Ava Laine is a 7-year-old ninja warrior.
Motivated by watching "American Ninja Warrior" on NBC with her brother Owen, 10, the New Albany Primary School second-grader decided to try it for herself.
Her foray into obstacle courses and skills performances landed her at the National Ninja League's World Championships from Feb. 21 to 23 in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Competitors in each age group compete according to their gender in an obstacle course and in individual skills challenges, said Ava's mother, Amy Laine.
Ava was one of 113 girls competing in the group for ages 6 to 8.
Her obstacle course and skills performances helped her finish in 64th place, Amy Laine said.
The strength challenges were her strong suit – she came in 36th place for those in her age group. Her best skills performance was the ladder climb, in which she placed 27th.
Ava said she started her ninja training about a year ago.
"I wanted to try it out and see if I liked it," she said.
Her father, James, taught her how to do chin-ups, and she also practiced on the monkey bars at recess.
"That helped with my grip strength a lot," she said.
Her practice paid off.
When the family went to South Carolina in July, Ava jumped onto the luggage cart when they arrived at the hotel and started doing chin-ups, Amy Laine said.
In August, Ava began taking classes at the Movement Lab Ohio, 400 Lazelle Road in Columbus, just north of Worthington. Gym owner Michelle Warnky, a Worthington resident, was one of the first women to appear on "American Ninja Warrior."
The gym – which, like all others in the state, was closed March 16 by an executive order from Gov. Mike DeWine to help curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus – offers ninja classes and assembles ninja teams for competitions, said Kyle Wheeler, head instructor and head coach. It also offers parkour and obstacle-course training, he said.
In October, Ava tried out for a spot on the gym's ninja team, the Ohio Lab Rats. The team offered the opportunity to compete in regional ninja competitions and potentially the world competition.
"I felt very excited, and I knew I had to work hard," Ava said.
As part of her tryout, Ava went through obstacle courses, including monkey bars, balance beams, rope swings and warped walls, and she gained points for how well she performed.
Only two spots were open on the gym's team for boys and girls ages 6 to 12, and Ava managed to secure one of the spots, Amy Laine said.
Amy Laine said her daughter practiced at the gym once a week and received nightly "homework," such as squat jumps, chin-ups, jumping jacks or jumping rope.
"She's a fit little fiddle," Amy Laine said.
Ava qualified for the world competition at her first regional competition in Cleveland in November, Amy Laine said.
For her part, Ava said, the obstacle courses did not look as challenging after she saw other people running through them. But when it was her turn, she did not watch anyone at all.
"I just focus on the course, and I keep going," Ava said.
Amy Laine said parents often watch with pounding hearts as their children traverse the obstacles.
Even though Ava has practiced and trained for grip strength, some of the obstacles she faces during competitions are new, she said.
"You kind of hold your breath," Amy Laine said.
At the world competition in February, Amy Laine said, she did not cheer or yell words of encouragement for her daughter because she wanted Ava to be able to hear any advice from her coach.
The world competition opened with an Olympics-like ceremony, Amy Laine said. Ava got to walk with her team, alongside teams from Australia, Barbados, Canada and France.
During the competition, the participants are allowed to complete the obstacle course in its entirety but receive points only for the portion completed before they fall, Amy Laine said.
Ava fell while attempting the second obstacle in the course, her mother said.
Ava said she likes to visualize what she is going to do before she starts an obstacle course, breaking the course down into steps. Now, when she watches obstacle courses on "American Ninja Warrior" on TV, she recognizes them, though she does them on a smaller scale.
"I feel like I've experienced that," she said.
Even though the world competition is over, Ava still is training.
Amy Laine said her daughter was slated to try out for her gym's summer-season team March 13, but that event was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic and associated quarantine measures.
Coaches have been providing virtual training to maintain strength and conditioning during this time, she said.
Wheeler said if the gym does not reopen by May, instructors likely will skip the offseason and begin the regular season, which previously was slated to start in August.
The offseason tryouts would have been a way for him to assess a participant's strengths and weaknesses, as well as determine if the competitor is serious about the sport, he said.
Wheeler said he accepts all who try out, as long as they can follow the rules.
Wheeler said since Ava began coming to the Movement Lab and working with him, she prepares better for courses and is more thoughtful about how she approaches the course.
"She's a lot smarter," he said. "She thinks about things ahead of time."
Although training for the National Ninja League's competitions helps children learn how to eat right and stay active, it also teaches them the importance of trying again and again rather than giving up after one failure, Wheeler said.
"In order to succeed in this and a lot of things in life, you need to fail sometimes multiple times before you can succeed," he said.