The day before his 35th birthday earlier in April, Ryan Howes of Belfast received an amazing present — in the form of a phone call.

Howes learned he had been chosen to compete in the qualifier for American Ninja Warrior to take place in Cleveland, Ohio. He will travel there Sunday through Tuesday, May 7-9, to be a part of the ninth season of the popular NBC obstacle course show, which premiers in June.

“I had this huge grin on my face,” Howes said, as he thought back on the phone call.

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In high school, Howes had been fascinated by the show “Sasuke,” a Japanese sports entertainment television special where 100 competitors attempt to complete a four-stage obstacle course. And, as an adult, he has been “smitten” with the American Ninja Warrior series, he said.

Being selected for the show is just one part of Howes’ story, a story with layers, much like the man — an athlete, health coach, rock climber, ice climber, ultra-marathon runner, entrepreneur — and now, an American Ninja Warrior contestant.

While watching the series last year, Howes said his competitive side was ignited, and he thought, “I can do all of this, no problem.”

“The hardest courses they have, I can do them,” Howes said. “From being an athlete my entire life — from soccer, to climbing — these courses were made for me.”

And beyond that, from being a climbing guide and helping clients navigate on rock and ice, Howes is trained at watching and critiquing body movements, which could make him a higher-caliber athlete for the show, he said.

“I have years of built-up muscle memory on climbing terrain so I don’t waste much energy — it’s from 10,000 hours of doing things with your upper body,” he said.

Howes first wanted to compete because it would be fun — but said he realized he could win as a maturing athlete who feels better in his mid-30s then he did in his 20s.

Howes has been an athlete most of his life, having set the javelin record at Hall-Dale High School in Farmingdale. At Unity College, where he graduated with degrees in adventure education leadership and adventure therapy, he was an All-American soccer player. He continued his education and in 2008 earned his masters in experiential education at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Howes spent his childhood in the Augusta area but has called Belfast home since 2000, which is where his rock and ice climbing guide business, Northern Vertical, as well as his health coaching studio, is based.

“I’ve always loved sports and outdoor adventure — it's the biggest source of inspiration in my life,” Howes said.

Howes has spent half his life climbing. He was introduced to rock climbing, when he was 17 years old, by Brazilian exchange student, Guido Giglio, who lived down the street. The pair would go to the Hallowell quarry and set up climbs; looking back, it probably was not that safe, Howes admitted.

But, he was hooked.

Howes said he wants to live “sharing a life of adventure and experience where people can be in a challenging environment, taking calculated risk without any certainty of the outcome and be fully present in that moment — and be supported by someone who has been there — and rise past whatever limitations they may feel.”

“I’m living a mountain metaphor in my adulthood and sharing it with people — on rock and on ice,” he said.

Howes has had the opportunity to climb throughout the United States, including Alaska, as well as in Central America, Canada, Mexico and in Europe in France, Spain and Italy. But despite his worldwide adventures, when it comes to the terrain he loves most, it is much closer to home.

“There are impressive mountain landscapes all over the world and all have been special, but there is something about my home state of Maine that inspires me,” Howes said. “Katahdin is an exceptional year-round climbing destination and it’s remote. There are parts of Maine that have never been touched and that is fascinating to me. I’ve been pioneering climbs since my 20s.”

And what exactly inspires or motivates Howes the climber, and what goes into a difficult, dangerous climb — over rock or ice?

"When faced with a demanding climb with high risk and no room for error, preparation is paramount," Howes said. "Everything needs to fall into place: good judgment, intuition, equipment, breath and partnership. When the the time is right, a master climber can feel it. This takes years of training to master … and, some luck too.

"When it's time to climb, nothing else matters. Pure focus and concentration on the task at hand is what I have control over. This is the vertical dance, a form of moving meditation. The amazing part of this experience is that anyone who can move their body can do this too. I have taught thousands of people how. What sets me apart is that when I need a source of inspiration in my life, I prefer to turn to something demanding because I learn more about myself when I step into my own spiritual warrior. I do this through extreme rock and ice climbs and ultra-marathons."

Howes knew during his college days at Unity that he wanted to be a professional climbing guide and would some day own his own guide service. He taught climbing and other classes at Unity for several years as an adjunct faculty member and has worked as an instructor for Atlantic Climbing School, Acadia Mountain Guides and Mooney Mountain Guides. Before opening his own business, he worked for Synnott Mountain Guides in New Hampshire, owned by one of the original Team North Face athletes, Mark Synnott — who had been Howes’ idol when Howes was a teen.

