'American Ninja Warrior' contestant presents competition for kids
Shiprock's Brandon Todacheenie organizes event
SHIPROCK — The 10-foot tall replica of the Warped Wall from TV's "American Ninja Warrior" did not intimidate Wesley Atcitty.
The 6-year-old sprinted toward the wall, then climbed to its top and rang a bell to finish his participation today in the Navajo Ninja Kids Competition in the gymnasium at the Shiprock Youth Complex.
The competition included six obstacles that were modeled after those presented on the NBC-TV program, although they were designed to accommodate children ages 5 to 16.
Atcitty, of Waterflow, was the first contestant in the 5-6 age group to climb the wall. His mother, Starr Butler, said her son is a fan of the television show and was excited to participate in the competition.
"I'm proud of him that he got up there, and he was able to do that," Butler said.
Atcitty, who finished second in his age group, competed alongside his best friend, Logan Nelson, 6.
"They love this athletic stuff," said Kimberly Nelson, Logan Nelson's mother, adding the boys are teammates on a youth football team in Kirtland.
The event was organized by Brandon Todacheenie, a Shiprock resident who competed and appeared on the show in August.
"I felt like there was a need for a different type of sport, because we have basketball, soccer (and) baseball. Since I've done 'American Ninja Warrior,' we tried to do something similar to that," Todacheenie said.
Participants, who wore red T-shirts adorned with the logo of a ninja inside the tribal seal, were divided by age and completed the quad steps, balance beam, ninja rig, tire set, climbing wall and the Warped Wall.
Each run was timed, and participants could earn up to 30 points for finishing the course.
The obstacles were built by Todacheenie and his father, and the event received help from family members and sponsors, including the Office of Diné Youth, which offered its facility and provided medals and certificates for the 45 contestants.
For the competition, Shiprock resident Sophie John followed the example of "American Ninja Warrior" contestants by developing a nickname. She called herself "Little Kiyaa'áanii Ninja."
John said she practiced for the competition using equipment at playgrounds in Shiprock and Farmington.
The 6-year-old added her palms developed blisters from swinging on monkey bars.
"It was good, but it was a little hard for me when I was trying to do the Warped Wall," John said.
Her mother, Karen John, said her daughter enjoys watching the television program and frequently constructs obstacles from pillows and other items at home.
"She'll put the pillows against the couches. She jumps over the couches," Karen John said, adding her daughter's training included participating in a class at the Ninja Tree in Albuquerque.
Hanezbaa Halona, 5, finished first in the 5-6 age group.
"Happy," Halona said, smiling, when asked about her finish.
She traveled to the event with her parents, Brian Halona and Misty Ortiz, and her sister, Samiyah James, from Albuquerque.
"She loves to run. She was telling her sister that she could be her trainer," Ortiz said adding the 5-year-old was nervous but focused after watching the other children compete.
James, 11, was competing, as well, and during a break in the competition, she practiced on the ninja rig.
"She's been practicing the monkey bars at school and runs at school every week," Ortiz said about James training for the event.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.