PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- To see these kids in action is incredible!
It takes strength, agility, skill and so much more. And, at such a young age, it seems even more remarkable. You've probably heard of the popular reality TV competition called American Ninja Warrior, but there's a new spin-off show for kids that's really taking off.
Just last week, American Ninja Warrior Junior announced the show will soon start a second season, which is good news to ninja hopefuls everywhere. But what does it take to become a pint-sized ninja warrior? Well, you don't have to go far for the answers.
Four kids from the Valley have made it onto the show, and are being coached by a team at AZ on the Rocks in north Scottsdale.
In fact, one of the coach's, Lee Cates, is competing right now in Los Angeles as they film season 11 of the adult series.
But, it's the pre-teens that are taking center stage. And the kids representing Arizona in force include, 12-year-old Jayson Burnison known as the "Burner Ninja," 13-year-old Callie Redman, known as the "Bear Ninja," and 13-year-old Brooke Redman, known as the "Squeaking Ninja." Actually, and to no surprise, twin sisters Callie and Brooke are more commonly known as the "Twinjas." And then there's the "Rhino Ninja," 10-year-old Vaughn Stevens.
Vaughn has been following American Ninja Warrior since he was 5-years-old and became determined to train and one day compete, a goal and dream he's currently living. Vaughn's episode will air on Universal Kids network on Saturday, March 16th. But, what makes him a stand-out, is not only his young age, courage and mental fortitude, but it's also his love of animals.
He's using the national TV show as a platform to raise awareness for rhino conservation, hence his endearing and fitting nickname. Vaughn's first step was to begin selling his official ninja t-shirt with the proceeds benefiting the International Rhino Foundation. So far, he's raised over $2,000. His Buckeye community is also rallying behind him as local businesses have jumped onboard with additional fundraisers to help save the rhino's.
In an interview with mom, Stephanie Stevens, you'll really get the full picture of what it takes to become a ninja warrior, how Vaughn is setting himself apart from the pack, and how this Buckeye family makes it all work. If you have a child interested in becoming the next ninja warrior, Stephanie's one-on-one interview might just be the insight you've been looking for.
Jessica Parsons Q & A with "Rhino Ninja" Mom, Stephanie Stevens:
Q: How did Vaughn start with the idea of becoming a Ninja Warrior, where did that passion come from?
A: "Vaughn has loved American Ninja Warrior (ANW) since the first time he saw it five years ago. He started "training" around the house, and over the years we started slowly putting up obstacles in the garage for him to use. But he'd come up with his own "courses" around the house too, using his bunk bed, door frames, and whatever he could jump off of."
Q: What does it take to get this far, and what has been the most grueling for him?
A: Prior to being on the show, Vaughn was self-taught. We weren't aware there are several ninja leagues for all ages to compete in year-round. We learned a lot from families competing on the show, and we had such a great experience there we wanted to stay involved in the ninja community. After the show, Vaughn started training at AZ on the Rocks twice per week, and sometimes in Gilbert on the weekends.
Both locations are a 2-hour round-trip for us, but his skills and mental game have grown tremendously so it is worth it. We love his coaches! They are talented and great role models. And of course we continue to add obstacles at home! Strength and efficiency are key to being a successful ninja, so conditioning is important. Vaughn says the most grueling part of training is staying positive when a new skill is difficult, and keeping your stamina up so you don't get worn out too early on the course.
Q: Did Vaughn come to you with the idea to try-out, and if so, what did you think of that?
A: Actually I learned of the show auditions via Facebook and told my kids about it. I knew Vaughn would want to apply - it wasn't even a question. Honestly I knew there would be a ton of applicants and since he didn't have any formal training I wasn't really confident he would be selected. But I also knew he has a great personality and natural ninja ability so I was hopeful. We were extremely proud that Vaughn was chosen for the show - the days of filming were very emotional for all of us. I definitely had a lot of mom anxiety going on! But the entire crew of ANW Jr were wonderful. I cannot say enough about the positivity of the experience.
Q: What do you think of what Vaughn has accomplished so far with the show? And what do you think of his efforts to save the Rhino's?
A: We are so proud of Vaughn! If you would've told me a year ago of the experiences we'd have, I'd never have believed it. The ninja community is so supportive. Vaughn has developed personal relationships with some of the pros. Several have bought his shirt to support his rhino conservation mission! What other sport do you see that happen in? Ninja families cheer each other's kids on, and ninjas are always sharing strategies for success. I've never seen such a great sports community. He is learning important life lessons from ninja. And Vaughn's passion to save the rhinos is amazing. He decided to be the Rhino Ninja to raise awareness, and has raised about $2,200 in T-shirt sales and donations since the Fall. His campaign has far exceeded our expectations! I'm so impressed that at 10-years-old he is trying to correct a problem he sees in the world.
Q: Why does Vaughn love Rhinoâ€™s so much, where did the fascination with these specific animals come from?
A: Vaughn has felt a connection to rhinos since he first saw them at the Brookfield Zoo back when we lived in Illinois. He finds them to be unique, and was very upset when he learned they are going extinct. Poaching makes him angry - he feels we should respect all lives we share the planet with. He cares about all animals, and at this point plans to be a zoologist (and ANW competitor) when he grows up.
Q: Can you describe the bond between Vaughn and the other Arizona kids competing, and how their friendship has grown?
A: Vaughn actually didn't meet Jaysen, Brooke, & Callie until after the show filmed. They competed in different age groups, so they were not on set at the same time. But they ended up connecting via Instagram and the moms decided to bring them to a local rec facility to let them ninja together - they hit it off immediately! They understand each other's experience and emotions of being on the show, and that bonded them. Now they train and compete together. They wear each other's ninja shirts and cheer each other on. They have a lot of fun together - they are always laughing.
If you think your child has what it takes, or maybe they're begging you to become a ninja, well, they can try out too. The Casting Application Deadline for the show is Friday, May 3rd, 2019. All the info is on their website, but it comes with a word of caution, "your child must be capable of participating in strenuous athletic activities." For more details, visit anwjrcasting.com.
For more about Vaughn and his efforts to save the rhino's:
Instagram handle: @the_rhino_ninja