Ninja Nate: Engineer on a mission


Things can be a bit more nerve-wracking when you have an audience watching. And in a small village in Nicaragua all eyes were on Nate Burkhalter and his team. They had worked closely with an international team to plan to drill the well. Village anticipation grew as the construction team hauled in the hoses, shovels and pipes that they would use to tap the underground reservoir. As the work progressed, children watched with curiosity, and locals volunteered to help.

On the final day, most of the village gathered around the newly completed well to watch the village leader pump the first spurts of water from the spout. Everyone cheered, kids laughed and splashed water on each other… it was the village’s first water well.

With the locals

Wells around the world

As an engineer at ExxonMobil, Burkhalter knows a thing or two about drilling a well. He’s worked on oil and gas projects in West Africa, Canada, the Gulf of Mexico and California: all places where resources are located in remote, hard-to-reach places. So when he heard about an opportunity to use his engineering skills to drill water wells for communities in need, he jumped on it.

“I don’t feel comfortable sitting by,” he said. “I feel called on to make an impact and I want to make that impact.”

The service projects have given Burkhalter the chance to help others in small, remote villages in Central America where water, or the lack thereof, is truly a matter of life or death. When the volunteer teams install the water wells, they’re providing a local water source that will be used for drinking, cooking and washing – all things that will transform the community’s way of life for years to come.

LWI Team“Finding clean, potable water is a challenge facing over half a billion people around the world,” said Burkhalter. “I saw an opportunity to use my ExxonMobil skills of drilling operations, project management and safety awareness to help people in developing areas of the world find and produce well water.”

Ninja Nate

These days, back in the United States, Burkhalter has a different kind of audience watching him. And he’s using another set of skills.

After some injuries kept him from pursuing college athletics, he channeled his fitness focus in another direction – obstacle course training. He will compete in the next round of “America Ninja Warrior” – an obstacle course competition televised on NBC – that puts strength, agility and endurance to the test.

To make it on the show, Burkhalter was one of 500 contestants selected from a pool of 80,000 American and international applicants. Once accepted, he placed in the top 10 percent of the Oklahoma City regionals (that aired June 20) and advanced to the city finals (airing on August 1). His family and friends now good-heartedly call him “Ninja Nate,” after his first television appearance in June in the regional round.

Ninja Nate

Once accepted, he placed in the top 10 percent of the Oklahoma City regionals (that aired June 20) and advanced to the city finals.

In the city finals, which aired August 1, Burkhalter crossed successive five-foot gaps, surmounted rolling logs, scaled high bars and took on other obstacles in an attempt to reach the top of the infamous 14-foot warped wall. After that, he faced four more obstacles, including the iconic salmon ladder. The prize? Advancement to the national finals in Las Vegas.

Burkhalter unfortunately injured his ankle two days before the Vegas finals, but getting that far was an accomplishment most people can only dream of.

“On the show, I proved something to myself, and that was important to me,” he said. “But in the end, those obstacles are just made for TV. I’ve seen the real obstacles and challenges people face around the world and I’ll do what I can to help them.”

And he’ll do so, whether or not anyone’s watching.

Check out the America Ninja Warrior website to watch video clips from the episode that aired on August 1.

Photo Credit: NBC / Contributor

Tags:   American Ninja Warriorcitizenshipengineering
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