Foxy Fridays: Natalie Duran

It’s hard to miss Ms. Natalie Duran in any room. She is always the one laughing whole heartedly with full life force. You can’t help but smile in her presence. Out at the crag she brings all the positive vibes. Her climbing style is burly and all out, no holds, stick it or die trying! Okay, maybe not die trying, but you’d think as much with the amount of energy and gusto she pours into all of her athletic feats!

Natalie first found climbing in college at UC Riverside, where she helped create their first ever Rock Climbing Club. I met her shortly after that, roaming gym to gym (as most lucky So Cal climbers can). Her biceps impressed me, and she put the boys to shame with those core muscles. (Which she says come easily with the thousand or so laughs she does daily). 

More recently she’s been known as Ninja Natalie, and is gripping her way to the top of the Ninja Warrior competition scene on NBC. A little less known about Natalie is her brilliant book and paper writing in the medical field. Brains, beauty, and muscles: the trifecta!

Don’t hesitate to say hi to NDTitan Lady if you ever see her at the gym or at the crag. She’ll chat with you like you’re best friends and leave you with more energy than you came with! Unless you are trying to keep up with her…

-Valarie Anderson

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Natalie at the Flash Foxy Women’s Climbing Festival. Portrait by Sasha Turrentine.

NATALIE DURAN

Age: 24

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Profession: Clinical researcher

Flash FoxyWhere did you grow up?

Natalie Duran: I was born and raised in a large cookie cutter suburban town in Moreno Valley which is a city in Southern California. My parents both came to America in the 70’s to seek a better life for themselves and their future families. My mother had just graduated from nursing school cum laude, hopped on a plane to California with $100 in her pocket and a luggage filled with nursing scrubs. She quickly showed her merit and hard working skills and landed a job at UCLA in the intensive care unit within a year of arriving in the States. Just last week she celebrated her 36 years of service at UCLA and retirement.

My mother is the sole reason I am the ambitious and resilient person I am today. There is no excuse to be lazy with all the great opportunities we can get involved with. My ingrained aspect of respect from my childhood is what keeps me grateful on a day to day basis. I have one sister, she is nine years older than me. We never got along well during my childhood. I always wanted to hang out wit her, but she never wanted to involve a little kid in her friend group. Thankfully everyone grows up and my sister and I have become close as adults, bonding over stories of promiscuity and complaining of the strict parenting hand of my mother and father.

FFDid you grow up playing sports?

ND: In my family it was education first, and fun after homework and extra studying was done. Throughout my grade school days I never played any soccer or softball. However I did always find myself getting in trouble whenever I played around the backyard. My mother would always yell at me for climbing the apple tree, and climbing over the fence to play with the neighbor’s dog. One time I made it a goal to reach the top of the apple tree. I was five. I felt invincible reaching the top of the 20ft tree. I felt like a King being able to view all the backyards in the neighborhood. As I was climbing down my Disney print panties got caught on a branch and I slipped and gave myself a MASSIVE wedgie. I was rescued, but when I reached the ground I was grounded (literally) and was forbidden to climb any tree thereafter.

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Malibu Tunnel Boulders, CA (self shot on timer lol)

FF: Did you have much exposure to the outdoors as a girl?

ND: During my childhood days my outdoor exposure was pretty limited, to either the backyard or local neighborhood parks. My love for the outdoors really blossomed when I was in my first year of college, when I had more freedom… and my own car. I never realized I had a deep love for the great outdoors until I started climbing. It was climbing that introduced me to all these beautiful outdoor climbing areas. I was 18, and had been camping maybe three times in my life. Then I found climbing and started taking weekend-long camping trips to Joshua Tree National Park and Bishop and completely immersed my life in the sport and the outdoors.

I still remember the moment I fell in love with the wilderness. It was my freshman year during fall quarter at UCR, I was stressed out with school, was in a horrible relationship with a controlling boyfriend and my parents kept breathing down my neck about school. One Wednesday I bailed out on class and drove to Joshua Tree National Park. I went on a loop hike called the Lost Palm Oasis. It was a week day so for the first half a mile I exchanged smiles with the elderly who were out for a short walk. A few miles in I felt completely alone, but surrounded by the beautiful desert landscape.

When I reached the oasis, it was everything I expected. This small area was surrounded by dense vegetation and tall palm trees. I sat next to this babbling brook and busted out my packed lunch, which was a tupperware filled with spaghetti. I sat there, enjoying my surroundings, taking in all the sounds and smells. I felt this sudden rush of happiness and contentment I had never felt before. Then in the distance I heard some rocks being kicked into the water and from this little ledge 50 feet in front of me was a wild big horn sheep, staring at me. It was a magical moment that I will always remember.

FF: When did you first discover climbing?

