SPRINGFIELD, NJ — There must be something in the water in Springfield that is making the youth in town this acrobatically-inclined.
For the second time in the show's short existence, a Springfield resident is competing on American Ninja Warrior Junior. This year, Kaela Gerson, a fifth grader at Sandmeier Elementary School in town is carrying Springfield with her. Kaela lives in town with her father Dave, mother Maya, older sister Liv and younger brother Reis.
Kaela explained how she had come to hear about the show, and how her family was able to help her apply.
"When I was little, me and my whole family actually, we all used to watch the adult show," Kaela said. "And I think it was the episodes from last year's show were just coming out, and so everything was already filmed. And so we were at an end of the summer barbeque or something like that, and they actually told us that there was a kids show, and i had always loved the adult show, and I'd already climbed everything before that."
As Kaela said, her dad started applying right away on her behalf for the show, before the family realized that all the first season's episodes had been filmed. So they shifted their timetable, and applied for season two. She had already done some ninja training before, but her family got behind her and got her more training, so she could reach that next level.
As her father Dave mentioned, when the news came down, the family was excited to see her get to take on one of her major goals.
"It was just really exciting to know that they thought she had, I guess the personality and the skills to be on the show," Dave said. "And we were excited for her to be able to compete, do something that she really loved, because for the last couple years before that, she really had embraced the sport."
Another bit of help came in the form of Kira Hoffer, who competed on last year's inaugural season of American Ninja Warrior Junior. Fresh off her own run, Hoffer was able to impart some wisdom to Gerson about the show.
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"I've met Kira." Kaela said. "She's really nice, she's really good. I've been to her backyard actually, and she has some really cool obstacles. She's super nice...she told me that everyone there is going to be super nice. No one is a competitor, everyone is just friends, which was actually quite true. I text with everyone I competed with still, we're all friends instead of against each other."
One other thing Dave mentioned that helped with Kaela's preparation was the trainer she worked with. Brandon Singletary had appeared on the grownup show in Season 11, and was also able to help get her mind in the zone before she ran.
"I think having him dedicate a bunch of weeks right before she went to California on just how she should prepare mentally and physically for the obstacles ... I think that really helped her a lot," Dave said.
He also mentioned that the ninja-centric gym she trains at, Centercourt Ninja in Chatham, NJ, has sent a number of kids to the show in just a short amount of time.
When she got to the set Kaela said it was exciting to see everything live and in person that she had only seen on TV before. She said everything was much bigger than it looked on TV, and that after her runs, she was able to sit off-screen on the bleachers and cheer for her friends she had made while competing in the show.
Another thing Kaela enjoyed was having her whole immediate family there to cheer her on. She said her immediate family, along with her uncle, aunt and their families were all there cheering her on, which was special.
As for actually being up on set, Kaela said the perspective was just a bit different from how it looks on TV.
"It was really cool to actually be there, because it didn't look very high [on TV], but in reality, you had to climb these steps to get up to the platform, and everything was super fun. At the end of the show, we get to jump into the water at the end of filming."
As her parents noted, Kaela took a shine to the experience almost immediately.
"She was not only good on the course, but I think the producers loved her personality," Dave said. She's not one of those ones that holds back. So I think that helped her as well."
"The community she spoke about was also wonderful," Maya added. "When she got there, it really put her at ease and put us all at ease that everyone is such a family in the ninja world, and really doesn't-it's a competition, but not a normal competition, because they really, truly root each other on, and it's just a phenomenal vibe to see and feel.
Staying in the hotel with her fellow competitors, Kaela was able to go work out with them in the hotel gym, and even had time for a little bit of fun, as groups of contestants would go out on ice cream runs, which her parents noted was helpful in centering her.
While Kaela is contractually forbidden from spoiling the ending to her episode or episodes before they come out, she was still able to say some things about the competition.
"It was really amazing" Kaela said. "Just everything. I have never, I don't think, flown that far, only when I was a baby ... but otherwise, California in general was just amazing. The sets and everything, and the hotel. Everything was super fancy and stuff, and it just looked so cool."
Her parents said that the trip was relatively quick, but Kaela was able to make a bunch of new friends, which they appreciated immensely.
"It really went by so quickly," Dave said. "Every day was just a lot of fun. It's really condensed. You think these TV shows are put on, and it takes a long time, and you're there for all these days and weeks and whatever, but they really crammed all the races into one day.
"It really wasn't a lot of time, but every time we were there was fun, because she was just so excited. And like we said, the kids really just meeting each other and having fun. They didn't care bout competing. They knew what they were there to do, but all the waiting time, they're just enjoying themselves as kids. So I think that was the greatest experience."
Overall, Kaela had an amazing time, and said that being on the show was something she would always remember.
"It was really fun, because not only did I meet new friends and everything, I have so many pictures and memories of not just [being] with my friends, but with my family," Kaela said.
While the date of Kaela's episode has not been officially revealed by the show's producers yet, she will be on later this year.