A couple of Utah kids have achieved their lifelong dreams. Which isn’t bad, considering they’re not yet teenagers.
Drew Bennett, a fifth grader from Lehi, and Anna Moreno, a seventh grader from Salt Lake City, are both competing on “American Ninja Warrior Junior.” Coincidentally, they’re both on the episode that starts streaming Thursday on Peacock.
They’ve never lived in a world without “Ninja Warrior,” which features athletes tackling an obstacle course filled with difficult challenges. The original, Japanese TV show debuted in 1997; the American version debuted in 2009.
“I’ve always wanted to be on the show,” said Bennett, 11.
”I first watched the show when I was 3,” said Moreno, 12. “And when I finished the episode, I just became obsessed with it. I knew that’s what I wanted to do and that’s what I wanted to be. And when I found out that there was a show for kids, I applied as soon as I could.”
“American Ninja Warrior Junior” debuted in 2018; Season 3 is streaming on Peacock. Episodes were filmed this past summer in Los Angeles.
Just getting on the show was a huge thrill for the two Utah kids.
“When I first heard that I got on, I read the text and I wasn’t sure what they were talking about at first,” Moreno said. “I was so happy I actually started crying because I’ve been wanting to be on that show for a long time.”
“It was one of the happiest moments of my life,” Bennett said.
Neither Utahn hesitated when the opportunity arose, despite the fact that the “Ninja Warrior” obstacle course is tough.
“It does require a lot of physical abilities, but half of doing ‘Ninja’ is mental,” Anna said. “So you have to have the confidence to do something and you have to see yourself accomplishing it and be determined enough to go for it.”
Here are some of their other thoughts about “American Ninja Warrior Junior”:
Were you excited or nervous?
Drew: “Kind of a mix of both for me. I wasn’t that nervous until I got there. During [the competition] I was pretty nervous. But I think being excited kind of overrode that nervousness.”
Anna: “So I was actually mostly excited for that whole time leading up to the time we were filming. And when I first saw the course, that’s when I started getting nervous, because there are obstacles I’d never done before.”
Were the obstacles on the course intimidating?
Drew: “There were a few things I was kind of worried about. Some technique on how to do them. But there are definitely others that I felt confident of — that I knew I could do.”
Anna: “Same for me. There were some that I have been practicing for a lot and I was really good at them. And I was excited to get on those obstacles. But others, I’d never seen before.”
Did you get to practice on the obstacles before you competed?
Drew: “The day before, they let you try the course.”
Anna: “We each pair off with partners, and we do two obstacles at a time. And then when everyone has done all the obstacles, then we do the whole course.” And competitors from the adult version of the show “come and they actually help you and guide you through the obstacles.”
What got you into “American Ninja Warrior”?
Drew: “About three years ago, me and my brother [first] watched the show. And I don’t know what it was, we just kind of started climbing around our house. And then a ninja gym opened up in downtown Lehi and we started training and taking classes there.
Anna: “When I first saw the show, it just looked really fun to me because there was a lot of rush and adrenaline there. And when I was 8, a gym opened up in Salt Lake and I just started going there as soon as it opened.”
Did you start training before you joined the ninja gyms?
Drew: “Oh, for sure.” Not just at the house, but at local playgrounds. “And now we have this really big ninja course in our backyard that we’ve built up through the years that we train at.”
Anna: “Before I went to the gym, I actually did a bunch of jumping spider kind of things on the doorways [in her home]. And whenever we would go on hikes, there were always these roots that stick up out of the ground, and I practiced my balance on them trying not to fall off.”
Do you play team sports in addition to ninja training?
Anna: “I do snowboarding in the winter, but I never really liked team sports that much. I also do rock climbing and mountain biking. I’m a lot better doing solo sports. Ninja is definitely where my attention is most.”
Drew: “I’ve done a lot of sports like soccer, basketball, baseball, and none of them really felt right until I did ninja. And now it’s just become my passion and I’m obsessed with it.”
Are your friends excited that you’re on TV?
Anna: “When I told my friends that I got on the show, my friend Mia was just, like, bouncing all over the place. She was so excited.”
Her friends are more ninja watchers than ninja doers. ‘Whenever they see videos of people on the obstacles, they say it looks really intimidating. And one of my friends is very dramatic about it. … She said, ‘Yeah, it looks like a death trap.’”
Drew: “All my friends are super supportive and think it’s so cool. … Yeah, it’s kind of a flex to say you’ve been on TV.”
What’s it like when you get on the course?
Anna: “For me, I think the adrenaline started kicking in when they told me to go warm up, because I knew I was about to run for my first time. And then I really started getting nervous when I was at the bottom of the stairs, climbing up to the starting platform.”
Drew: “You can’t really remember what happened on the course. You kind of remember the feeling after it, but during the course it’s kind of blurry.”
Did the cameras affect you?
Anna: “I was a little intimidated by the cameras at first, but when I got up on the platform, all of that kind of just went away and I just got really focused on the course.”
Drew: “Honestly, not really. It was a super fun experience. It was a good life lesson to kind of learn what that feels like, and I learned life skills that I don’t know if I would have had without going there.”
Did you feel pressure to win?
Drew: “I really wanted to win. That was my goal. But, also, I was just hoping to really do my best and do the best that I could against the other athletes.”
Anna: “For me, I think the first step was to audition and get in. And once I passed that phase, the next step was to just get out there and do my best. And since this is my first time on the show, I didn’t really care about … winning or something like that, but just going out there and doing my best and trying to beat at least one person.”
Did you have fun?
Drew: “That was probably one of my favorite trips I have ever been on. I met tons of new friends through the show and they’re still really close friends. It just was an amazing experience that I’ll never forget.”
Anna: “Like Drew said, it was an amazing experience. I actually don’t really remember a lot of it because there was so much adrenaline.”
Do you want to keep doing this?
Drew: “Oh, yeah. After this experience, it just makes me want to keep training harder. I want to keep doing [’American Ninja Warrior Junior’], and then, eventually, get on the adult show.”
His dream is to be on “American Ninja Warrior Jr.” for “a few seasons” and then compete on the adult show at the age of 15 or 16.
Anna: “I think I will audition for Season 4, because it was a blast. And I started doing more private lessons after I did the show. So I’m working harder.
“I’ve wanted to be on the adult show ever since I first watched it. And when I found out that they changed the age limit to 15, I was so excited because it’s only a few years away.”