As kids we have dreamlike career aspirations - old west cowboys or world saving superheroes. We might not have grown up to fill those positions, but there is one job many kids want to be that we can all pursue even in our adult years. Ninjas. Yes, there are people that train to be ninjas that compete in Michigan, across the country, and around the globe, and yes, you can be one of them.
There's a large ramp and a rock wall, balance beams and monkey bars that swing, and mats. Like a big kid's playground but much more serious. On this day, there is a group of people stretching in the middle of the room, preparing for their adult ninja class. This is Rockfit Ninja in Rockford, the first training area for ninjas in the state of Michigan. Rockfit Ninja offers open gym for adults and kids, as well as classes for adults and kids.
Leading the adult ninja class is Trevor West, 20, and Reese Pankratz,18. Both have been ninjas for about five years, training daily to build strength and endurance, agility and skill.West started ninja training in middle school when he started doing pull-up and other callisthenic competitions with his friends. Starting small and slowly building up his strength is how West began his fitness journey. After Rockford Ninja Warrior was introduced, West started using his fitness skills to be a ninja.
For West and Pankratz both, the show "American Ninja Warriors" partly inspired their drive to be the best ninjas they can be. Pankratz, who is Rockfit Ninja's manager, remembers getting into ninja warrior the same way a lot of people do:
"When [people] saw the show, [they] kind of fell in love with it and wanted to be like the people on TV and like be one of those top ninjas that every knows."
The adult class West and Pankratz are in the middle of teaching run up the ramp on the wall or the "warp wall" as its called. The point of the wall is to run up and pull your body onto the flat platform that goes into the ceiling. Between runs up the wall, training ninjas do jump squats. The class is a full body, nonstop exercise. Intense training isn't unusual for serious athletes and ninja warriors is no exception.
"I try to get at least two hours in the gym every day. At least do upper body, lower body, work on all the different muscle groups on the obstacles," says Pankratz. Training and working out is similar for West who says strength and endurance are key points to focus on:
"Work the important muscle groups. You got your fingertips strength and endurance, regular grip strength and endurance, bicep strength and endurance. Get all those up."
After the hour long adult class, every ninja warrior is covered in sweat, clearly wiped out, but smiling. More training ninja warriors came in for open gym, using the moving monkey bars, the horizontal rock wall that is climbed with your back towards the ground, and other obstacles that seem to require super human strength to complete.
Looking at the ninja warriors train and fly from obstacle to obstacle, the hard work that is required for this sport is obvious. And wildly entertaining.
"A lot of people I've talked to they always say 'I'd love to do that. I'd love to try out ninja warrior'. But the number one thing is just coming to the gym, try it, show the dedication that you want to keep on going and then it'll come easier," Pankratz encourages people that are interested to not be deterred by the physical requirements of ninja warrior. Training and dedication can get you where you want to be as a ninja warrior.
For West, ninja warrior has given him a chance to compete on the show that inspired him to get into the sport. The show lowered the age restriction so West was able to compete and will appear on the show later this year. Pankratz plans on competing on the show when he meets the age requirement. For both these ninja warriors, after five years of training, this is something they plan on continuing to do as long as their bodies can keep it up. West and Pankratz have both gotten injuries from being ninja warriors, but the benefits greatly outweigh the risks for them.
Ninja warriors that compete and do well can win monetary prizes and do paid appearances. This is what West and Pankratz hope to do someday. They are well on their way as they train daily and place top in their competitions. So if you can't obtain you're own childhood dream job of being a cowboy or superhero, you can always towards being a ninja warrior.
Compete in or watch the Meijer State Games of Michigan's ninja warrior competition on June 30th.