Fear, anticipation, anxiety; joy, hope, celebration; in the age of Netflix, Hulu, and other assorted means of streaming, there are a select few programs, besides the news, left on cable television that put viewers through the same rollercoaster of emotions that American Ninja Warrior does in an episode.
In each 90-minute installment, hundreds of contestants aged 19 years old or older complete a series of strenuous and nerve-wracking obstacles with the hopes of winning the regional competition and earning a monetary prize. Better yet, they hope to qualify for the next round, and the next round, and the round after that, until they reach the final obstacle course in the circuit: Mount Midoriyama in Las Vegas, Nevada, where winners go home with sore arms and $500,000 more to their name.
In the summer of 2017, sophomore Cici Chagnon took her love of the show from the couch to the gym after she learned about a local American Ninja Warrior program in her town of Windsor. The Real Life Ninja Academy (RLNA) in Windsor, Conn. is one of several training centers across the country that is open to all individuals, whether their ambitions in the program extend as far as Mount Midoriyama or stop at working out.
Regardless of individual intent, the gym facilities at RLNA were created to mimic a real Ninja Warrior course. All participants have a nearly authentic competition experience. The objectives and styles of the courses differ per gym and competition. “Some courses are based on completion, and all of them have a time limit,” Cici explained. “For some of them, you get the most points if you complete the most obstacles; other ones have really easy obstacles, but you have to try and go through as fast as possible.”
Cici further explained that the gym is open for participants to train whenever, but the competition season officially starts in mid-August and concludes in February. The RLNA competitions imitate those of the actual American Ninja Warrior show. “The top three [competitors] qualify for nationals, Cici said. “If you keep placing in all the competitions, that affects your national ranking.” Cici went on to share that this season’s nationals will be local, taking place in Hartford. In 2017, her first year of training and competing, Cici qualified for the national competition held in Michigan, but declined to attend.
Although “Win, as much as possible!” may seem like the logical strategy to follow in order to qualify for nationals, Cici shared some tips about the road to Mount Midoriyama. “You don’t want to be the first one to run,” Cici explained. “You want to be able to watch how other people do it too, so you can sort of figure out how you want to complete the obstacles.”
During training sessions, Cici works in a co-ed group of 10 to 15 year olds, and though they do not compete against one another, she explained, girls and boys complete the same obstacles. The athletes are taught by Drew Drechsel, the owner of the gym and a decorated Ninja Warrior whose statistics, number 96 out of 100 in the 2017 circuit, with 100 being the best, have earned him honor in the community.
For Cici, participating in the program is what she describes as a fun way to stay active, meet new people, and exercise her body and brain. “It’s fun because it’s athletic, and I like all the obstacles pieces of it, but it’s also really strategic, too,” Cici said. “You have to figure out how you’re going to complete an obstacle. You can see one obstacle, and 15 different people can complete it 15 different ways.”
Cici’s participation in the program is really a continuation of a childhood hobby. “I used to do gymnastics when I was little,” she said. “I was into climbing.” Cici spent her afternoons this summer climbing the Devil’s Staircase, instead of gymnastic bars, completely relying on her upper body strength to carry her along as she hung from stacked blocks, while the rest of her body was suspended in mid-air.
When you next see Cici on campus, make sure to take the time to give our Wyvern Ninja Warrior kudos for the work she’s done and to ask her about her plans for bringing the circuit back to KO. “I suggested to Mr. Herrera that we should make a Ninja team,” Cici said. “He said he was gonna work on it.”