You may recognize Lance Pekus as the “Cowboy Ninja” from American Ninja Warrior but Pekus is the real deal. As a rancher from Salmon, Idaho, Pekus works on a 300-pair cow-calf operation with his father-in-law, with the support of his wife and two children. With seven seasons of competing on ANW currently under his belt, Lance has returned again this year for season 11 of the popular TV show. We wanted to get to know the Cowboy Ninja a little better as he could be making an appearance in Nashville soon. Wink. Wink. (Music City Fit Expo)
Q. How did you come across American Ninja Warrior?
I really just ran across it on TV. Back then, it was just a cable network show, and it caught my eye and seemed really interesting and something I felt like I could be good at. I got really into pushing myself and trying to achieve obstacles a lot of people look at as impossible, so it really was rewarding being able to train on obstacles and see progress—obstacles I couldn’t do before that I was able to do better and better.
Q. Why have you returned to compete every year?
It’s one of those things where I saw progress. I came in kind of green. I’d never had any sort of obstacle course racing background, and I came in and was competing against Olympic athletes, professional rock climbers and stuntmen, and I was doing a lot better than some of those guys. It really encouraged me to keep training and see how well I can do.
It’s also this cool atmosphere that, even though I’ve tried seven times and I’ve failed; I keep falling into the water; it’s this life lesson of “Don’t look at it as a failure; look at it as more of a learning experience and learn while you fail and come back stronger the next year.” I’m trying to take that into all aspects of my life and not be afraid of failure and use those all as learning experiences to grow as a person.
Q. What do you do to train on the ranch?
It’s really impromptu stuff most of the time. I use what’s around the ranch, and there’s a lot of ranch equipment, so it’s very easy to use your imagination and make up some obstacle on those, and I’ve built a few things on the ranch, mostly in the barns, that help me work on specific techniques.
Q. How did you get into ranching? Was that something you always wanted to do?
I’ve always grown up in small towns and had a lot of friends whose families were rancher and farmers, and I had summer jobs of bucking bales and changing irrigation, but I didn’t really get involved with ranching itself, especially on a year-round basis, until I started working with my father-in-law. I fell in love with ranching and working with the cattle and the land. Being able to ride the range and just the whole nostalgic feeling of living and working on a ranch, it really is just a beautiful, peaceful life.
Q. How do you balance working on the ranch, training and preparing for the competition, and spending time with your family?
I definitely have to stay active year-round, but there is a period after finals that I try to relax and be more with my family and get stuff don’t I have been putting off. I wouldn’t say it’s a struggle trying to balance everything; I think there’s a strength in the balance. I’m getting pulled in a lot of different directions, but I feel like it helps me balance and not get consumed by one thing or another. Working on the ranch helps me with my physical and mental strength, especially at difficult times on the course where you have to push through, and training for American Ninja Warrior helps me stay active and agile in many different ways that keep me from getting injured on the ranch. My kids and wife keep me grounded. Whether I fail or have a bad day, they’re always there to encourage me and keep me going.
Q. What is it like being a representative of the cattle industry in an environment where you are a minority?
I’m definitely in the minority in the sense that many of the people I compete with are from urban backgrounds and don’t have any background in agriculture. I think of this as a challenge, and it excites me to help educated and promote not just the beef industry but agriculture itself and relate all the things we do and the hard work we put into raising animals and keeping them healthy. It’s been an honor to work with and represent “Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner.” It’s a brand I grew up with, and it always puts a smile on people’s face when I mention it at events.
Q. What are the biggest things you have learned from doing this?
The biggest thing is to keep trying, and hopefully you can achieve the thing you’re planning on doing. I look at every year I fall in the water as a fail but, from a different perspective, other people don’t see me that way. They see me and the progress I’ve made and what I’ve been able to achieve, so even though you may think you’re not doing so well, other people can look up to you, so it’s a matter of perspective on how you’re doing in life.