Howes was living a busy life as a professional guide, splitting his time between the White Mountains in New Hampshire and the Midcoast, as well as traveling. Then, unexpectedly, in his late 20s and early-30s, he said he was not feeling well. Doctors discovered Howes had been fighting a bacterial infection for about five years, that he had picked up in France or Spain, he said, and his immune system was shot.

Howes was knocked down for eight months because of it, he said, while doctors tried to treat the infection with four different rounds of antibiotics and steroids to kill everything off.

“I lost so much weight and nothing was working,” Howes said.

Howes decided to seek help from John Bagnulo, a nutritionist based in Northport at the time. Bagnulo now is the director of nutrition at Functional Formularies in Centerville, Ohio.

Bagnulo put Howes on an aggressive diet to fix his issues — and it worked, Howes said. He stopped the medicinal treatments and focused on following Bagnulo’s strict diet, which Howes said, “was not easy at all,” but he recovered by eating foods that did not feed the infection, Howes said.

After recovering from his illness, Howes worked one more winter season for Synnott and returned to Belfast to start his own guiding business, Northern Vertical, in 2015.

“That’s when the evolution began,” he said.

Howes had a successful first year guiding on his own but at the end of his first season, in August 2015, Howes decided he did not want to be a guide full time. His outlook on life and his health had changed while fighting his illness.

“I realized that health coaching was what I wanted to be doing in my life,” he said. “Everything I had been doing had been leading up to helping people develop healthy lifestyles through integrating mindfulness, exercise and nutrition.”

Everyone, he said, can stand to be at least a little healthier.

And at his health coaching studio, which he opened at 104 Main St. in Belfast, Howes shares his daily practices with clients exploring a different topic each day of the week. Monday the focus is mindfulness and meditation. Tuesday he offers instruction on the Five Tibetan Rites. Wednesday is a group health and writing workshop. Thursday is a Tabata workout with high intensity interval training. And Friday is reserved for healthy cooking.

“And it’s not just exercise. It’s not just food. It’s integrating all these things. I ask my clients to dream big,” Howes said.

And dreaming big is something Howes does himself — like applying for American Ninja Warrior, followed by another large undertaking he has planned for June, a 92-mile ultra-marathon.

As someone who has battled an illness himself and come back stronger, Howes is sharing his strength and determination to help a former Unity College friend, Cody Floyd, who is in need of a heart transplant.

“I felt that I can do something,” Howes said. “He has a long road ahead of him and I can metaphorically create the same thing with the 92-mile trail.” Howes' goal is to raise $10,000 to help his friend.

“I know Cody has a heart of gold,” Howes wrote on his Razoo fundraising site. “Every interaction I have encountered has been with a smile and reverence for life and for those around him. Cody is a consummate great guy. I am confident that he would do whatever it took to help a friend in need, because he is that kind of person. When I found out about his troubling news and sudden change in lifestyle, I immediately felt compelled to do whatever it took to support him.”

Howes is running the Hills-To-Sea-Trail, a 47-mile trail built in 2016 by the Waldo County Trails Coalition. Howes was the first person to run the trail last November. It took him 13 hours and 30 minutes. It starts at Unity College and traces a path through farms, fields, mountains and forests of more than 60 private landowners in Waldo County, he said, and finishes in Belfast.

Originally, Howes had planned to do the 92-mile run — from Belfast to Unity and back to Belfast — leaving at 6 p.m. June 21 and finishing the next day, on June 22, over the summer solstice. The exact dates have not been finalized, however, because if Howes makes it to the American Ninja Warrior finals in Las Vegas, the finals happen on the same dates.

When Howes first ran the trail last November — without any formal training — it pushed him, but not even close to where he needs to be pushed, he said.

“I’m not a runner. I’m an athlete and my lifestyle is health,” he said.

Howes said he believes finishing the 92-mile trek will be an important turning point in his life. He has been running about 50 miles a week and plans to build to 100 miles a week. When he does do the run, he will be joined by his former Unity College soccer co-captain and teammate Andy Brower, who also is an Ironman competitor.

Howes' mother, Tina Rollins, will be a support person during the run, meeting the two along the way with supplies. She also will join her son in Cleveland to watch him compete in American Ninja Warrior in May.

“I want people to realize that with a little support, guidance and accountability, they can do it — anything is possible,” Howes said. “I just don’t say these things — I go and do them.”

For updates on Howes’ upcoming adventures, visit To support his fundraising efforts for Floyd’s heart transplant visit For information on this season of American Ninja Warrior, visit