LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Ninjas are hiding in plain sight all over the Natural State. Josh Harris happens to be one of them who trains aspiring ninjas right in his backyard.
“My neighbors think I’m weird, of course,” Harris said. “They’re not sure quite what I’m building over here.”
After Harris graduated from college, he was a welder for a stretch of time.
“I spent a lot of time doing a lot of ornamental iron work and structural iron work,” Harris said. “I used a lot of those tools and lessons in the construction industry and applied to building ninja obstacles.”
“It probably took me a couple of weeks to build the small section, couple of months to build the large section behind me. Then took another month to build the large section over on the side yard. Maybe 5-6 months total spread out for over two years.”
His backyard has just about everything you could need to become a ninja.
“I’ve got a main section over here that has a lot of good precise grip work. Real technical stuff. Then over that way I built a really large section that I can do two people at the same time and race,” Harris said.
According to Josh’s wife, he won’t be adding any more structures. However, that doesn’t stop constant family, friends, and the 100+ kids that Harris trains from using it.
“This is just a playground for adults,” Harris added. “It’s reminiscent of my childhood and just playing. Everything that is an obstacle is a challenge. You feel like you want to overcome something.”
The way Josh got into the whole sport was by overcoming the toughest obstacle of his life.
“Probably about seven years ago is when my health really crashed,” Harris said. “Found out I had Neurologic Lyme disease. I was very sick in the hospital.”
For two months Josh was bedridden sleeping over 18 hours a day as Lyme disease took a toll on his body. His adrenal system also failed and he dropped to 115 pounds.
Josh’s liver and spleen became so swollen they were touching each other. The doctors recommended that Harris’ kids keep their distance because they were afraid that they could accidently jump on Josh and rupturing an organ potentially killing him.
It took three months for the organs to go back to their normal size.
“That was a turning point for me, it was a realization of what can I do and how am I going to get better? Eating healthy was a huge component of recovery, then exercise. I realized I need regular exercise, but not just working out. I need a goal. Some kind of competition, something that will inspire me. Ninja and obstacle course racing became that thing.”Josh Harris
“I saw, right from the beginning, his character through the whole process of having Lyme disease. That humbled him a lot more and gave him a lot of perspective,” Josh’s coworker and friend Peter Heil said.
It took four years for Harris to feel 100 percent normal. However, he started running in Spartan and obstacle course races two years after his battle with Lyme disease. Two years after that point, he was on two episodes of American Ninja Warrior in Oklahoma City.
“I am one of those people who applied for the show, not thinking that I’d ever make it on America Ninja Warrior. Then they called me and said we’re going to cast you on the show. I was like dang I have to train,” Josh said while laughing.”
Harris made it past the first round to the city finals, but fell short of making it to Las Vegas.
“Being on Ninja Warrior was an incredible experience. All of the competitors are amazing people. The crew of the show is full of amazing people. It’s so encouraging and so positive. The only bad part was that when we filmed it was midnight and it was 45 degrees outside and our hands were freezing. When you fall in the water, you’re freezing, you’re like I’m done. I got to go get somewhere warm.”
At 40 years young, Josh still travels the country competing in spartan and ninja obstacle races.
“A lot of people don’t know, but this is a sport like Crossfit or other sports that are more workouts,” Harris said. “There are competitions all over the country. I’ve been in multiple league finals in Jersey or Vegas for different leagues that are ninja specific even this year.”
However, when he’s not being a ninja Harris gives back to his community through his non-profit Well Fed.
“Back when I found out I had Lyme disease and my health was really bad diet was a big thing,” Josh said. “I realized I needed to change my diet and eat healthy. Arkansas as a state, one in five people are considered food insecure, because they don’t have access to the food they need to live healthy.”
Through Well Fed, Josh and company help feed healthy food to people in low income communities and educate them on the importance of a healthy diet and recipes.
“Just in this last year we have fed over 5,000 individuals with healthy food. Which, in turn, really impacts double that because of their family members. So that’s over 10,000 people. That’s 60,000 pounds of healthy food,” Harris stated.
“We’ve partnered with Pulaski County Extension. They come in to do education for us. Just ten minute segments,” Heil said. “People want to listen, they want to change because we’re there coming to them for the long term.”
“A lot of our numbers are increasing and we’re seeing more people being fed. We’ve seen over 60 thousand pounds of food in this past year that we’ve given to people. We’re hoping that increases to twice that.”Peter Heil
Whether it’s through food or training local ninjas, Josh Harris is an inspiration to his community.
“He’s been a role model for me spiritually and how I want to live,” Heil said. “I look at him and I’m like, ‘I want to be like Josh when I grow up.’”
If you would like more information or donate to Well Fed click HERE.