9-year-old South Euclid boy wins American Ninja Warrior Junior competition
By Mary Flenner
South Euclid resident Nathanaël Honvou has been taking part in ninja competitions since he was 7 years old. At age 9, he won the American Ninja Warrior Junior competition after going up against 48 other children aged 9 and 10. (Mom proudly shares that he was the only 9-year-old to win in the entire age bracket.) Nathanaël actually won the competition in July 2019 and had the agonizing task of keeping his victory a secret until the episode aired in June 2020.
Ninja competitions are outrageous obstacle courses that test strength, agility, balance and more. These superhero-like athletes scale walls, swing from ropes and leap over barriers.
His mother, Aria, says the sport is more popular in Columbus, Ohio and in other states such as New Jersey, Connecticut, and New York. “It’s a new sport for a lot of Clevelanders, so it’s nice to be able to hopefully get more kids involved,” Aria says.
Nathanaël was first inspired to join after American Ninja Warrior came to Cleveland in Public Square in 2017, says Aria. “He wanted to do local competitions, so we’d travel across Ohio, New York and Michigan. He was entering about two competitions a month, locally and regionally.”
Over 11,000 kids applied to be on American Ninja Warrior Season 2, and only 144 were selected, including five from Ohio. Nathanaël was contacted in May 2019 and was flown out to Universal Studios in Los Angeles for a two-day competition in July. He ran seven races and won every one.
Aria says that taking part in a TV show production at 9 years old was an impressive feat, aside from winning the ninja competition. “I was most impressed with his attitude and behavior on set. He had to follow a lot of strict rules, but he was always cooperative.”
Nathanaël trains at Adrenaline Monkey in Warrensville Heights where he practices on ninja obstacle courses and does lots of conditioning and running. His mom notes that he does something for ninja every day, whether at the gym or at home. He also runs cross country and track for Corpus Christi Academy.
He says his favorite thing about the sport is that, “Everything is always different when you show up to a competition; you don’t know what’s going to be there. There are always new obstacles.” And unlike other sports, there are no practices before you compete, so you have to be ready for anything.
Even though Nathanaël has only been in the ninja sport for two years, he has already become quite accomplished. He boasts over 150 medals, between his ninja competitions and running, so he started donating them to organizations.
The American Ninja Warrior Junior honor also delivered a $15,000 prize, which Nathanaël has used to build a home gym, give to family and is also saving for college and a vacation.
Nathanaël attends Ruffing Montessori School and says in his free time he likes to do things any other 9-year-old might like, including playing video games and building Lego blocks. He says his other hidden talent is his pogo stick ability.
He tells anyone who may be interested in this sport, “You have to work really hard. You have to train a lot of hours to do this sport and be committed and very determined. But getting on the obstacles is really fun.”
Aria says it’s been wonderful to watch how he has grown in confidence and ability since beginning in 2017. “I was just watching his very first national competition from two years ago… he was so cautious, and here the next year he was on national television, all by himself.”
She also appreciates the way ninja training teaches him lifelong skills that could benefit him outside the gym as well. “In the future, when something looks difficult or something seems challenging, now he can realize he has the mental strength and physical strength to accomplish anything he puts his mind to.”
Watch a recap of his grand finale performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CP1UDHxA58g