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Freshman ‘Ninja’ tackles new obstacle

Jessica Katz and Zoe Bendoff, Executive Copy Editor and Staff Writer

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Freshman Ann Slivken trains for her appearance on “American Ninja Warrior Junior.” Her episode is set to air on Saturday Dec. 8 at 6 p.m. on Universal Kids. Photo by Isabel Vayser

Legs trembling and heart racing, freshman Ann Slivken prepared to take on an obstacle course that would test her agility, strength and balance. Months of training combined with years of climbing experience would be put to the test in the moments to follow. Ann put all nerves aside as the competition began, racing head-to-head with fellow contestants as she was taped for the national television show “American Ninja Warrior Junior.”

“I was thinking, ‘Just do the obstacle, don’t fall and try to get ahead of the person next to you,’” Ann said. 

Ann participates in local Ninja competitions on an elite team for the competitive activity based off of “American Ninja Warrior.” Her experience competing with the elite team differed from competing on the Los Angeles production set as contestants were given an advantage.

“The day before we did the actual filming, [contestants] got to go to the set to try the course, which is really cool because in [Ninja] competitions, you don’t usually get to try the course first.

“[Contestants] also had to get interviewed and we had to [get our pictures taken],” Ann said.

As a child, Ann said she would climb on almost anything, which may have alarmed observing neighbors but never worried her mother, Betty Slivken.

“I used to climb super high trees, and my mom would be just talking with people and they’d be like, ‘Why do you let your daughter climb so high?’” said Ann. “My mom was like, ‘Oh, whatever, she does that all the time.’”

According to Betty, Ann’s love for climbing and for “American Ninja Warrior” inspired her decision to apply for the junior version of the show, featuring contestants ages 9-14.

“We’ve been watching the show for years and [Ann would say], ‘I can’t wait until I’m 21 to be on the show,’” said Betty. “Then she actually found out about [‘American Ninja Warrior Junior’ on Instagram] … and she said, ‘Can I apply?’”

The audition process consisted of a 10-page online application, five to 10 photos of the contestant, an introductory video and a video showcasing athletic abilities. 

According to Betty, Ann received a call in June, approximately one month after submitting her application, informing her of her selection for the show. Both she and Ann were in shock.

“When we got the call, [Ann] was [already in Ninja training] at least twice a week for two hours a day. 

“I think she forgot about [her audition] a little bit, but she was surprised and she was ecstatic,” Betty said.

Mike Silenzi, co-owner and manager of Ultimate Ninjas, a Ninja gym in Libertyville, trained Ann for the show. He said Ann had learned she would be competing head-to-head with other contestants as opposed to running through obstacles individually only a few weeks prior to filming. Based on that information, Silenzi adjusted Ann’s training.

“We [mimicked] the training for speed courses right where it’s maybe not the hardest obstacles ever, but you have to do them really fast,” Silenzi said.

The day Ann first achieved her goal of completing Ultimate Ninja’s 14-foot warped wall was a moment Silenzi said stood out to him from her training. The excitement in the gym was evident as everybody cheered.

According to Ann, whether she is training or competing, she remains concentrated on the obstacle at hand.

“When [the crowd is] probably screaming, I focus on what’s in front of me,” Ann said.

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Freshman ‘Ninja’ tackles new obstacle