ND: I didn’t find my athletic passion until my first year of college at the University of California, Riverside. I played tennis (poorly) for two years in high school, but never felt a deep excitement for the game. After graduating from high school, I was feeling nervous about entering a school that enrolls 21,000 students per year. Also, many of my college friends warned me about the Freshman 15, which is the average amount of pounds of fat that an entry level college student gains over a term or so. This terrified me! But, one day, I saw a poster for a local climbing gym that offered a free day pass to anyone who hadn’t visited the gym before. This seemed perfect for me as a poor college student.So, I planned a trip with a few of my friends to visit the local climbing gym for the first time. As I walked through the doors, my eyes became overstimulated from all the coloured hand and foot holds, plus the sheer height of the rock wall. My hands got clammy and the neurochemicals inside my body began rushing around, giving me a sense of nervous excitement. Two hours of climbing later and I was completely exhausted. My hands felt like they were in a permanently clenched state. The following day I was unable to hold my toothbrush to brush my teeth because I couldn’t squeeze the toothpaste tube or eat hot food because I  couldn’t punch open the microwave. Despite all the pain, I was hooked. I quickly signed up for a membership and started to climb almost every day.

I found myself heading over to the climbing gym after classes, and sometimes even between my classes. I completely engrossed myself into the climbing community, and the climbing gym felt like my second home. Ever since my first day of climbing in early summer 2009, I have not stopped. Climbing has become more than a sport, it has become my lifestyle.

Stitched Panorama

Joshua Tree

FF: What is your favorite style of climbing?

ND: I have thoroughly dabbled in all disciplines of climbing. From trying to climb as many routes at the Riverside Rock Quarry I can from sunrise to sunset, to trad leading Bat Crack up in Taquitz in Idyllwild, CA. By far my favorite discipline in climbing is bouldering. I love how fast paced and individualistic it is. All you need is a pad and a fresh pair of fingertips to enjoy a day of sending. I have a very sporadic and erratic schedule so It was always hard for me to have a consistent climbing partner that was available. I also have this unhealthy habit of secretly falling in love with my sport/trad climbing partner, so oftentimes its been better to stick to myself…

FF: What to you is unique about rock climbing?

ND: Climbing has brought me the outdoors, and moreover the wonderful community. Last month I went on a 28 day trip in Europe solo. On my first night in a new country I would always find myself going to a climbing gym and meeting the locals there. It was a great way to meet new people, and they would show me around to all the local climbing spots. Because of climbing, I found myself safe and comfortable no matter what area of the world I was in.

Climbing will forever be a part of my life, well into my future journey as a wife, a mother, and hopefully a grandma.

 

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Holcomb Valley – Big Bear, CA (self-shot!)

FF: How did you get involved with American Ninja Warrior? 

ND: My American Ninja Warrior life started in 2013 for season 5 of the show. During that year I had been climbing for four years, and had become a sponsored competitive athlete and was on a winning streak. I was a student but made money by professionally vlogging on youtube (youtube.com/ndtitanlady). I had over 100,000 subscribers and had 10million collective views on my videos. My style of vlogging is silly stuff, talking about whatever I thought was hilarious or amusing. I also talked about my growing love of climbing.

My wide pretense on social media and background of climbing caught the attention of producers from NBC and American Ninja Warrior and I received an email saying they would like to invite me to compete on the show. I responded back with skeptical enthusiasm. At that time my athletic discipline was climbing and climbing related workouts only. Never have I ever attempted parkour, or obstacle course training. The producers responded back with “its ok, you’ll have fun!”. So I showed up to the course at Venice Beach that March evening and embarked on the most insane journey.

FF: What was competing on TV like?

ND: My first run was in 2013 on Season 5 for Venice Qualifiers, I did HORRIBLY. I didn’t try out for the next two years, but it didn’t stop me from training.

It was not until last year that I was invited back again to be a part of the first spin-off show called Team Ninja Warrior, where the all-stars of the show pair up with two guys and one girl on a team with 17 total teams. Each team goes head-to-head with one ninja per team attempting to reach the end of the warped wall first. I was so nervous, not competing on television for over two years. I had to prove my worth again, this was my second shot. Let me tell you, I kicked ass! I won all my heats, but unfortunately we were screwed by the point system with my other teammates falling at bad times and we were unable to move to the finals.

This event fueled the fire in me, and I regained confidence as a ninja. Being on Team Ninja Warrior was such a growing experience, and it introduced me to the ninja community especially those who live in Los Angeles. I found myself altering my workout schedule to be 50% climbing and 50% ninja warrior training.

In March 2016 I competed in the Los Angeles American Ninja Warrior Qualifying course. Due to my fat stack of a contract, I am unable to disclose my results until the episode airs on June 1st 2016, 8pm on NBC. It will be a GOOD episode, that’s all I am going to say. You don’t want to miss it *wink*

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Malibu Creek, CA (photo cred Anthony Lapomardo)

FF: It must be an interesting group of people that you get to compete with. And so many climbers!

