Do you think you have what it takes to make it through the course? Are you Ninja strong? Tri County Ninja Gym is the place to test your skill and get a taste of the “American Ninja Warrior” TV phenomenon.
Based in Fenton, Tri County Ninja Gym (TCNG) is sanctioned by the Ultimate Ninja Athlete Association (UNAA) and Athlete Warrior Games. The facility’s obstacles are near perfect facsimiles of those presented on the TV show. “I bought blueprints for the 14-foot wall and the salmon ladder – those are accurate,” says owner Ed McNulty. “The measurements for our spider wall and devil steps are also spot on.” The gym offers interchangeable obstacles for both adults and kids, complete with a timing system akin to that used on the show. “We change the layout of the course every seven to ten days and add brand new obstacles once or twice a month,” McNulty adds. “Sometimes, we just change the grips and starting location – everything adds a different wrinkle. We really do try to keep it engaging and challenging,” he says, smiling.
The idea for TCNG has been a dream of Ed and his wife, Megan, for nearly ten years. The McNulty family moved to Fenton six years ago and recently decided to open Genesee County’s first Ninja Gym. “We are fans of the show,” says Ed. “My daughter, Payton, was on a Ninja competition team at a gym in Howell and she loved it! We looked around at everything in that facility and thought we could do it, too. So, we decided to go for it.” Then, the couple got down to business. “Everything happened so fast,” he shares. “We found the building at the end of August last year, had the keys in hand on October 1 and opened on the first of December. I couldn’t have done it without the help of friends and co-workers.”
TCNG has open gym times for those who just want to test their skill on the course, and also sells memberships that include Ninja classes and open gym availability. They offer classes for adults and kids age four and up, as well as a competition team. Classes are organized by age group, but skill level is also considered when placing students. (Complete class descriptions can be found at tricountyninja.com.) Three different Ninja birthday packages are available, as well. “Our birthday parties have been a great success!” exclaims McNulty. “The kids come in, we give them some instruction and then we set up a course that offers a high success rate. We time them and, at the end, we set up podiums and have a victory celebration. It’s amazing how much the kids like it.” Parents are constantly telling the staff at TCNG about how much their kids love coming to the facility. For some kids, it’s the only exercise they are interested in doing. “Oh, yeah,” says McNulty, “we get a lot of feedback from parents who say that this is the only physical activity their kids enjoy. Sometimes, kids come in who have never hung from a monkey bar – life is different from what it used to be.” He goes on, “I think the kids really get engaged because of how supportive the environment is. When a kid completes an obstacle such as the eight-foot wall for the first time, everybody in the gym cheers for them. They get a chance to sign the wall and have their picture taken. For a socially awkward kid, this is a place to build confidence. Ninja is not ‘person against person’ – it’s the person against the course, and everybody will root you on during your run.”
For the McNulty family, Ninja is really about getting fit, determination and family bonding. “The number one thing adults who do Ninja will tell you is to do it with your family,” states McNulty. “A lot of parents think they are not strong enough, but you don’t need to work out to get ready for this. You get stronger just by playing on the course.” He recalls one young girl who spent all day trying to complete one of the balance obstacles. “Each time she fell, she got up even more determined,” he smiles. “By the end of the day, she conquered it with a fist pump. We have a mother and daughter duo who come in once a week and work on obstacles together. It’s all very cool to see.”
In the future, McNulty would love to see TCNG be successful enough to expand and become a one-stop shop for fitness. The sport is on an upward trajectory and in March, TCNG will host their first UNAA competition. The gym is also an area qualifying gym for the National Ninja League (NNL) World Championships. Payton McNulty, 8, qualified for this year’s World Championships which took place in Hartford, CT in February 2019.
As for Ed, he is still working toward completing some of the most challenging obstacles. “I would love toconquer the 14-foot wall and I’m trying. I can do the 12-foot wall so easily, it’s just that the big wall is so intimidating,” he laughs. “I am also making progress on the salmon ladder – I’ll be able to finish that someday, for sure. I have some staff who can do it all. I’m getting there.”
The McNulty family invites everyone to come in and give Ninja a shot. “One of the main reasons I did this is that I love spending time with my daughter,” he smiles. “Kids are hard to relate to nowadays and if you can do this stuff with them and hang out with them, you will love every minute of it. It’s awesome for parents and kids to come here, work together and set goals together. I want it to be a family destination.”
Photography by Kayce McClure