CHEYENNE – It didn’t take Cannon Meyer long to realize some of the kids he worked with at Ninja Playground might need bigger challenges.

He handpicked a few athletes for more difficult training and longer training sessions.

“Most of the parents drop their kids off here to get them moving around and challenge them a bit,” Meyer said. “Not every kid is really ambitious and wants to push themselves. Some of them just don’t have that drive or ability yet.

“Some kids really want to be challenged. I added more class times, longer training sessions for those kids, and I started giving them homework. I pushed them super hard, and they completely blew it out of the water.”

That homework includes skills that will help athletes on ninja obstacle courses that challenge upper and lower body strength, hand strength, agility, balance and problem-solving skills.

Two of the athletes in those accelerated classes qualified for the Ultimate Ninja Athlete Association’s World Series Championship Finals, which start Friday in Prior Lake, Minnesota.

Ivy Waszkiewicz and Deryk Jacobsen reached the World Series Championship Finals through their performances in UNAA events in Colorado. Waszkiewicz, 9, will make the trip to Minnesota, but Jacobsen, 15, will not.

Competitors don’t get to practice on the courses at competitions. Each obstacle in ninja competitions is worth a point. Athletes can fail on an obstacle and continue on the course. The athlete with the most points wins. Time is used as a

tie-breaker.

Ninja Playground’s team has been to as many as 15 competitions per year since it started.

“I started competing before we had a team, and did absolutely terrible,” Jacobsen said. “I fell on every obstacle. I was super nervous and shaking right before I went. Eventually that stopped happening, and I relaxed.”

Jacobsen’s determination is his best trait, Meyer said.

“He never quits, and he always wants to get better,” the coach said. “He is always asking how to get stronger or improve his technique.”

Waszkiewicz, on the other hand, was a virtual natural, and placed third in her first competition after training for a little more than a month.

“I’ve been climbing trees ever since I was 2,” Waszkiewicz said. “Everywhere I went, I climbed trees.”

Obstacles that test upper-body strength are what Waszkiewicz excels at. The Freedom Elementary student prefers balance obstacles.

“She is one of those kids who is a well-rounded animal and just picks it up right away,” Meyer said. “If she can’t get it, she keeps working at it until she does.”

Waszkiewicz enjoys the community aspect of her sport.

“Being a good ninja is about encouraging other people and always believing in yourself, even when the course is hard,” she said.

Ninja competitions test Jacobsen in ways none of the other sports he tried have.

“Almost every other sport has a focus,” said Jacobsen, who attends Cheyenne East. “Some sports are mostly lower body, or they’re mostly upper body. Here, you’re working your arms, your legs, your shoulders, your grip and your brain. It’s almost overwhelming.”

Athletes like Jacobsen, Waszkiewicz and the rest of the advanced team are why Meyer started Ninja Playground, he said.

“The type of athletes these kids are, and the mindset they have is awesome,” he said.

“I like to see kids push themselves. I like to see them fail. They have the option to let that failure destroy them, or they can grow from it.

“It’s super cool to see all this. It’s super rewarding as a coach and business owner. I never thought I would have a bunch of little ninja people flying around here. I’m really proud of them.”

Jeremiah Johnke is the WyoSports editor. He can be reached at jjohnke@wyosports.net or 307-633-3137. Follow him on Twitter at @jjohnke.

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