SPRINGFIELD, NJ - Kira Hoffer's dad Ben remembers the first time he knew his daughter had a penchant for climbing. At the age of four, young Kira would scoot hand over hand up the side of the A-frame swing in the park near her family home. After making it to the top, she would swing across the top bar with her hands, repeating the task again and again.
Now, Kira, a Springfield resident who lives in town with her father Ben, her mother Daniella and her sisters Maytal, 9, Tzofia, 5, and Atara, 3, will be competing on the inaugural season of American Ninja Warrior Junior (ANW Jr), a show that tests all of her strength.
While she didn't know about the show taping until recently, a chance discovery by her father paved the way for her to send in a demo.
"The junior competition I didn't know about for very long," she said. "My dad just found it on Facebook, and i'm like 'gosh, I've always wanted to do something like this' and then I really got into it even more."
Kira said that when she first head about ANW Jr, she was super excited, because it was something she enjoyed seeing. She kept her expectations low, since there were plenty of other competitors applying, but as she got the call back for further rounds of interviews and auditions, her excitement grew.
Eventually, after even more interviews and video submission for the judges, Kira was accepted into the competition,
When it was time to help her train, Kira's parents knew exactly how to help. They retrofitted the play set in their backyard with grips on the monkey bars, and installed a peg and horizontal climbing wall alongside it. Along with these modifications, Kira also climbed over and across the outside structure to help with her balance and skills. And for indoor training when the weather or the time of day was not cooperative, they also built a rock climbing practice structure in their attic made from plywood and grips for Kira to hone her skills.
Kira's father Ben said it took a while for him to come around to the concept of the program at first. but after watching Kira compete, and the spirit of teamwork in the competitors, he is now fully on board.
"I grew up playing team sports, so I was a little skeptical at first about this whole ninja thing," he said. "It's a newer thing. But it really is almost a team environment, because when the kids come together at these competitions, they're all rooting for each other."
He added, "You're setting a goal, you're failing many many times and then eventually if you keep at it, you succeed. And it's a tremendous life lesson for the kids to learn."
As a member of Congregation Israel in Springfield, Kira has also had to adapt to some of the challenges that come with balancing her religious life and her training.
"I [compete] in a skirt, which makes it a little bit different, maybe a little more challenging sometimes," Kira said.
Kira also had to deal with not being able to compete on Saturday, which coincides with Shabbat celebrations each week. And she goes to Bruriah Middle School, which uses a dual religious and secular curriculum leading to longer school days and less time to train.
Despite having more to factor in than many of her competitors, Kira still feels like she was able to accomplish what she set out to do in the competition before she started.
"I think I did good for what I was hoping to do for myself," she said.
At press time, Kira's episode has not yet aired. It is expected to be broadcast some time on or after Nov. 10. Follow along with Kira's training and journey by going to her instagram, @yakiradiamondninja on Instagram.