Eleanor King is a real life ninja warrior.
Just ask her.
“Yeah, I’m a real ninja warrior,” the perky 8-year-old said as she wowed everyone at a recent American Ninja Warrior workshop at Great American Gymnastic Express in Blue Springs that was hosted by American Ninja Warrior icon Drew Drechsel.
“I came here to be a better ninja warrior with Drew. I watch him all the time on TV and he is so cool. I know he can help me be the best ninja warrior at GAGE.”
True to her word, the young Lee’s Summit resident was the first to successfully make it up the warped wall – a part of the GAGE Obstacle Course that crushed the spirit of many would-be warriors.
“You can’t intimidate Eleanor,” her mother Marissa King said as she watched her daughter compete against the other participants, most of whom were boys. “She likes competing against boys, girls, she doesn’t care, she just likes to compete. And I am so happy we brought her here today. She is having so much fun.”
That was a comment you might hear from all the parents who had youngsters competing alongside Drechsel, the most visible American Ninja Warrior participant, who has wowed audiences around the world with his ability to beat any obstacle he faces.
“When we announced that Drew was coming to GAGE, we had about 100 kids sign up,” GAGE representative Karla Grimes said. “Drew is an icon when it comes to American Ninja Warrior. He’s the face of the television show and he is such a personable young man. He is going to make a lot of friends today.”
One was 6-year-old Max Fantasma, who, like Eleanor, drew oohs and ahhs from spectators with his approach to the obstacle course.
“Drew makes me feel special,” Max said as his smiling dad, Brian, nodded with approval. “I love being here. I see Drew on TV and I want to be on TV with him someday.”
When that comment is relayed to the 28-year-old “real life ninja warrior,” he chuckles.
“We’ll have to see about that,” Drechsel laughs, “I might not be around that long, but I’ll try. I’d like to compete against Max, and everyone here today.”
Drechsel is enjoying the notoriety he has received from appearing on American Ninja Warrior – a series that features contestants who run, climb and jump their way through obstacle course – the past eight years.
And to think, it all started with an impromptu backflip off a vending machine.
“I was 15 – and maybe not the smartest kid in the world,” Drechsel said, “but I was watching men’s gymnastics from the 2004 Olympics, watching them all flip around. I was like, ‘I wanna do that. I wanna learn how to backflip.’
“So I did. I just happened to backflip off a vending machine instead of doing it on a mat.”
When a fellow student saw his antics and cried out, “Oh, parkour! That’s so cool!” Drechsel had to find out what he was talking about.
“That was the first time I ever heard the word ‘parkour,’ ” Drechsel said. “Parkour literally means running, jumping and climbing, usually, urban obstacles.”
He worked on his craft and soon competed in the World Parkour Championships and on the television show “Jump City: Seattle.” He debuted on “American Ninja Warrior” during season 3 in 2011 and has appeared on each subsequent season. In 2016 Drechsel was the top-ranked ninja in both the U.S. and Japan, and he is considered one of the most successful foreigners ever to compete on Sasuke, the Japanese TV show that served as the inspiration for the American version.
He now travels across the country, promoting his sport and reaching out to real life ninja wannabes from coast to coast.
“These youngsters inspire me,” said Drechsel, who held a Q&A and autograph session after the workshop. “I see youngsters like Max and Eleanor and know I better stay sharp, because there is always someone a lot younger coming after me.”