A few years ago Sitara Canada had a birthday party at Alternate Routes in White Marsh, a gym where people can learn obstacle navigation disciplines parkour and freerunning as well as flips, trampoline skills, tricking and other training.
It was the first time Sitara, now 13, experienced a ninja warrior course, a group of obstacles that test speed, strength and agility. Sitara, who at the time spent 20 hours a week training as a gymnast, was intrigued by the parkour aspects of the gym.
A few years after that first introduction to the ninja warrior course, Sitara took their skills as a gymnast to the biggest ninja stage out there: “American Ninja Warrior Junior.”
The Columbia resident, who identifies as non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, competed on the Universal Kids TV show over the summer. The episode aired Friday.
“It was kind of crazy because I hadn’t done much ninja at all, mostly gymnastics,” Sitara said.
In February 2019, Shireen Canada, Sitara’s mother, saw a Facebook advertisement for “American Ninja Warrior Junior” applications. Intrigued after the introduction a few years ago, Sitara and Canada set out to see how far Sitara could make it.
“I had no idea what we were getting into,” Canada said. “It was a long, tedious process, but it was fun to do together.”
It took Sitara and Canada a few weeks to collect all the necessary materials — including 10 pages worth of questions, pictures and videos showcasing Sitara’s skills — in hopes of being selected as one of the kids to compete in the second season of “American Ninja Warrior Junior.”
By early May, Sitara and Canada got the dream call: “You on it, you’re in,” a representative from the show said.
Sitara spent the next few weeks training for what they thought the ninja experience would be like.
“I had no idea what we were getting into,” Canada said. “Sitara trained on [their] own.”
In July, the two traveled to Los Angeles for the competition. Sitara and the other contestants were given one day of practice to test out the obstacle course. When Sitara’s time came to compete, an obstacle called a wingnut proved to be their downfall.
“It was so cool and scary at the same time,” Sitara said.
Despite not winning, the experience changed Sitara’s athletic trajectory. Back in Howard County, Sitara quit gymnastics.
“Gymnastics was my whole life. Everything was surrounded by gymnastics and then I quit after I did [‘American Ninja Warrior Junior’],” Sitara said.
Sitara started rock climbing three times a week and going to a ninja gym in Frederick once or twice a week, a combination that would lay a stronger foundation for future ninja opportunities.
“Now that Sitara has trained in ninja with a coach and does class and has been to several competitions, now we understand how ninja really works,” Canada said. “We didn’t know that before the show.”
“Now I actually know how to do the obstacles,” Sitara said, laughing.
When the episode aired Friday, the Canadas were prepared to host a watch party with family and friends. However, due to increasing concern about the coronavirus, they had to cancel it. Instead, they savored the moment with each other and realized how far Sitara had come.
During the episode, some of the contestants had their personal stories shared. Sitara was chosen and talked about their activism in a variety of communities.
“I’m passionate about equality and women’s rights and LGBTQ+ rights. I feel like my purpose on Earth is to make sure that I’m heard and make sure that things change for the better,” Sitara said during the episode.