I have recently developed a new dirty little secret on television: Ninjas. Okay, so it’s not so much a secret – or little for that matter. But after giving in and viewing the recent all-star special, I quickly came to love the American Ninja Warriors that grace our televisions each summer.
For those of you who think it’s a bunch of super-athletic freaks of nature wasting their time on an oversized obstacle course, you’re not far off the mark. But the show (or sport as many call it) is also so much more.
The obstacle courses are designed to require strength and fitness, yes. However, they also demand balance, agility, timing, strategy, focus, physics, and fearlessness to make it to the end. Consequently, the competitors are not divided by gender. A supersized, muscle-bound male is actually at a disadvantage to a toned lithe female because they have to lift their own body weight – and build momentum – while they manoeuvre through the challenges.
So who is entering the arena each week?
The competitors come from all walks of life. Most have regular 9 to 5 jobs. The lack of gender separation means that the competition is very LGBTQ+ friendly. And they’re all ages. The current season premiere actually included a 75-year-old competitor.
And this year, producers have lowered the minimum age to 15 to compete with the adults. But don’t be outraged by that. Again, their smaller size and less-developed musculature isn’t necessarily a disadvantage on the course.
We also get to know each competitor. And everyone has a story. One seventeen-year-old started training in his backyard as a 10-year-old just before his father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. His father built a Ninja course and spent his final years encouraging his son. And this season, the boy who was unable to play sports because of a sensory processing disorder which affects his balance, was now the first competitor of the night to actually finish the course.
One female youth with ADHD has used her Ninja training to help focus mentally and physically, while another made history by becoming the youngest competitor ever to finish the course.
Many of the show’s veterans work directly with the up-and-comers in the sport. They train with them and cheer them on from the sidelines even though they’re in direct competition. There’s a comradery and a connection in the Ninja-world that transforms what is essentially an individual sport into a team-like event.
It’s also not unusual for a competitor to create an alter-ego character for the show. They create costumes with hats, crowns, and the occasional cape. Because, after all, this is about having fun and challenging yourself. Nobody’s going to sign a multi-million dollar deal like the pro-sports. So why not just go all in?
Historically, ninjas were spies, assassins and mercenaries in feudal Japan. They were not exactly honourable or revered. But today’s American Ninja Warriors are hero-worthy. They are powerful, supportive, fearless, and self-aware. And they’re one group I can really celebrate