Co-owner Casey Passafaro, a two-time American Ninja Warrior competitor, shares why the sport of ninja is important for kids to learn and enjoy, and why the December competition is bound to be fun.
You’ve caught it flipping through the channels. American Ninja Warrior, the ever-addictive television show where highly trained athletes hop from obstacle to obstacle, hoping to reach the tip-top of the Warped Wall.
Casey Passafaro has gone on the national stage twice for the show, and now brings her ninja experience to Northern Virginia at NoVA Ninja, a ninja gym based in Sterling. On Sunday, Dec. 15, she’ll host the Youth Ninja Warrior Winter Competition at the gym for competitors ages 5 to 18.
“I started training for Ninja Warrior in my house with my two boys,” says Passafaro. “[American Ninja Warrior] was a show we loved to watch together because it was becoming a real sport. I built up our house with obstacles. I had things hanging from the ceiling and some homemade balance obstacles.”
Her kids were a pivotal influence in her journey into the sport. Passafaro didn’t predict that five years later, after training in and around her home, she would be a two-time competitor on their favorite show, a ninja gym owner and a ninja coach for adults and kids. (Plus, she’s an oncology nurse practitioner too). She has even trained seven local kids who have made it onto American Ninja Warrior Jr.
Now, she’s excited to continue to bring the sport to the younger generations here in Northern Virginia and beyond with local competitions.
“Establishing a fun, positive relationship with fitness at an early age is important, and NoVa Ninja provides the opportunity to expose kids to a unique style of fitness that can only benefit a child,” says Passafaro.
The winter competition will be designed with specialized obstacles (about 10 per course) for each age group, ages 5 to 7, ages 8 to 10, ages 11 and 12, and the 13 and older group. Each will vary in intensity and challenge the different methods of training in ninja. In true American Ninja Warrior fashion, the courses will not be released in advance, and kids will need to rely on their honed skills and previous experience to make their way to the podium.
“When I travel to youth ninja competitions with our competition team, I tell them, ‘All you can do is focus on the course at hand. Don’t overthink the simple things you can do, and have a plan for new obstacles you aren’t sure about. Failing an obstacle will happen, and that’s OK. I have fallen in the water on national television, and I’ve also won local competitions. You’ve put in the work, now go out there and have fun,’” says Passafaro. “I have to say … I get more nervous when the ninja kids I train run [a course], and I get more excited when they do great, than I do for myself,” says Passafaro.
She will be creating the multiple courses for the competition this year, surely with some inspiration from her “Obstacle Dreams” notebook, where she scribbles down ideas for challenging obstacles and brings them to life in the gym. But the creativity of the sport itself is yet another reason Passafaro has fallen for it, and encourages kids to tap into their own imaginations.
“I encourage our ninja kids to make their own order of obstacles to put together a course for their class. I don’t want them to just be great athletes, but also encourage them to have great minds,” says Passafaro.
The gym currently has local kids who train every single day in the space, and is willing to help any local child get involved with only one requirement: athletic shoes. For children interested in getting involved, a preliminary course Ninja 101 helps establish foundational skills, like quintuple steps, the rope swing, ring rows, tilting beams and, of course, the warped wall.
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Otherwise, Passafaro hopes the upcoming competition not only lets kids have the chance to compete and for the location to spread the word, but for parents to be open to the idea of having their kids try something entirely new and different from other sports, and get involved too.
“Fitness as a family is so important,” says Passafaro. “We offer family ninja nights where the whole family can train together. NoVa Ninja is not a bounce house, it is a place where real-life warriors train for the sport of ninja. And between myself, my business partner and our general manager, we have seven children. We make it a priority to train our coaches on how to make sure every kid leaves here feeling good about themselves and their experience, regardless of if it’s their 100th visit, or their first.” // NoVa Ninja: 21531 Blackwood Court, Suite 110, Sterling; Dec. 15, 5-8:30 p.m.; $30-$40
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