UIC gymnast dreams of becoming ‘American Ninja Warrior’
Trent Jarrett is only an inch over five feet tall, but he stands tall as a contestant on NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior” show.
UIC gymnast Jarrett is among 100 competitors in the Kansas City regional event. It took place in April, with the 30 top finishers vying for honors on the second day. The best 15 from each of seven U.S. regions head to the finals in Las Vegas in late summer.
Jarrett isn’t allowed to say how well he did before the show airs.
Videos show the muscular “American Ninjas” leaping, swinging and climbing their way through a six-obstacle course that would give Tarzan pause. They land on foam rubber platforms, unless a slip or misstep sends them plunging into a tank of water — and out of contention.
They must negotiate a cloth bridge with widely spaced footholds, swing from one vine-like rope or steel hoop to the next, and finish by clambering up a towering, worse-than-vertical wall. They need superior strength, timing, agility, accuracy and judgment.
On the second day, the 30 survivors face the same six obstacles again, plus three new ones.
Everyone is timed. “If you were an expert you could probably do it in a minute — some just fly through it,” Jarrett said from his home in Buford, Georgia. “But you might take 2½ or 3 minutes if you want to make sure you don’t fall. If you finish, you’re going” to the next level.
Jarrett took his time.
“I was too nervous to look at the clock, but it was probably about 4 minutes,” he said. “I wanted to make sure I didn’t fall on the first couple of obstacles. When you get to Las Vegas, time matters more.”
Long-time fan, first-time contestant
He’s been watching the show, now in its seventh season, since his early teens. “I saw that some of them were gymnasts in the Olympics and I said, ‘I could do this.’”
At first his lack of physical stature made him doubtful, but he was reassured by the stellar performance of Kacy Catanzaro, an ex-gymnast who is two inches shorter than Jarrett.
His father, Scott, said, “We saw that former gymnasts did really well because of their grip strength and upper body strength.”
Trent Jarrett said he is one of only a few gymnasts competing as ninjas now, but believes they will dominate in years to come. “And rock-climbers,” he added.
Most of the competitors on the show are “retired athletes in their 30s who said, ‘This is a good way to get in shape,’” Jarrett said. “Some of them are not athletes at all.”
He recovered from a bad Fourth of July accident last year in time to make the competition. He and his dad were at an athletic event when someone dared him to take a front flip off a stage.
“It didn’t go well,” Jarrett, showing a gift for understatement. “I broke my whole entire face and was in the hospital for three nights and four days.
“But I ended up with a prettier face, so I’m happy for that.”
Personal obstacles don’t stand in his way
Jarrett is used to overcoming obstacles. Ear infections as an infant left him with an 80 percent hearing loss in one ear. He wore a hearing aid until middle school, but threw it away after he learned to read lips and “use my other senses” to compensate.
“I also have a high degree of dyslexia,” he said. He was worried that he wouldn’t be able to do well in high school or college, but says now, “I’m pretty sure I’m making up for those things.”
In fact, he’s been a standout, especially as a gymnast. In high school, Jarrett not only qualified four times for the junior national championships but was all-around state champion in 2011.
In college, he’s competed twice at the NCAA championship level. He qualified as an individual on the still rings with a score of 13.950 and as an alternate on the parallel bars, with 13.550.
Jarrett posted a career-best on the bars with a 14.150 against Temple Feb. 14, and turned in a season-best 14.450 on the rings, also vs. Temple.
His gymnastics training only took him so far in training for the “Ninjas” show.
“The course has rings, which is one of my skills, but they are much more awkward than gymnastics rings,” he said. “The course requires a combination of parkour and gymnastics, but it requires you to use your body in different ways.”
To qualify for the show, Jarrett made a video about his life, showing his training and saying why he aspired to be a “Ninja.”
After he finishes his bachelor’s degree in anthropology next year, Jarrett wants to do more ninja-like training to improve his chances of being on the show again. “I will probably try and go to some smaller competitions in the meantime,” he said.
He’d like to be ready for anything, but “you could train as much as you want, and the obstacle may not even be there, so you have to trust your body.”
Jarrett has become a huge fan of the sport.
“I love the rush that comes from using your body in different ways and defying the laws of gravity,” he said.