Ninja Warrior Stars in the Making
A group of young talented Ninja Warrior champions are set to head over to America at the end of July to show the rest of the world what Australia has to offer.
Hayden Ussher, Travis and Dylan Cleary and Benny and Dominic Dows are excited at the chance to showcase their skills and also learn a few more tips and tricks from others in the sport.
Strength, power and a fierce determination to succeed is a big part of what propels a group of local Ninja Warrior obstacle champions on to achieve their next goal. Speed and a love of the sport also play a big part. Hayden Ussher, Travis and Dylan Cleary and Benny and Dominic Dows have already represented Queensland at the Australian Ninja Games back in January and are now off to represent Australia in Orlando in the United States this month (July 26-30). The five boys, who train with Todd Sparreboom at Todd’s Elite Ninjas in Burpengary East, will compete in the Ultimate Ninja Athlete Association World Series finals and also at the Obstacle Sports Expo against some of the world’s best in the sport.
“I think the monkey bars are really easy, even though they’re way up above me, I fly across them.” - Dom
For 14-year-old Travis, tackling Ninja obstacle courses has been a part of his life for just over a year now. His interest in the sport was piqued because it was all happening next door to his mum’s place of work.
“It’s also a great sport to get into because of the physical side of it,” Travis says. “It definitely gets tough and one of the hardest things about it can be how long the courses are. But it’s great fun and a good challenge.”
Competing against kids from across the world would be enough to make anyone nervous, but Travis is looking forward to the experience and the chance to enjoy a trip overseas. With his favourite subject at school health and physical education, it’s no surprise that Travis is fit and keen to tackle a fast growing sport. So what can we expect to see from this budding athlete in the future?
“I think being on the show (Ninja Warriors) would be pretty awesome,” he says. “If I had the chance to do something like that, it would definitely be a life changing experience.”
For fellow teen Hayden, who has only been tackling obstacles for less than a year, his decision to join the fun came about after watching family friends Eddie and Lisa compete on the television show. And when another close family friend (the Koch’s) highly recommended he check out Todd’s, which was nice and local, Hayden hasn’t looked back since!
“For me, obstacles give me a lot of adrenaline and I’ve had the opportunity to make heaps of new friends through doing the sport,” Hayden says. “It’s also challenging, both physically and mentally.”
Qualifying to compete in America came as a bit of a surprise to the 14-year-old, who admits that nerves are definitely creeping in ahead of the competition. But with plenty of practice up his sleeve (he spends a big part of his week at Todd’s) and a big focus to conquer the fly bar, Hayden has loads of potential.
“Working with Todd and Cory, they are awesome, they’re always pushing me to go that little bit extra, to get a bit more muscle and a bit more accuracy.”
Excited and nervous but still full of confidence is the best way to describe how 10-year-old Benny is feeling about the upcoming international competition. He’s hoping to make it all the way through to the finals and do his best to come away with a win.
“This is the only sport I do now, I used to play footy but not anymore. At the moment, this is my favourite thing that I’ve ever done,” he says about Ninja sports. “While they both have good and bad parts about them, I just wanted to continue Ninja more.”
So given this is a young man that can hang from a bar for more than an hour (dead arms anyone?!) have there ever been any serious injuries to speak of?
“Other than taking skin off my hands, I’ve been pretty lucky,” Benny says. “I’m training at Todd’s three days a week and every second week, I do training at a place called Ninja Jungle on the Sunny Coast. I also train at Mr Ninja HQ as well. Because it’s still such a new sport, there aren’t too many places around where you can train.”
Now four years into his Ninja sport journey, Benny does his best to push nerves aside and concentrate on the task at hand.
“Most of the time I’m doing a course, I’m nervous but I know sometimes I think too much about it,” he says. “But once I’m out there and on each obstacle I kind of calm down, it’s more when I’m running toward them. But in my mind, I'm basically thinking I have to finish this, I can't fail. I'm so close.”
Benny’s younger brother Dominic is the baby of the group, at just six-years-old. But don’t let his age fool you into thinking he can’t shimmy up a rope faster than you can blink. Following in the footsteps of Benny, Dom decided he also wanted to take part in Ninja sports.
“I find it fun and challenging,” Dom says. “I think the monkey bars are really easy, even though they’re way up above me, I fly across them.”
The idea of representing Australia overseas is a little on the exciting side for this young man of few words, but no doubt he’ll certainly put his best hand or foot forward in the process.
Nine-year-old Dylan started his Ninja sports journey about 18 months ago alongside his older brother Travis and also because it was something different that he wanted to do. With the countdown on until the big trip overseas, Dylan is a mixture of being nervous but also confident and excited. With a rock wall in the backyard at home, there’s plenty of opportunities to get a little practice in.
“Climbing a rock wall is easy,” Dylan says with a smile. “But my favourite obstacles are the low side bar and twister because I’m really fast at it.
“When I’m going through an obstacle course I focus and think about how I’m going to catch the next obstacle and how many swings I might need or why I need to pick a certain one to grab on to.”
As their coach (and biggest fan), Todd Sparreboom (along with fellow long-term coach Cory Newman) is very much looking forward to seeing what the boys will achieve on an international level.
“Nerves will be the biggest battle for them,” Todd says. “But the kids work really hard at training here and they have all competed at a national level already.
“The American scene is pretty intense but I think if they remain focused at training, on the day, they'll do well.”
Having the opportunity to watch this group of boys hone their skills over their time within the sport, Todd has recognised how far they have all come, highlighting endurance as one of their biggest strengths.
“Training here they have really gained good endurance levels. All the Ninja equipment I have here is next level in terms of how far they have to go to make it to the end of a section,” Todd says. “The main thing for me with the kids is that they enjoy themselves with their training.
Whether they are here for competition, confidence or to give their parents a break!”
Although the sport still has a long way to go in Australia, Todd first ventured down the Ninja obstacle path about 10 years ago. But it’s something he would love to see grow more and more.
“I originally started with adults after a few of us did Tough Mudder in 2013 and it has grown from there,” he says. “We had a fund raiser here in 2015 and one of my crew said that I should open the course up to kids. Now we have 19 classes a week and 140 kids each week. It's awesome!
“Ever since it hit our shores it has grown and thanks to the TV shows it has become more popular. Give it some more time and there will be more people doing it.”