ND: Becoming a Ninja Warrior places you in a unique group of people who are just like you, but who may also be an Olympic runner, a cross-fit addict, or a parkour free-running athlete. Competing in American Ninja Warrior involves training multiple disciplines all year round. I have great grip and campus strength, but I am terrible at balance obstacles. This forces me to allocate my time to different aspects of athleticism. This is also why many people are so interested in climbing and watching the show  because you see people push their physical limits, train all year round, and put it all on the line for one shot at a million dollars!

History shows, and the producers say that climbers are the ones who do the best on American Ninja Warrior. Last year for Season 7 American Ninja Warrior finally granted its first Ninja Warrior winner, Isaac Caldiero, who is indeed a climber.

FF: Your own Youtube channel, reality TV??! Does being in the spotlight make you nervous at all, or do you relish it?

ND: I’ve always wanted to be at the forefront in all aspects of life. I have a sister who is 9 years older than me but we have two opposite personalities when it comes to public speaking or getting attention. She is very shy, and as a kid my sister would hide behind my mother’s legs in a large group of people. For me, my parents said I was always running around the room trying to meet everyone at parties since I was 3 years old.

Now that I am a 24 year adult woman, nothing much has changed. I love meeting people, I love first dates, etc. I enjoy learning everyone’s background and stories. Being in the center of attention can be intimidating, but totally useful when you have options or want to influence viewers. For me, the spotlight gives me the perfect opportunity to speak my mind, and all that I stand for. I want to inspire to strive for the balanced lifestyle. It is possible to pursue an academic education while being physically active. I like to present myself as a bold strong woman, and I am not ashamed of my buff fit body! I’ve fought past so many mental barriers in climbing, from being scared of climbing over ten feet to taking my first lead falls. Through all my years of competitive training I’ve gained a strong and built physique, and slowly but surely I’ve grown to become proud of the body and mind I have built through climbing and Ninja Warrior training.

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FF: What do your parents think of your Ninja lifestyle?

ND: I started climbing my freshman year of college, and instantly fell in love with the sport. I begin spending most of my weekdays at the gym after class and my weekends camping and climbing out in Joshua Tree National Park. My parents became skeptical of this new sport that was taking up most of my time, because they really wanted me to be focused on my books at the library.

One day I had a formal sit-down with my parents to explain to them how climbing had changed my life, and how it was literally keeping me sane. I knew they would only accept my love for climbing if I validated it competitively. So I started to train for competitions and won my first local American Bouldering Series competition within three months of climbing, and shortly thereafter obtained my first and current climbing shoe sponsorship from Mad Rock Climbing.

In summer 2012, I had my first formal photo shoot as a climbing athlete for the Mad Rock Catalog. When It was finally in print I brought one copy to my parents, and when I came home the day after they already had my page framed on the wall of the living room! They always fear for my safety, but have accepted my lifestyle.

When I became a competitive Ninja Warrior they were so excited. Whenever I have an episode air on national television they throw a huge party at their house in Moreno Valley and invite all the family and friends to watch.

FF: As a public figure, you could be a role model for younger girls. How important do you think it is for girls to see physically strong women in the media? 

ND: I do public appearances for climbing and Ninja Warrior events and benefits a lot. Whenever little girls come up to me and want to take a picture, I always tell them “now show off your muscles!”. Before they leave I tell them to try new things, and not to let fear control them. There is a need for more strong women physically and mentally in the media. Women in the media currently and historically has been hypersexualized and valued for their appearance. If physically strong women are present in the media, it is usually boxers, MMA fighters etc. These women often give off the personality of being overly dominant and aggressive. I want to be the example that it is possible to be physically strong but yet present oneself with grace and intellect. The two do not need to be mutually exclusive.

FF: I saw you among the boulders at the first Women’s Climbing Festival in Bishop this year. What brought you there?

ND: How could I miss out on that?! I also successfully convinced a couple of my female co-workers to try out climbing for the first time. They were highly skeptical, but I brought them to my local climbing gym. They immediately fell in love with the sport and bought a membership. It was perfect timing for the Women’s Climbing Festival in Bishop. The workshops fit perfectly for them, to introduce them to outdoor climbing and experience the great climbing community I know and love.

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White Flight V3R, Tramway – Palm Springs, CA

FF: What was your impression of the weekend?

ND: The Women’s Climbing Festival was everything I had expected and more. I usually camp in the outskirts of the Buttermilks, and this time I booked the hostel for the whole week and was fed throughout the festival. I felt so spoiled! The whole event was filled with awesome strong women, entertainment, food and freebees. I don’t know what else I could have asked for.

FF: What are your near and far goals, in climbing and beyond?

ND: My climbing goals aren’t about grade chasing, but just to keep up and expand the community. When I started the climbing club at UCR, I found myself getting excited about the sport again just by bringing new students into the world of climbing. I loved their passion, and the new climber’s excitement is infectious. My goal in climbing is to bring more women into this male-dominated sport.

For my personal goals, I have been shifting my training hours moreover to Ninja Warrior Training. In the next few years I plan on expanding my obstacle athletic skills to keep my title as one of the top female ninja athletes!

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