Billerica Teen Channels Her Inner-Ninja
BILLERICA -- Using all four limbs, Analise Grady pressed against the two walls of a red hallway, supporting herself several feet above the ground and scooted forward using small quick movements.
She hung upside down from a chain and crawled forward like a sloth, but faster -- much faster.
Then it was on to the “cannonballs.” Grady used one hand to grip each ball -- which dangle from a long, horizontal bar -- and pushed herself to the other end, finally hoisting herself up to an elevated platform, her face covered in sweat.
For years, the 14-year-old Billerica Memorial High School freshman watched others perform these feats on “American Ninja Warrior.” Now she, too, will be on TV.
Grady was one of almost 200 girls and boys between 9 and 14-years-old selected to appear on the new spin-off show “American Ninja Warrior Junior on Universal Kids.
The show premieres at 7 p.m. this Saturday, and Grady will appear one week later on the Oct. 20 episode. After a months-long application process, Grady and other contestants flew to Los Angeles to film the show in July.
“They just eventually call you and they’re like, yeah, you’re on,” Grady said. “You’re like, ‘sweet, let’s go.’ Then hard-core training started and it just kind of never stopped.”
How did she do? That’s under wraps until her episode premieres.
“Classified,” she said, laughing.
Watching “American Ninja Warrior” was a family tradition in the Grady household even before she started training at Gymja Warrior in Danvers and Woburn, according to her father LaShadric Grady.
“One night we were watching it and Sofie (Analise’s younger sister) was like, ‘I want to do that. I think I can do that.’ And she was like, ‘Don’t you Ana?’” LaShadric said.
Analise thought so too. Only later did they realize one of the contestants on that night’s show was the man who became Analise’s coach, Vince Klapper.
“We’re going on four years now I’ve been working with her,” Klapper said. “She’s progressed so much. She’s determined. She works hard.”
The sport originated on the Japanese show “Sasuke” and was popularized in the U.S. by “American Ninja Warrior.” Klapper said many competitors have a background in rock climbing or parkour.
From their first day at the gym in 2015, Analise and her best friend, Naomi Boldebuck, were hooked. In the morning they went to a three-hour open gym. By the afternoon they were taking their first classes.
At first little achievements like hanging from a rope or getting up the eight foot “warped wall” were monumental, Grady said.
The notorious warped wall is central to Ninja Warrior and trips up many contestants. She said she has made it up the roughly 11-foot wall, but she is still working on the 14- and 16-foot walls at Gymja Warrior in Woburn.
The key, she said, is high knees.
“High steps, push, go fast, don’t slow down and when you hit your last step, jump and reach and always look up,” she said.
Grady said the swinging, jumping and climbing required for Ninja Warrior is good cross-training for her other sport, softball.
“I have much stronger upper body strength,” she said. “My fastball before we started doing this was like low 40s and now it’s 54 (mph) consistently. It’s been a drastic change in the way I pitch and the way I do everything altogether.”
Last year, Grady was named to the USA Softball Region 1 All America Team. The same year, she also won first place in girls preteen division of the National Ninja League and was part of the Locke Middle School robotics team that made it to the quarter-finals of the VEX Robotics World Championship.
“2017 was a good year,” LaShadric said.
Eventually, Grady said she wants to become an architect specializing in interior design.
Grady said she wanted to design a challenge for the show, but delayed a year only to discover a very similar challenge had been introduced to one of the courses.
“Then they showed stage two and it was there. I was like, ‘Oh, someone already thought of it. That’s cool,’” she said. “It took out a lot of people, so it’s kind of nice to know the obstacle I thought of in my head took a lot of people out.”
LaShadric said Analise hopes to play softball in college, which is the top competitive level for the sport. However, he said, “Ninja will be there for the rest of her life.”
Follow Elizabeth Dobbins on Twitter @ElizDobbins