Think you have what it takes to appear on American Ninja Warrior? I, sure as heck, don’t. This 38-year-old writer/editor just started taking a weekly bootcamp-ish type circuit-training class in the wee hours of the morning on Tuesdays (along with a chaser of hot yoga on Thursdays), and it’s reminding me just how weak the athletic gene is in my bloodline. (That’s not to say that it’s weak in other members of my family; case and point, my mom works out at the Saratoga YMCA five days a week, my brother does CrossFit and my late grandfather starred on the Union College football and baseball teams.) Sure, I’m getting a great workout—and pushing my body to new limits every week—but I can only do so many pushups or reverse lunges or squats or snatches before I feel like I’m going to keel over and die.
So when I noticed on Facebook that a friend of saratoga living‘s nine-year-old son, Oliver “Ollie” Huss, is going to be appearing on American Ninja Warrior Junior, I immediately got jealous. Here’s a kid who’s been given the gift of athleticism early on in life—I’m nearly three decades older than him!—and he’s so good at what he does, he’s going to be appearing on a cable TV reality show doing it. Not to mention the fact that he can call himself a ninja. I’m not worthy!
It doesn’t hurt that the athlete/ninja gene runs in Ollie’s blood: His dad, Eric, is the founder of Saratoga Springs’ own Saratoga Ninja Garage. “It’s been a long journey,” the elder Huss tells me of what it took to get his son on the show. “He fell in love with [American Ninja Warrior], and then he wanted to start doing it.” To accomplish this, Eric first built a gym in his parents’ basement, which later morphed into a garage space. It’s been up and running for two years, and get this: It’s only for kids. (Thirtysomething writer/editors need not apply.) After Eric launched a Facebook page and built a brand around the concept, Capital Region kids started flocking to the gym by the hundreds. With momentum on his side, Eric then launched a “ninja team” last year, with 11 kids attending nationals. Yes, there are two professional ninja leagues in the US: The Ultimate Ninja Athlete Association (UNAA) and the National Ninja League (NNL). In the latter, Ollie finished fifth in the country. Additionally, top ninjas from the American Ninja Warrior series even made the trek out to Saratoga to run camps for would-be ninjas.
So how did young Ollie actually get on the show? As the American Ninja Warrior Junior casting page notes, “Your child must be in good health and capable of participating in strenuous athletic activities.” The cutoff point for “too young” on the show is nine years old, so Ollie just made the cut. And according to Eric, his son had to shoot and submit a video to get on the show, just like the adults have to, and he had to get past a number of other behind-the-scenes hurdles to ultimately be cast on the series. Maybe most incredible is that the kid-ninjas won’t be competing on some “ninja lite” version of the American Ninja Warrior course. It’ll be the same, basic one the adults compete on—with modifications based on age and height, of course—featuring all the most famous/painful pitfalls, such as the Sonic Swing, Spin Cycle and Warped Wall. On the show, 64 kids will compete in three different age brackets (9-10, 11-12 and 13-14 year olds), and three separate champions will be crowned during the season finale. And just like the grownup version, the show features celebrity hosts, such as former National Football League player Akbar Gbaja-Biamila (not to be confused with his brother, KGB) and Olympic gold medal gymnast Laurie Hernandez, so the pressure is on to perform at a top level.
The entire, multi-episode season was filmed over a two-week period in July, and while Ollie won’t appear on this Saturday’s season premiere, I’d suggest watching from the beginning to see what kind of competition he’ll have to face down the line. The premiere airs on NBCUniversal’s Universal Kids this Saturday, October 13 at 7pm.
Unfortunately, Eric couldn’t tell me what happens on the show (I can imagine he and his son had to sign a nondisclosure agreement): i.e. would his son, Ollie Huss, be the next American Ninja Warrior Junior champ? “You’d have to kill me if you told me, right?” I asked Eric. “No, my son would probably do that,” he said. And I believed him.