Local ninja warrior’s dream comes alive on small screen

Jackson Horwedel has always been an active child. Just ask his mother, Laureen, who remembers him, even as a toddler, spending his free time climbing trees or turning the interior of their home into a jungle gym.

But it was when he cast his eyes upon the popular television competition, American Ninja Warrior, that the local boy realized how he wanted to put his uncanny athletic ability to use — one day competing on the show himself.

“When Jackson first saw the show, he knew this was something he wanted to do,” said Jackson’s mother, Laureen. “He has been climbing trees, obstacles and even the walls of our house since he was a toddler. His dream was to be on the show when he turned 21 years old. Who knew his dream would come true at age 12.”

And his abilities will be on full display Saturday, Dec. 1, at 7 p.m. on Universal Kids Channel when Jackson, now 13, takes to the course as part of the American Ninja Warrior Junior.

“This was so exciting,” said Jackson about his chance to put his ninja abilities on display for the television audience. “When I first got into this, I had no idea I’d have so much success. Last year, I was eighth in the nation. Then I’m on the show I dreamed of being on. It’s crazy.”

Jackson started training as a ninja two years ago with Drew Drechsel, who was the last man standing of season 10 of American Ninja Warrior which airs on NBC. Jackson trains with Drechsel on his elite ninja team at New Era Gym in Hamden. Jackson trains twice a week but, according to his mother, he “basically lives, eats, and breathes ninja.”

“He competes all over the region and placed eighth in his age division in the 2017 National Ninja League,” said Laureen, adding that Jackson will be returning to nationals which will be held in the XL Center in Hartford this coming February.

Known as The En Garde Ninja because he also loves to fence, Jackson is also part of the Prospect Fencing Club, and his coach, Sandra Marchant, is ranked as one of the top three older than 40 female fencers in the country.

After learning about the American Ninja Warrior Junior competition, Jackson submitted his application — one among thousands sent in, all from youngsters with the same hopes of becoming the next ninja superstar.

In the end, Jackson was among eight area youngsters who made the cut, earning the right to fly out to Los Angeles, Calif., this past July to film the television program. All competitors tested their mettle against kid-sized versions of obstacles from American Ninja Warrior, where Dreschel was a competitor and was dubbed the “Last Ninja Standing” earlier this year.

“When they chose him, it was just an amazing feeling for all of us,” said Laureen. “We are so proud of him.”

The youth athletes have taken a particular interest in “Ninja.” In addition to visiting Dreschel’s gym, these young people have created home courses and participate in competitions around the region.

American Ninja Warrior Junior features young athletes — nearly 200 boys and girls from across the country — facing off on the same head-to-head courses in three age brackets: 9 and 10, 11 and 12, and 13 and 14.

The courses will feature iconic Ninja Warrior obstacles, including Sonic Swing, Tic Toc, Spin Cycle, and the Warped Wall. Each age bracket will be mentored by All Star Ninja mentors: Kevin Bull, Drechsel, Natalie Duran, Meagan Martin, Najee Richardson and Barclay Stockett. Three final winners (one per age bracket) will be crowned the first ever American Ninja Warrior Junior champions.

“I was pretty scared, pretty nervous,” said Jackson about competing on the popular American Ninja Warrior Junior show. “Once I started, it all started working for me … it was really muscle memory. I was just able to do what I had been training for for years.”

While Jackson is sworn to secrecy about the outcome of this Saturday’s American Ninja Warrior Junior show, he says the action alone will leave all viewers longing for more ninja action.

“All I can say is cheer me on, Shelton,” said Jackson. “This is a dream come true.”