SPRINGFIELD, NJ — Yesterday evening, the rest of the world was finally introduced to a young member of the Springfield community with a penchant for climbing and a personality a mile wide.
Kaela Gerson, a local fifth grader at Sandmeier Elementary School finally had her episode of American Ninja Warrior Jr. air. In the episode, Gerson made it to the final run for her quarterfinal qualifying bracket before losing to eventual quarterfinal winner Carter Samuel.
In order to get there, Kaela had her qualifying run against Jeremy Lauff, which she lost, and then a re-seeded knockout round matchup with Peyton Myler, which Gerson won after Myler lost her balance on an obstacle.
Kaela was joined by her father Dave and mother Maya to talk about her experience on the show, what it was like to have the watch party in such a unique setting and more.
When it came to watching her runs on TV, Kaela said that all of her memories and experiences from the show taping came flooding back as she watched herself run the course during last night's show.
“I kind of had some of the same thoughts,” Kaela said. “When they showed me at the starting point, I knew what I was thinking. So it was kind of fun to watch, because all of these memories kept coming back.
“When they showed my [video] package here at my local skate park, and I saw all of my friends, and I just kind of remembered the day vividly, and it’s just really cool to watch it on TV, because I’ve never done anything this big like that. So it was really awesome to watch.”
As for the course itself, Kaela said that some obstacles that she thought would be challenging weren’t, and others that looked easy were hard.
On her second run, which propelled her to the championship run in her quarterfinal bracket, Kaela also said that she was so in the zone, she did not even notice when Myler fell, moving her on to the next round.
“I watched some playbacks from practice,” Kaela said “But when you’re on the course, my dad was yelling. We have a couple videos from practice rounds. My dad is yelling at me on how to do it, but I can’t hear anything.
"I’m so zoned in on the course that I can’t hear anything, and I didn’t notice that Peyton fell [until] at least one or two obstacles later […] I think I looked back and noticed that she was not there, but otherwise, I could not hear anything, and I was just so zoned in and focused on my next step.”
Despite the head-to-head races, Kaela emphasized that ninja warrior is not a competitive sport, and that everyone is friendly with each other. She even still texts with other competitors.
For Kaela's parents, watching her episode air was an amazing experience, one that took them back to the filming on set as well.
“There is relief, but it’s still, as you’re watching, I was saying it was harder watching it with everybody than it was during the competition,” Maya said. “It’s just so surreal to share it.”
Even though the crowd of friends and family could not all be together for the watch party, the zoom call the family had set up was a unique way to bring everyone together.
“It felt just as amazing as I believe it would have felt had they been in the room with us,” Maya said. “They were just so supportive and excited, and we just felt every bit of love.”
“If you multiply all those screens by how many kids they had, it was probably over 120 people watching,” Dave added. “We had another computer that we didn’t show, set up with the club that she trains at. One of her coaches set up a zoom. I don’t know how many people were on that, because we weren’t staring at it, but it was facing the TV and us watching.”
Both Dave and Maya also spoke about how nice it was for Kaela's run to be used as a community bonding tool, especially in a time when people are still separated by social distancing measures.
At a time like this, it was very well needed I think,” Dave said. “Because everyone’s home, no one’s really seeing each other face to face. Sur there’s some people face timing and chatting, but to have everybody there, I think that really showed that everybody still is together, even though we’re apart in our houses, so I think that made it all the more special.”
"People were sending over cards and balloons and little gifts of support,” Maya added. “And I definitely think that now more than ever, everybody appreciated experiencing some joy.”
As for Kaela herself, the future is looking bright. And if the opportunity came to go on the show again, she said she would do it without a moment of hesitation.
“I would 100 percent do this again next year,” Kaela said. ”I really want to, because it’s not just a sport. It’s more of a community, and you need a lot of different attributes to do this sport. There are different things that go into it. So you could come from being a basketball player or a gymnast. You could really do anything and then also do ninja, which I find really amazing.”