Gymnast slips from ‘American Ninja’ contest, but keeps hopes high

UIC Men's Gymnastics: Trent Jarrett, who competed as a contestant on "American Ninja Warriors"

Trent Jarrett, shown in NCAA competition, vied for a spot on the extreme sports show “American Ninja Warrior.”


UIC gymnast Trent Jarrett won’t be the next “American Ninja Warrior,” at least this year.

Jarrett was among 100 competitors in the Kansas City regional event for the extreme sports show, which aired June 1 on NBC-TV and the Esquire Network.

The actual competition 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 didn’t make it to the second day — he fell while tackling the next-to-last obstacle. He was hanging from bungee-like ropes and trying to move forward when his exhausted forearms gave out.

“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.”

Trent Jarrett

Jarrett, 5-foot-1, was inspired to audition by the success of another competitor who’s 4-foot-11.

Rather than being disappointed, though, he considers himself “lucky to be on the show,” for which 15,000 people auditioned.

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.

Jarrett has 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 — he’s 5-foot-1 — but he was reassured by the stellar performance of Kacy Catanzaro, an ex-gymnast who is two inches shorter.


Not one to give up

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.”

He was injured in a bad Fourth of July accident last year. He and his dad, who live in Buford, Georgia, 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.”

But he’s a standout in gymnastics. 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 championships, qualifying as an individual on the still rings and as an alternate on the parallel bars.

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, he wants to train to improve his chances of being on the show again. 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.



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