LHS has its very own American Ninja Warrior: Kylie Hughes

“American Ninja Warrior” has become a nationwide phenomenon. The TV show challenges hundreds of people to compete on obstacle courses all around the country that test endurance, speed, grip strength, balance, powerlifting and everything in between. 

The first Ninja courses built in America were for Americans to try and qualify for the original, Japanese version of the TV show. It became so popular that instead of the Ninja courses around the country acting as qualifiers for Japan, they became qualifiers for the new American Ninja Warrior finals in Las Vegas, televised by NBC. 

The show is now 12 seasons in and Ninja gyms are popping up all around the country to train the next generation of competitors. One of these future Ninjas attends Libertyville High School: freshman Kylie Hughes. 

“[My interest] began when I started watching the show, which was about four years ago,” Hughes said. “I had seen somebody competing on TV that lived in the Chicago area and also owned a gym. So my sister and I begged our parents to take us there and they finally did one summer. We all had so much fun and started enjoying it as a family.” 

Hughes trains two days a week at Ultimate Ninjas Libertyville, located off of Route 176, next to Feed My Starving Children. However, a recent development has allowed her to train more often than that. With her whole family involved in the sport, Hughes’s parents decided to build a Ninja course in their basement. 

“I usually go down there every day, which is really fun,” she said. “Ninja Warrior is a full-body sport. To train you have to work on both your lower and upper body strength, get rid of nerves, and practice things to challenge yourself.” 

The importance of a strong community and role models is crucial in a sport like Ninja Warrior. Having her family beside her during the tough training has been important to Hughes. Her mom, Mia Hughes, has been with her every step of the way and seen her grow as a person through the process. 

“I would say that her confidence has grown tremendously through Ninja,” Mrs. Hughes said. “I think the strength she’s gained from it has helped her in other aspects of her life as well. She’s very hard-working and dedicated. With the way she handles herself on the course, every time she competes I’m always so proud of her.”

Also important for Hughes is having a professional role model to aspire to be like. 

“A [professional] Ninja I really look up to is Barclay Stockett. She is really strong, and she’s been through a lot,” Hughes said. “I look up to her because she pushes through struggles and still does really well on the show.” 

In full-body workout competitions like Ninja, there is a wide variety of talents one can gain from training. The flip side of this means there is also a wide variety of skills one must acquire and obstacles that one must master. For this reason, there are certain obstacles on the courses that Hughes sees as personal strengths and others she sees as personal struggles. 

“I would say that balancing obstacles are my strong suit. However, there are some obstacles with fingertip grips that are really hard,” she said. “One is called Cliffhanger. It’s an obstacle at the Finals of American Ninja Warrior, and you have to hang on tiny ledges with just your fingertips and then you have to swing across and catch the other one.” 

Certain Ninja obstacles may pose a challenge to Hughes, but she said her Ninja training has helped her dramatically in the other sports she plays. She is a part of the badminton and volleyball teams at LHS, and she believes her level of fitness and the skills she has acquired have improved her performance. 

“In Ninja, you have to be really fast and you also have to have a good reaction time,” she said. “Also in volleyball, you have to jump really high to get the balls, and there’s some jumps in Ninja that you have to do to catch the obstacles. I think that [the training] has helped a lot.”

Though Ninja training could just be used as a method to get in shape, Hughes also competes and shows off her skills. She has been competing in Ninja Warrior competitions for two and a half years along with her younger sister and her parents. 

“When I first started, I had only been training for a month or so, so there wasn’t that much pressure on me,” she said. “But I was really excited to do what the people were doing on the show.” 

Hughes first began to compete in competitions held by the Ultimate Ninja Athlete Association (UNAA). For these competitions, Hughes faced off against other girls within her age group. 

Eventually, Hughes began to compete at bigger, out-of-state competitions against adults as well as kids. Last year, she took part in and won the UNX Major 1 competition, a professional league where she competed against adults.  

“I had gone into the qualifiers not expecting much because I was competing against pros and people who have been on the show,” she said. “But I ended up doing really well. I got into the finals and I somehow won. It was amazing.” 

Added her mom: “To see her as a 13-year-old competing against these adults who’ve been on the show was one of my most proud moments. When she was the first female of the day to hit the buzzer, I was so ecstatic. It was so exciting to see this happen. And then we just had to wait and see if someone was going to complete the course faster than her, and no one did.” 

One of the professional Ninjas that Hughes beat in this competition was Stockett, the woman she watched on TV and aspired to be like. 

“The things that she can do out there are amazing,” Mrs. Hughes said. “It was a great experience as a spectator and especially as her mom.”

With its ever growing popularity, American Ninja Warrior is becoming a career for many people, whether as competitors or as owners of and trainers at Ninja gyms. Knowing this, and with all of the success she has had at a young age, Hughes is hoping she can keep Ninja as part of her life. 

“I definitely would want to continue Ninja. It helps you in a lot of aspects of life. It gets you physically in shape and it gets you mentally in shape,” Hughes said. “I think I probably could make a career out of it. I hope to be on the show one day.”

Hughes urged anyone to “go visit Ultimate Ninjas if you want to have a fun time and a good, challenging workout.”