Longmont’s own Warrior Playground has put itself on the map by producing athletes who rank among the top five in the world.
Ranking in the top three is 16-year-old Anabella Heinrichs who felt like traditional sports were not her niche.
“I didn’t like ball sports,” Heinrichs said.
She didn’t think that these types of sports fit her skill set that consisted of jumping, climbing and balancing.
Heinrichs first learned about Ninja Warrior training at 12-years-old when her cousins encouraged her to try it. As soon as she tried the sport, Heinrichs was hooked.
“After that, my cousins and I went to Warrior Playground every day for a week. But then we learned about rest days,” Heinrichs said with a laugh, “we were like, what are rest days? It was something we really enjoyed and it turned out that we were pretty good at it.”
Heinrichs recently joined the professional division of Ninja Warrior training. She said the experience of competing with adult professionals as a 16-year-old has been fulfilling.
“I’ve been able to really push myself competitively,” Heinrichs said., “I’m trying to see how far I can possibly go.”
She competed in the world finals at the National Ninja League in Pennsylvania last weekend. The Longmont Leader is still waiting to hear the results of the competition.
At the Warrior Playground in Longmont, athletes participate in Ninja Warrior and Obstacle Course Race training and focus on building confidence, overcoming fears, building strength and skills, mindset training and performance training, said Owner Sam Banola.
Among them is Coach Glenn Albright who has competed on seasons 10, 11 and 12 of the American Ninja Warrior TV show, beginning at the age of 23.
Albright began training in between shifts “slinging meat” at a barbeque restaurant in Greeley.
While filming season ten of American Ninja Warrior in Minnesota, Albright met Banola who was also competing.
“I got to know him and know about his gym,” Albright said. As Albright continued to compete on American Ninja Warrior seasons eleven and twelve, he would periodically get a call from Banola asking him to join Warrior Playground’s team. During this time, Albright was hesitant about making the shift from Greeley to Longmont but decided to make the switch in 2019 when the gym found a home at 33 S. Pratt Parkway.
“It’s been amazing working here,” Albright said. Albright believes that his experience on American Ninja Warrior has helped him to know what to teach the people who come to Warrior Playground.
In addition to having fun, Athletes at Warrior Playground are invited to train to compete at higher levels. Within the first year of the gym’s existence, two athletes competed in the World Ninja Challenge, one ending as a third-place finisher, Kaden Lebsack, and the other as a sixth-place finisher, Jase Heinrichs.
Lebsack is now a competitor on American Ninja Warrior show at the age of 16.
Lebsack “is one of the best ninjas in the world,” Banola said, “and (he) is on ANW right now showing how great he is.”
This year, Warrior Playground athletes Kayla and Kensley Dodge, Anabella Heinrichs and Dante Pivetta placed within the top three in the World Ninja Challenge and Banola and Caleb Tucker placed within the top five.
Even with so many successful athletes training at the Warrior Playground, Banola said the gym focuses on having fun more than anything.
“One of my favorite quotes is ‘we don't stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing,’” Banola said. “We play at the gym, as much as we train hard, we play even harder. I even joke now about how a high percentage of our team athletes, many of which are some of the best in the world, don't even compete. We just love doing this stuff and having fun.”