Whether it is using the underside of a bridge like monkey bars or swinging from hanging rings with a single finger on each hand, Fort McMurray’s Neal Barry and his teammates have been finding creative ways to showoff their gymnastic skills in online competitions hosted by the Canadian Ninja League (CNL).
Starting in December, the CNL began holding monthly virtual challenges on Instagram. Anyone entering would post stunts on Instagram and be placed in a ladder bracket for four judges. A fifth swing vote comes from online voting. Because it is online, people compete with athletes they wouldn’t normally meet across the country.
In January, Barry made it to the finals, but was runner up to Jaden Miki of Port Coquitlam, B.C. In March, Barry’s teammate Hannah Redden took the top spot for a grip challenge. Redden doubted she would win at first and continued to be surprised as she passed each round.
“It’s actually been just as fun as a lot of other competitions,” she said. “I like it in a ninja sense because you really get to find isolated ways of working out.”
When Redden started ninja athletics about a year-and-a-half ago, she said she was not strong enough to do many of the challenges she now does.
“I couldn’t even do a chin up,” she said. “But with practice and dedication and motivation from friends, it’s pretty easy to find yourself in a position where you can help yourself, help others.”
Unlike most sports, formal training is often replaced by messing around and trying new things, said Redden. Finding creative ideas for challenges is something the teammates enjoy and part of the sports’ social experience.
“I love to hate it,” said teammate Andrew Harris. “It’s definitely been pushing me outside my comfort zone, but it’s forcing me to get outside my comfort zone and try other things.”
Alma Chan met Barry and Harris while taking adult drop-in classes at Norfort Gymnastics Association in downtown Fort McMurray. They all saw advertisements for TOTALfit Ninja Warrior in downtown Fort McMurray and decided to check it out.
Chan grew up as a competitive gymnast and saw ninja athletics as a sport where she could stay competitive in a similar field as an adult.
The sport is very social, said Barry. Even in competitions, people are trying to create as much of an upbuilding environment as possible.
“I came from a rock climbing background. You don’t go to a rock climbing competition and look at somebody and say ‘I hope they fail,'” he said. “You’re always rooting for the other person because at the end of the day it’s you versus yourself. So you try and push yourself as best you can and what happens happens.”
While the sport can look intimidating, Barry said overcoming those feelings is done by trying things you think you can, then growing from there.
“You can literally start from anywhere,” said Barry. “If you enjoy doing it and enjoy being around a group of people and a positive atmosphere, it’s the place to be.”
The members of the team qualified for national and international competitions in 2020, both of which were cancelled because of COVID-19. An international competition is planned for the summer, which all members have qualified for.
Until then, monthly CNL competitions continue. Most recently, Harris won for April and Chan made it to the finals.