As 15-year-old Aiden Snyder of Scotia swung and climbed his way across a mostly elevated obstacle course on Sunday morning, dozens of spectators cheered him on and watched with bated breath as he neared the end of the course.
Snyder, who had sailed through the challenging course of ropes, smooth walls and floating walls in which competitors had to place pegs into holes to move across them, slipped at the very end of the course down onto a mat underneath him, to loud groans and supportive applause from the audience.
“I went too fast...I just went too fast that time,” Snyder said. Before too much time went by, Snyder would be back on the peg monkey bars, practicing where he slipped the first time.
Snyder was one of over 120 people who competed in the National Ninja League qualifier competition hosted by Saratoga Ninja Lab in Malta over the weekend.
Competitors ranging in age from 6- to 40-years old traveled from across the Capital Region and beyond to participate. Those who qualified earned a spot at the National Ninja League World Championships which will take place in Greensboro, North Carolina, in February.
Inspired by the NBC television show “American Ninja Warrior,” during which contestants make their way through a series of challenging physical obstacles, Saratoga Ninja Lab opened in August 2018.
Less than a year, later a second location was opened in Crossgates Commons, called Albany Ninja Lab. Visitors must utilize a combination of balancing skills, agility, speed, strength and parkour to get through the obstacle course at either of the two locations.
On Sunday afternoon, competitors up to age 17 stood in line, ready to take their turn on the course. In order to qualify for the national competition, athletes had to complete the entire course against the clock. Many of them were practicing swinging from suspended hoops and rubbing chalk on their hands for traction right up until their scheduled competition time.
Dan Kirchner, Ninja Labs' general manager and owner, said on Sunday that usually the business would have been open for its usual programs including classes, camps, open gym or a private event such as a birthday party.
However, when the NNL was searching for a local gym to host one of the first of its regional competitions, the organization landed on the Malta gym due to its past experience hosting competitions and its qualified, well-trained staff.
“It’s really unique,” Kirchner said of the Ninja Lab gym. “You definitely get more fit,” he said.
Ninja Lab, he explained, serves as something different for almost every person who utilizes the course. Some younger users do it to supplement a school sport during the off-season. For some athletes, including adults, it supplements going to the gym regularly, or it functions as their main form of exercise.
The layout of the course and which aspects are emphasized changes depending on each person who uses the gym, Kirchner said. For that reason, any person, regardless of skill level or physical fitness can become involved.
“They can make courses that are appropriate for the different age groups,” he said.
Ninja Lab is also a way to build up confidence, he added. Watching athletes start from square one and progress forward over months is one of the best things about the gym, he said. The gym also fosters a sense of community, exemplified, he said, by the weekend’s competition, where every audience member and participant cheered for each other, regardless of the team they were there with.
“The most important thing people get is definitely the self confidence,” Kirchner said. “You can see it big time in kids but you see it in adults, too."