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'Ninjaneer' goes Hollywood

'Ninjaneer' goes Hollywood

October 7th, 2018 by Sally Ince in Features
Sally Ince/ News Tribune 12-year-old Jonah Taggart balances on wooden posts Thursday September 20, 2018 at his home gym. Taggart was selected from more than 10,000 applicants from around the nation to be one of 192 children to compete on the first season of American Ninja Warrior Junior.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Nearly a year ago, when 12-year-old Jonah Taggart was hopping around on his neighbor's tree trunks pretending to be one of America's ninja warriors, he would have never guessed his interest in the show would lead him to competing in front of cameras for the first season of "American Ninja Warrior Junior," airing Oct. 13.

Taggart was selected from more than 10,000 applicants around the nation to be one of 192 children to compete. But, Taggart also holds a special ability that has earned him the nickname "ninjaneer" after he began building and designing his own training course in his parent's basement.

"He's the kind of kid who loves making stuff," Jonah's father, Jake, said.

Taggart took interest in competitions when visiting Capitol Warriors gym for a friend's birthday party and then earning a second place title at his first Ninja Warrior competition last November.

Since then, Taggart has designed a variety of hanging, balancing and swing obstacles that have completely transformed a once empty basement into a full gym, including a nearly 8 foot rock wall and a double salmon ladder.

"Over time he's competed in different competitions and he won some money at a competition this summer, so instead of blowing it all on candy and stuff like I would have done as a kid, he reinvested it and he literally bought all of this with his won money," his father said.

Taggart uses his gym at least three times a week between training at Capitol Warriors. He considers his home gym more of a play area where he can compete with his siblings, although his extra play-time time has clearly advanced his competition skills.

"Keep trying hard and you'll get better," Taggart said.

When Taggart got to compete in the "American Ninja Warrior Junior" series after less than a year of training, his parents described it as an amazing experience for the whole family.

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Spending four days in downtown Los Angeles for the filming a first time visit for the children and their mother, Tiffany the family met other youth competitors from across the U.S.

"They had kids from all backgrounds; I feel like we made friends from all over the country," his father said. "I mean, they had kids like one girl (who) was a swimmer, they had a girl that her thing was CrossFit and she looked like she was strong enough to lift up a car. They had gymnasts; they had child actors; they had kids that just trained formerly at a gym doing Ninja Warrior stuff; they had kids that were into martial arts. So they tried to get a really diverse, I think, group of kids with different talents to kind of bring them in to determine who the best athlete is kind of thing."

Jonah also got to meet two of his favorite competitors from "America Ninja Warrior," Najee Richardson and Drew Drechsel, who mentored the children during practice runs on the course.

"It was really cool to see them," Taggart said. "It's like I've seen them on TV a lot and for them to actually be there was cool."

Taggart has also kept in touch with another competitor from southern Illinois he met during the show and will be competing with him in a Ninja Warrior team competition in Kansas City later this month.

Although Taggart and his parents are unsure which episode he will be featured in, they are excited to see the background stories of the other competitors they met during filming.

"We kind of met them at a surface level, but to hear more about them back in their real life and who they are will be really neat to see," Jake said.

The junior season is set to air with 20 episodes showing three different age groups: ages 9-10, ages 10-12 (Taggart's age group) and ages 13-14.

"American Ninja Warrior Junior" will air 6 p.m. Saturdays on Universal Kids. Hosts for the show include former NFL linebacker and defensive end Akbar Gbajabiamila, actor and TV personality Matt Iseman and Olympic gold medalist Laurie Hernandez.

For more information about the show, visit