GIBSONIA — Welcome to the world of Ninja.
Kohlee Edwards, Will Suppa, Maci and Jackson Kotula — all young students in the Mars Area School District — are thriving in it.
All four are members of the competitive Ninja team — known as Steel City Ninja — out of Jewart's Gymnastics in Gibsonia. The team has a roster of approximately 25. This quartet is among the team's qualifiers for the World Ninja Championships, slated for Nov. 19-21 in Las Vegas.
The event has been rescheduled twice due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If it doesn't happen then, they will probably cancel it,” said Chris Suppa, Will's mother. “Everyone has been working so hard for this.”
The Jewart's team has participants ranging in age from 6 to 60. The squad belongs to the Ultimate Ninja Athlete Association and National Ninja League.
They compete in age divisions: Kids 6-8, mature kids 9-10, preteens 11-12, teens 13-15, young adults 16-17, 18+ adults, 40+ masters.
The competition consists of completing an obstacle course, with participants competing more against the clock than each other. Ninja obstacles emphasize a combination of upper body strength and balance.
Obstacles include cannon ball alley, flywheel, fidget spinners, lache, devil steps, salmon ladder, quad steps, etc.
“I've been men's gymnastics director here for 18 years,” Ninja coach Scott Carslaw said. “We are fast becoming a Ninja person world.
“This is the fourth year we've had a Ninja team and it's grown by 25 to 30 percent each year. It's leveled off this year, but I think that's because of COVID. If the coronavirus didn't hit, we'd be busting at the seams right now.”
Aime Edwards, Kohlee's mother, said her daughter has placed among the top 10 in two of the past three world finals they've attended. She placed second in the NNL regular season this year, 10th in UNAA.
“The kids enjoy the challenge,” Mrs. Edwards said. “They're part of a team, yet they do the course as an individual.
“Most of these kids have gotten into it through the (TV) show. It's really taken off.”
The participants practice at the gym three or four days a week, for 90 minutes at a time. They can also do open gyms on weekends.
The obstacle course generally consists of 12 to 15 obstacles and takes approximately two minutes to complete.
“It's an exciting new form of fitness,” Carslaw said. “Ninja encourages a competitive lifestyle. The participants see a result of the training they put in when they do the course.
“If they didn't take tests in school, students probably wouldn't reach their full potential. This is the same concept. Ninja training is for obstacle course racing.”
Steel City Ninja has competed at events in Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio and New York, along with throughout Pennsylvania. The team has competed in world finals in North Carolina, Connecticut and Minnesota as well.
“The obstacles look easy, but they're very difficult,” Suppa said. “Upper body, lower body, balance, endurance ... all of those things come into play.”
Carslaw admitted that Ninja is demanding, but in a positive way.
“You overcome fears when you do this and that's how people grow,” he said. “Children have the ability to try new things. Adults could learn from them that way.
“Ultimately, you are running by yourself. It's not athlete vs. athlete. It's athlete vs. the course.”