fan experiences with technology, how stadiums are made, then they have opportunities to continue their love for the sport, just in a different avenue.”
He has spread his message through many channels: as a Global STEM ambassador for five years at Rockwell Automation; doing outreach as part of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers; working with FIRST Robotics teams; hosting Make48; and speaking to students nationwide, including a TEDx Talk.
Flores also founded Invent the Change, is a member of Discovery Education’s Mystery Science Team, and created an online educational series called It’s Not Magic, It’s Science! (also available in Spanish).
He sees this as a two-fold solution. Students can pursue their passion and a lucrative career in STEM. With that passion, more innovation will improve the sport, “because the people that are most passionate are the ones that are going to do really cool, challenging innovative things in those spaces,” he says.
Now he’s bringing his message to the national stage on NBC.
Obstacle Course Design Using CAD
When preparing to compete on a national TV show, understanding the ins and outs of the challenge is imperative.
Onshape’s Jake Delano created this obstacle course with the buzzer bell in Onshape to help Flores understand what he had to do to get to the top.
“Anytime I can visualize what something looks like and look at it in different ways, and simulate anything, that's going to give me at least a mental advantage on how to approach this,” Flores says.
“In terms of preparation, that's a huge advantage. That's half the battle when it comes to the actual show, because of all the nerves.”
A rendering of what the obstacle course will look like in real life. Made in Onshape!
To design the obstacle course in Onshape, Delano researched the dimensions of the wall by studying its real-life counterpart.
“I was a huge fan of American Ninja Warrior already so this was such a cool project for me to work on,” Delano says. “I got to get familiar with some of our newly released tools like Frames to build the scaffolding around the model and then Render Studio to bring it to life.”
With the new frames functionality in Onshape, constructing frame structures is simple and quick, Delano’s colleague Nacho Martos says. “This model showcases how we can design lighting fixtures, a common assembly in show business.”
American Ninja Warrior also encouraged viewers to send in their own obstacle course designs during the American Ninja Warrior Obstacle Design Challenge in 2021. Some of those designs will be featured in the upcoming seasons.
A Warrior for STEM
In the space where athletics and STEM meet, Flores thrives. He understands the physics behind every move. For instance, his favorite move in an obstacle course challenge is where you have to throw yourself from one object to another, like a trapeze artist.
“It's scary at first if you've never done it before. It's kind of a good metaphor for taking on a challenge or starting a new thing,” he says. “Because at first, you’ll really want to hold on to that bar and you don't want to let go. And that moment in between is a little bit scary. But then once you get to the other side, and you grab it, or even if you fail, it just feels better that you took that leap.”
Much like tackling a new CAD model or pursuing a career in engineering.
Although math needed to pursue a STEM career can be scary for many, Flores wants students to understand that “the equations don't matter. It's what you can do with an equation that matters.”