Ninjas come in all shapes and sizes: Just ask the 4-foot-7-inch, 62-pound Arden Jensen.
The 10-year-old girl living in Flowery Branch with her parents, John and Jo, has made that very clear — but first, she had to travel to Los Angeles.
On July 20, Arden made her way to the City of Angels, which briefly turned into a city of ninjas, as nearly 200 kids ages 9 through 14 ran the “American Ninja Warrior Junior” course. It was the first time children were invited to participate on NBC’s popular obstacle course competition.
Arden’s parents said the show received “tens of thousands” of applications and their daughter was one of the few chosen to take on the course.
“I think it’s just part of her DNA, her makeup,” Jo Jensen said. “She’s extremely determined and motivated and able. So, I suppose it’s those three together. And she never complains — even if it’s getting up at 6 a.m. for a run with her dad.”
The series premier is scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 13 on Universal Kids. Arden’s episode will air at the same time on Oct. 20.
How it ends up for Arden, viewers will have to wait and see. Information about the show are kept top secret. If she does do well, she’ll be in the following episodes until she wins or loses. The last contestant standing from each age group after head-to-head races will be named the winner.
Regardless how the show ends up, Arden’s record is already impressive — she’d only been training for four months. A lot of the other contestants on “American Ninja Warrior Junior” had been training for years, and Arden’s parents called their daughter a “newborn ninja.”
But even as someone so new to the sport, Arden said she wasn't nervous. As she was standing at the head of the course with cameras all around, waiting to race the competitor by her side, she said she felt prepared.
“I was just waiting for the beep,” Arden said. “Nothing was really going through my head. I was just focusing.”
If it wasn’t for Arden’s family, no one would even know she was going to be on TV; they’re the ones who brag about her and all her accomplishments to other family and friends. They said Arden is reserved and likes to stay pretty humble.
She didn’t even tell her own friends about the show.
Arden is active and involved in just about everything she can make time for: gymnastics, swimming, martial arts, triathlons, running. She even just took up rock climbing, and it’s all by choice. She grew up watching her dad go for runs around the neighborhood and, at just 3 years old, she asked to tag along.
“She’d lace up her shoes and she would say, ‘Daddy, Arden come,’” John Jensen said. “And I’m like, ‘OK, we’ll run around our neighborhood.’ And then when she was 5, she actually put on her sneakers and she said she wanted to run a mile with me, so we did it.”
It took Arden about 11 minutes to finish that mile in the cul-de-sac and, from that point on, she hasn’t let up.
“We have training stuff in our basement,” Arden said. “We have pullup bars that I can move and do different things on. We have the Goku Grips, and then we have a gymnastics bar I can practice ninja on. And then I have a balance beam that I practice balance on … and then I just got a mini-trampoline.”
Goku Grips are straight wooden handles that help improve grip strength. Users can attach them to a bar and use them to do pullups.
When she’s not in her basement training, or swimming competitively, which she’s pretty good at too — she qualified for the state competition after her first-ever swim meet with SwimAtlanta — she’s at NinjaKour, a training gym in Lilburn. She spends a couple of days each week there with other kids her age and a few trainers who have been on “American Ninja Warrior” themselves.
Gordon “Tetsu” White is one of those trainers and was actually the one who recommended Arden send in an application for the show in the first place. White was impressed after Arden made it up the warped wall, a 10-foot curved wall contestants have to run up and climb over to the top, on her first try.
“It felt cool,” said a timid Arden.
She’s been watching the show since she was 7, so when she got to Los Angeles, the obstacles and the water below, were familiar to her.
First up was the sonic swing where contestants had to jump to a rope, then to another rope four feet away, and leap to the ground. Tic toc, a large cylinder with a small ledge to stand on at the bottom had contestants swing on a trapeze-type bar to get to it, then jump from the ledge to a cargo net. Then there was the I-beam, where contestants had to hold on to a ledge, testing their grip strength, as they crossed to the other side. Floating tiles were next. Small platforms were suspended above the water by bungee ropes and contestants had to jump from one to the other. Next was spin cycle where large, spinning hoops were lined up above the water and contestants had to swing from one to the other.
Finally, Arden’s strong-suit: The warped wall.
“I’m on the sidelines and it is a surreal feeling seeing your child up there,” Jo Jensen said. “They announce her name and it’s just — your heart is beating out of your chest because you can't believe your child is up there.”
American Ninja Warrior Junior
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13
Channel: Universal KidsMore info: Online