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Chicago Daily Herald
A new gym in Naperville and Libertyville provides an unusual workout for adults and an obstacle course paradise for kids. It's Ultimate Ninjas. Managed by Jesse Labreck and Mike Silenzi, both contestants on the NBC show "American Ninja Warrior," the new spaces offer classes, open gyms, and birthday parties for kids and fitness sessions for grown-ups who want a new way to get some exercise.
The gyms are "just like the show," Labreck says, and they've been met with excitement since they opened in mid-November. The Naperville location for example, at 2012 Corporate Lane, has 90 kids already signed up for weekly classes and can handle up to 27 birthday parties each weekend.
Little ones as young as 6 can learn the strengths and skills to traverse obstacles such as a rock wall, trapeze bars, rings, parkour boxes, quintuple steps, wing nets, cargo nets, salmon ladders, monkey bars and a "warped wall" that looks like part of a skateboarding halfpipe.
Kids so far love the novelty and the adventure. "You get to climb on things and climb up high that normally your parents would tell you to get down," Labreck said. The Libertyville location, at 732 E. Park Ave., offers the same types of obstacles and challenges, as does the original location in Chicago.
Completing the courses requires coordination and upper body strength, and that turns off some who get intimidated by the mere look of the towering obstacles. But gradually learning the techniques to swing from ring to ring or jump from box to box also helps build those very skills — plus core strength. "That's what ninja teaches you," Labreck said. "That's why you're training — to build that coordination."
Kids classes cost $25 each and open play time costs $20. Adults can gain access to the gym through various levels of memberships. Labreck, a 27-year-old Maine native who moved from the East Coast to Naperville to manage kids' classes at Ultimate Ninjas, leads young participants through warmups such as lunge jumps, planks and situps, followed by endurance training, obstacles and free play.
Kids — such as 8-year-old Zoe Solomon of Montgomery, whose mom heard of the new gym on Facebook — come in pumped up and leave worn out. "Our daughter started just by watching the show," Jesi Solomon said about Zoe's ninja beginnings. "She was excited."
Ninja mania will be in high gear in both Naperville and Libertyville this weekend, with an event called Pro Camp. The gyms are bringing in 21 professional ninjas, athletes who compete on "American Ninja Warriors" like Labreck and Silenzi, to give instruction to kids, put on a show and sign autographs.
One hundred Pro Camp slots at each location already are sold out. Labreck hopes kids will get hooked on the sport she found after competing in track and field races such as sprints, jumps and the heptathlon from her teens through her time at the University of Maine. "It was so fun," Labreck said about the ninja competition, "that I fell for it."
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