The Olympics start this month, and no doubt my kids and I will catch some feats of athletic derring-do, paired, if we’re lucky, with stirring documentary-style vignettes about the athletes and the obstacles they’ve overcome to land in South Korea.
It will be a somewhat familiar formula, considering the recent craze among my third grader son and his friends for a TV series called American Ninja Warrior, which features super-ripped super athletes conquering a series of ever more elaborate and tricky obstacles, intercut with their own come-from-behind-to-conquer-all backstories.
So when we caught wind of a new, indoor American Ninja Warrior-style gym that opened up in Milwaukie and has extended hours where kids are welcome, no experience necessary, we had to check it out.
The friendly owner of Urban Warrior told us he was inspired to open his place by his son, who one day, while watching American Ninja Warrior, dreamily said, “Dad, I want to do that someday.” Me too, his father thought — and voilà.
Because it was our first time, my son Ben, his buddy Isaac and his twin sister Elly were taken through a series of warm-ups by staffers/trainers — some time on the rowing machines, then a series of jumping jacks, push-ups and sun salutations, just enough to get the blood pumping. Then, staffers took them to the back of the gym to check out the intro obstacle course, which starts with a kid-friendly swing onto a rope ladder (don’t touch the floor!), continues to a series of suspended climbing walls with handholds and toeholds that kids need to crab-crawl across, and leads to a spider wall, where kids can squeeze themselves into a small crevice, and shimmy themselves across using their arms, legs and core muscles.
There’s more — playground-style swing rings, placed just a touch far apart enough to make it more challenging, ziplines and pulleys to work on sticking the landing, strength training ropes to climb and haul, and even a rope platform for kids to sit on while their friends work together to haul them up into the air. (All somewhat oddly backlit by disco lights.) The kids broke a sweat within 10 minutes and kept it up for the full two hours that we spent there.
Eventually, I started wishing I’d brought my athletic gear along. It looked like an awesome workout (and the gym’s trainers do run personal sessions and classes for adults, as well as the usual array of kid birthday parties and camps.) But especially since it was our first time, it was good to have a grown-up on the ground to spot my more tentative daughter, or keep an eye out for my son, to make sure he didn’t get stuck in a tough spot. There are thick, cushy, padded mats everywhere (as opposed to the pools of water into which contestants on the show drop when their muscles give out), so I wasn’t too concerned about any bones getting broken.
Age-wise, the owners say it’s best for kids ages 6 and up, but we ran into friends there with a limber, gymnastics-trained 4-year-old who was more than keeping up with the big kids. Other things to bring along: water and even rock-climbing chalk to help little hands get the best possible grip.
When I finally tore the kids away, (though to be fair, they spent the last 15 minutes of the outing watching the American Ninja Warrior reruns that appear to be playing in a continuous loop in the entry hall) there were loud requests to come back soon. A few more times, and maybe they’ll be ready to conquer their own personal Mount Midoriyama.
More obstacle courses around Portland to sample with kids.
Skyhook Ninja Fitness
Go big at this 12,000-square-foot facility in Tigard, which has classes for kids as young as 5 years old. 12008 SW Garden Pl.; skyhookfitness.com.
Conquer the elements at this newly opened temple of free-running at 311 SE 97th Ave.;
If You Go
Urban Warrior is at 6104 SE King Rd., Milwaukie. urbanwarrior.fit
Check out the video proof at pdxparent.com/ninja-go-video.
Julia Silverman is the editor of PDX Parent. She would definitely touch the floor if she tried to launch herself off the rope swing onto the climbing wall.