Local Legends in Training

Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to attempt obstacles like the ones on NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior” television show? Now, Frisco couch potatoes and athletes of all ages are in luck! The first Ninja Nation location in Texas opened its doors in Frisco in October 2018, complete with professional-grade obstacles, inspiring coaches and five-time national American Ninja Warrior finalist, Karsten Williams, serving as the head coach and Dallas area director.

Don’t think you have what it takes? Think again! 12-year-old Brayden Johnston says, “Just keep trying and you will eventually get it. The more times you come here and try an obstacle, the better you’ll get.” And he should know. He attended the grand opening of Ninja Nation in October, has been coming three or four times a week since then and has already won his first competition! His goal? “I want to be on ‘American Ninja Warrior Junior,’” Brayden says.

This is a far cry from where he started, according to his mom. “He got picked on a lot for being so small for his age, but here, nobody cares. They are just so positive. It does not matter if you are tall or short … you can do any of this stuff.”

Mr. Williams says, “You see all these cool obstacles and the lights here, but it is bigger than that.” He and the staff at Ninja Nation are making “an impact, directly, by building confidence and motivating these kids to overcome their fears so they can overcome their challenges outside of these walls.”

Growing up in Plano, Mr. Williams says he was “really skinny and small” and did not have the “natural ability” for football and basketball, but he could run fast and found his place in track, until a season-ending injury sidelined him. Floating from one job to another after high school, including serving as a personal trainer at Life Time Fitness®, he eventually decided to take the leap and audition for season five of “American Ninja Warrior,” without any ninja training. After failing on the very first obstacle, Mr. Williams says he was humbled and started to think maybe this was not for him, but his mother encouraged him to keep trying. So, with no ninja gyms in the area at the time, Mr. Williams had to get creative with bocce balls, foam rollers and other equipment at the gym to practice balance and replicate tricky obstacles. “I think it was really determination to prove to myself that I could do it,” he says. “There was a lot of mental training and saying ‘I can do this!’”

Mr. Williams’ second attempt at “American Ninja Warrior” was on season six, in Dallas, where he made it to the national finals. “All of my hometown supporters were there, and it was a great redemption moment for me. I went from not getting anywhere on the course — maybe three or five seconds on my first time — to my second season of finishing two courses and moving on to the finals.”

The rest is history, but Mr. Williams will be the first to tell you he is still overcoming obstacles, especially stage one of the four-stage “American Ninja Warrior” National Finals. “I have the stage one blues, and I still have them to this day,” Mr. Williams laughs. “But, everything happens for a reason. I am a strong believer in that. I would not change a thing, looking back now.”

All of Mr. Williams’ uncertainties, experiences, failures and triumphs have congealed in his current role of changing lives at Ninja Nation. “I can relate to those kids who do not have it all figured out and do not know their place yet. You do not have to have it all figured out. You just need to have a good mindset, a positive attitude, network and talk to people. You never know when your path might turn and where you are going to go. You just have to be willing to walk down the path — that is the main thing,” he shares.

Despite having top-notch equipment and offerings that range from birthday parties and homeschool classes to corporate events and a mobile ninja course, the real gold at Ninja Nation Frisco is in the intentions behind it all. “One of our company’s goals,” says the arena manager, Brittany Rodriguez, “Is to create more than a million heroes. To believe in yourself, in our opinion, means you are becoming your own hero.”

And Ms. Rodriguez knows full and well what that means. Diagnosed with stage four colon cancer in December 2018, Ms. Rodriguez is overcoming her own obstacles, while still encouraging others to overcome theirs. “Now that this [cancer] has happened,” she says, “I just know God placed me here because it is all about overcoming obstacles. With all the quotes we have on the walls about dedication, community, perseverance, heroes — all those things are applying to my life right now. Looking back, I know He had a bigger purpose for my job that I did not realize at the time.”

Ms. Rodriguez is quick to share stories of people who have come to Ninja Nation to conquer its obstacles and leave with other aspects of their lives dramatically impacted, as well. She says, “We have a great environment to build belief, confidence and courage. That is one of the things that separates us from other gyms. We have great obstacles — probably the best out there. The people we have are all about motivating. You have to come and see what the hype is all about.”

Mr. Williams says most people’s jaws drop when they see inside Ninja Nation. “And then they get on the obstacles with our people who bring this energy and positivity. The music is jamming … we get races going in the middle course … this place is like a party.”

Indeed, Ninja Nation Frisco was recently named by CultureMap Dallas as one of the top 10 places in Dallas for a birthday party. Ninja Nation offers homeschool classes, field trips and day play hours. The Mobile Ninja Nation Obstacle Course can even come to you!

If you are feeling a little more motivated, Ninja Nation has classes available for the young and old, as well as private lessons and a Ninja HERO Boot Camp. And, yes, if a 60-year-old woman can tackle the course, you can too!

For those who want to up their game, Ninja Nights are offered every Monday night, by age group, for individuals who are wanting to train to compete. Ninja Nation also offers monthly competitions at junior, pre-teen, teen and adult levels. And the Ninja Nation Elite Team trains every Wednesday night for local and national competitions.

Is that warped wall calling your name? Brayden has a tip for you: “Do not just go forward. You need to run and jump up to get higher!” Give it a try … you might just be surprised how far you can go.

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Amy Richmond is a writer who relishes faith, family, intriguing conversations and inspiring words. She wishes time could be saved in a bottle because one lifetime is not enough.