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Columbus Experience: Train with a Ninja Warrior

Miriam Bowers Abbott Miriam Bowers Abbott Columbus Experience: Train with a Ninja WarriorPhoto by Cole Abbott.
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The very first time she put her hands on the bar, Michelle Warnky went to the top of the salmon ladder: “I just sort of felt like I could do it.” Let that sink in for a minute.

The local athlete’s been making waves as a competitor on the television program, American Ninja Warrior. She’s climbed the warped wall (successfully). She’s made it to the top of Mt. Midoriyama. The ninja competitions also often feature the aforementioned salmon ladder. For the uninitiated, a salmon ladder requires an athlete to hang from a bar, while using that bar to jump up the rungs of a ladder. It’s not a normal daily activity for most folks.

Outside the arena, Warnky runs Movement Lab Ohio up near Polaris. It’s a ninja gym, a project that involves Chris and Brian Wilczewski, brothers who are also renown in the ninja scene. You might find Warnky, as we did, behind the front desk. She’s hands-on when it comes to the lab. So’s her dad. You’ll find him there five days a week. He zipped through the lobby, on his way to the open gym. He does some coaching and is in the process of writing a book that encourages adults of all ages to play more and “train” less. “That’s what all this is to me: play,” he explains.

Sean Noel is also in the house as a coach. He’s another TV Ninja, and Warnky introduces him saying he’s really good, “He can do 110 pull-ups in a row.”

Sounds totally freakish.

The ninja gym actually started as a project inside of the local climbing facility, Vertical Adventures. As the demand for ninja training expanded, it became clear that Warnky needed her own spot. Today, Movement Lab Ohio hosts a balanced mix of ninja classes for all ages: kids through older adults.

And what sorts of adults train? Is it just ninja superstars? Warnky says it’s all sorts of people, some focused on competition, some not. She thoughtfully adds, “What they have in common is that they all like a challenge. Sometimes, it can be a matter of just beating yourself.”

The typical class starts with a warm-up, then conditioning, then the straight-up ninja skills.

Speaking of ninja skills, the salmon ladder might look somewhat doable when the ninjas climb it on television. It certainly looks doable when Warnky effortlessly demonstrates it in the lab. It’s like she’s levitating right up the ladder. It’s a different issue entirely when all your body weight is hanging from a bar, and you know you’re supposed to somehow jump with your arms. Even with the encouragement of a champion-level coach, I did not make it to the top of the salmon ladder on my very first try. I did not make it up one rung of the ladder, ever.

In addition to a salmon ladder, peg board, ropes, mats, rings and a host of other paraphernalia, Movement Lab Ohio also hosts a warped wall. It’s much taller in person, and the top remains, for me, a long way away. The attempts at climbing it were humbling, but Warnky allows, “We’ve all been humbled. We always encourage each other, because we all know what it’s like to fall.” Even the television stars.

Movement Lab is hosting a mini competition on July 21, and some bigger ones in September and January. You can find out more about the facility and the competition at mlabohio.com.

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