JBLM families tackle visiting obstacle course in American Ninja Warrior-style

Alpha Warrior Challenge at JBLM - a chance for soldiers to be ninjas

Soldiers take the Alpha Warrior Challenge and run the ninja obstacle course race at JBLM​
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Soldiers take the Alpha Warrior Challenge and run the ninja obstacle course race at JBLM​

Don’t worry about falling. It happens.

That was part of the pep talk Joint Base Lewis-McChord families got Saturday from a couple of “American Ninja Warrior“ contestants, before they tried a visiting obstacle course that was essentially a jungle gym on steroids.

On the popular TV show, competitors work their way through extreme obstacles that test their strength and endurance, and the course that visited JBLM — made by a company called Alpha Warrior — appeared to mimic the ones in the show.

But with a footprint about the size of a badminton court, the Alpha Warrior setup is probably easier to take on the road.

Despite the risk of falling (onto safety mats), about 100 people signed up to try the course, and many pushed themselves to the limit through grimaces and sweat.

The two former American Ninja contestants who introduced the course and signed autographs are Brent Steffensen and Kacy Catanzaro. They’ve teamed up with Alpha Warrior to bring the extreme obstacle experience to the masses. JBLM is the 12th stop on the company’s tour of military installations across the country this year.

Shahaila Wentz, 14, said she’s a big fan of the show and especially liked Catanzaro, who at 5 feet and about 100 pounds has conquered some of the show’s toughest obstacles.

“I was really upset when she fell (on the show),” said Wentz, as she waited in line to meet Catanzaro. “She’s determined to complete stuff, so I look up to her.”

After autographs — also signed by fitness trainer Bennie Wylie of the NBC strength training show STRONG — Wentz planned to hit the course, called the battle rig.

Dad Sam Wentz, a mobile gun system commander with the 1st Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, said he wasn’t worried.

“She’s seen stuff pretty similar,” he said, explaining that she had experience with obstacle course races. Then, standing near the course, he added: “Maybe not to this extreme.”

It was the salmon ladder the 14-year-old said looked the hardest, based on watching the show. The ladder requires competitors to use their upper body strength to jump a bar up a set of rungs, hauling themselves up in the process.

Noah Clark, a 30-year-old medical treatment sergeant in the 296th Brigade Support Battalion, said the ladder was one of his favorites. He also liked the devil’s staircase, a sort of ladder that contestants climb by pulling themselves up step by step with their hands, almost like uphill monkey bars.

The peg board, Clark said, was his least favorite obstacle. It required him to hang from two pegs on the rig and then move horizontally by pulling out one peg at a time and moving it to a slot farther along the wall.

It wasn’t his first time on the Alpha Warrior course. He gave it a go when it visited Fort Hood in Texas earlier this year.

And Clark hopes to visit the larger Alpha Warrior course in San Antonio someday.

“I would absolutely love it,” he said.

Saturday was the first time for Clark’s 12-year-old daughter, Nina Harris, to try out the battle rig. She thought a battering-ram-shaped obstacle people were hanging under like sloths looked the most difficult.

Father and daughter cheered each other on, along with Clark’s three younger children and his wife.

“(I’m) just supporting him, watching him, trying to keep my little siblings under control,” Harris said.

Lots of JBLM families who turned out, including Clark’s, said they enjoy watching “American Ninja Warrior” together.

Heather De Jesus said her three sons, ages 9, 11 and 13, used to mimic it on the playground.

“They were like little ninja warriors,” she said. “We would time them. They were so serious.”

But John De Jesus, her 11-year-old, said he was too young to give the Alpha Warrior course a try.

“I probably could do it when I grow up,” he said, while watching his dad on the rig.

“Got to get your grades up first,” mom told him. “Even ninja warriors have to have good grades.”

She wasn’t the only one thinking about school.

Wentz seemed to think her Alpha Warrior stunts would make her stand out in at least one class.

“Wait until I tell my P.E. teacher,” she said.

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268, @amkrell