Ninja gym

THE WARRIOR STEPS and the Warped Wall (pictured to the right) are just a couple of the obstacles that Warrior 7 Wellness in Hamptonville offers its guests.

One of the summer’s most popular network television shows is currently in the middle of its 11th season on NBC.

A little bit closer to home, the couple of Mickey and Joyell Leonard own and operate Yadkin County’s only Ninja gym training the next wave of competitors looking to compete on the hit show American Ninja Warrior.

Last weekend, Warrior 7 Wellness in Hamptonville celebrated its one-year anniversary of operation and had quite a turnout of kids and a few adults.

When I first heard that there would be a Ninja Warrior Obstacle Course opening near Wilkes County last year, I was curious.

I get asked a lot what my interests are outside of covering sports and one of them is obstacle course racing. I competed in my first race (a Warrior Dash race in Huntersville) a little more than four years ago and have been hooked ever since.

I even introduced my brother in-law to obstacle course racing late last year.

About two or three weeks ago, Savanna Roberts, Mickey and Joyell’s daughter, sent me a press release celebrating the gym’s first-year anniversary. One of the incentives to get people to come out was unlimited play on its ninja warrior obstacles, many of them found on the hit television show, for just three dollars.

Even though I’ve done almost a dozen races, which include the Spartan Race (the sprint stage), Savage Race and Rugged Maniac multiple times, I’ve never been able to train on actual obstacles.

Unfortunately, with covering sporting events around the same time they offer open play sessions each evening, I haven’t been able to take advantage of the option.

But last Saturday seemed like a good opportunity to test my skills.

As I walked into the building, which is located just off U.S. 421 on Rocky Branch Road, I was welcomed by Joyell Leonard and she told me what they offered.

In addition to obstacle course training, they offer group fitness classes, after school classes, birthday parties, wellness seminars and much more. They’re also starting new self-defense classes.

Soon after paying the money to play on the obstacles, I was introduced to Mickey Leonard, who showed me around and showed me all the obstacles they offered. Some of them include the Warrior Steps (known as the Devil Steps on the television show), the jumping spider, the salmon ladder, the cliff hanger and the iconic warped wall (with many different marks noting how high someone went). They also have a climbing wall and swinging rings, allowing everyone to work on their grip strength.

Having watched the television show almost every Monday during the summer for the last five years, I’ve always thought I could do those obstacles with little difficulty.

After a few tries on many of the obstacles, boy was I wrong.

I ended up falling not into the water (like on the show), but onto the padded floor. All the while, many of the kids, most of them about a third of my age (considering that I’m in my mid-30s) were having more success — I guess that’s what happens when you’re 10 years old, instead of someone channeling his inner-10 year old.

But as I kept getting back up, I finally managed to have some success. Got up the 10-foot part of the warped wall (almost reaching the 12-foot portion) and was able to completely lodge my body into the jumping spider and climb myself to the top where there’s a nice view of the gym. I also got across the set of rings with little trouble (that was one obstacle I actually had some prior experience on).

They also had some of the Leonard’s children demonstrate some of the obstacles and they could do them pretty quickly. One of the trainers at the gym, who also did a demonstration, was someone I was very familiar with having covered her during her cross country and track and field days at East Wilkes High School.

As the event winded down, I had a chance to speak with the co-owners as I was dripping in what Mickey Leonard called “liquid awesome.” While their focus is on helping kids get into obstacle course racing and stay active, they want to start an obstacle course class for adults.

But more importantly, their mission is to help families become healthy in all aspects, physically, mentally and emotionally.

While it’s unlikely that anyone will be hearing American Ninja Warrior hosts Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbajabiamila refer to yours truly as the Sports Writing Ninja, I plan to continue to go to Warrior 7 Wellness with the goal of getting better for every obstacle course race I do.

And hopefully, Warrior 7 Wellness continues to help others get involved in doing obstacle courses; who knows maybe the next American Ninja Warrior contestant could hail from these parts.

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