Castle Rock residents can catch one of their own in the grand finale of "American Ninja Warrior Junior" this summer. Kaden Lebsack, 14, advanced from the semifinals in the show's most recent episode, …
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Castle Rock residents can catch one of their own in the grand finale of "American Ninja Warrior Junior" this summer.
Kaden Lebsack, 14, advanced from the semifinals in the show's most recent episode, which aired April 10. The championships will air June 12 on the Universal Kids network. At stake is the title and a $15,000 cash prize.
Kaden, a newcomer to the television show, is no stranger to ninja athletics, which involves extreme obstacle courses built to test an athlete's speed or endurance.
The Castle Rock teen competes in professional ninja competitions nationwide and trains at Ninja Intensity, the gym his family founded with his coach John Maul in 2016.
Kaden first became interested in ninja athletics after watching "American Ninja Warrior." On the junior spinoff version, children are timed while running against a competitor through elaborate obstacle courses in a race against each other and the clock.
Uncontrollable nerves build up in Kaden when he waits at the start line, he said, although he uses those moments to form a game plan.
“Before I run the course, I pretty much plan out every single move and I just try to get it down as fast as I can,” he said. “And then hopefully everything goes right.”
His mother, Brandi, said she feels even more stressed than Kaden watching him compete. Athletes lose the race if they fall off the course, and the slightest misstep can cost them precious seconds.
During competitions, Brandi stands on the sidelines with the family, looking at the course and wondering how Kaden will be able to manage the obstacles, she said.
But when the buzzer sounds, Kaden is off at lightning speed. He became known on this season for his signature move on the Sky Hooks obstacle — where athletes must use hoops to jump from one hooked peg to another — and proved to be one of the fastest athletes in the competition.
Kaden, 13 at the time of the show's July filming in Los Angeles, made the finals after recovering from “the brink of elimination,” as announcers put it.
“He raced the fastest kid in the first episode (he appears in),” Brandi said, explaining Kaden overcame a 1-2 record through a wildcard round before qualifying for finals. “He's basically been the comeback kid in this whole season.”
In wildcard rounds, athletes with the fastest times who were knocked out in earlier rounds can compete to get back into the competition.
“Just to see him not give up, because that can eventually take an athlete down, when they get beat,” she said. “You never know how that is going to affect them mentally.”
Ninja competitions are unique from other sports in more ways than one, Kaden said. Athletes not only train together but cheer each other on while competing. Kaden clapped and cheered for competitors he won against so far in Season 2, urging them to finish the course. Brandi can be seen on camera hugging the mother of an athlete who fell off the course while running against Kaden.
“I think it really makes the sport,” Kaden said of the supportive environment. “It's just really cool to see other people do well, because you know what they put into it.”
Kaden felt relieved and excited after qualifying for the finals, he said, but the nerves also came flooding back. Finals meant more courses to run against “really good competitors at that point,” Brandi said. The Lebsacks can't reveal the show's outcome, having filmed in July, but hope people tune in for the finale to see how Kaden did.
“The show is a whole different level,” Brandi said.
Regardless of the outcome, Kaden is grateful he made the championships.
“It's awesome, because you know how hard you've worked for it,” he said. “It's an awesome feeling.”
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