Kids are flying through the air… literally.

By Christy Swift

Nine-year-old Harry Chubbs from Osceola county flings himself from bar to bar like he was bitten by a radioactive monkey. Twelve-year-old Bray Weinacker from Polk county scales a 13-foot sloped wall with ease. His sister, ten-year-old Zofia “ZoZo” Weinacker, leaps from a trapeze to a ring, then spins lazily on one arm before dropping to the mat below.

No —WE’RE NOT ON A HOLLYWOOD MOVIE SET— we’re at Obstacle Ninja Academy (ONA) in Orlando, run by top American Ninja Warrior RJ Roman. If you watch the show, you’ll have seen him tearing up the courses since 2018, long black hair flying. The gym owner and rock ‘n roll bass guitar player coaches the competition team classes that Harry, Bray and ZoZo attend.

RJ, who made it to finals (again!) this year, said one of the main draws to the sport is the support competitors give to one another. He strives to keep the good sportsmanship vibe alive with the next generation.

“We make sure to kind of drill it in their heads,” said RJ, who could be seen patiently helping 13-year-old Olivia Lopez (current world champion in her age group) overcome a mental block on the Broken Bridge. The balance obstacle is made up of five square plastic platforms suspended by ropes. RJ had her try it with just one platform, then two, then three. Eventually, she worked her way up to running across all five unstable squares. In true ninja spirit, her friends stepped in to steady the platforms for her so they weren’t swinging.

“There’s a big mental side,” RJ said. “Different people find different obstacles intimidating.”

Heartland families like the Chubbs and Weinackers make the trip to Orlando regularly so their kids can take advantage of the epic gym and thriving ninja community the team at ONA has built. This year, seven teens and adults made it onto the American Ninja Warrior TV show. Six kids from the competition team were featured on the 2021 American Ninja Warrior Junior televised competition, including Harry and Bray.

Harry “THUMBS” Chubb

His ninja name is “Harry Thumbs” for his longer than normal fifth digits. The fourth grader became a ninja at the age of six when he attended the birthday party of a friend of his older brother, Toby (who started ninja-ing alongside Harry in November). Previously a gymnast, Harry found a better match in the more freestyle nature of ninja.

“Gymnastics is very disciplined. Ninja has the same sort of skills, but you literally chuck yourself through it,” said mom Ayesha Chubb. Both Harry and his mom also liked the way ninja didn’t put limitations on the kids. “If Harry wanted to try it, they were never going to say no. They were going to make sure he was safe, but they were going to let him do it. That’s how he got really good really quick.”

NO Limitations

Not setting limits has been a theme of Harry’s entire nine years. Born eight weeks premature in an emergency delivery, Harry could not breathe on his own and is only alive because of NICU physician Dr. Gregor Alexander, Ayesha said. Harry has had chest infections throughout childhood, and doctors warned that he might never be able to do sports, but as his mom says, “Harry doesn’t like having limitations. He likes to surpass them all.”

Also a flag football player with the nickname “The Beast,” he competed in the 2021 American Ninja Warrior Junior competition, but wasn’t able to talk about his performance at the time of the writing of this article. As a nine-year-old, he was one of the youngest competitors.

Mom Ayesha and dad Dave bring Harry and Toby to competition classes at ONA Tuesday and Thursday evenings so they can train with RJ.

“When Harry started, we had a ten foot rock wall, and he was terrified of it,” RJ recalled. “Watching him now, you’d never know it.”

Harry’s favorite part about Ninja: “I like to fly through the air.” His favorite obstacle is the Wingnuts, where athletes use a trampoline to boost them up to a line of parallel swinging T-shaped handholds. They must swing sideways across all of them before dismounting.

He also likes the Salmon Ladder where contestants hang from a bar that they must unseat and “jump” up to various higher levels, and the Warped Wall, a 13 foot steeply curving wall that athletes clamber to the top of (the gym is in the middle of an expansion that will include a standard 14.5 foot Warped Wall as well as an 18 foot Mega Wall— just like in the TV Show). The most challenging obstacles for Harry, as with many ninjas, are the balance obstacles.

But, as with many things in life, you get better with practice and Harry has no problem with that. “If I can’t do something then I would spend one hour doing that obstacle straight and I would finally get it. RJ would help.”

Look for Harry on Episode 5 of the 2021 American Ninja Warrior Junior competition on Peacock.


Seventh grader Bray Weinacker has his grandmother to thank for getting him into ninja since she introduced him to the TV show at age three. At his kindergarten graduation, he said his goal when he grew up was to be an American Ninja Warrior.

Lucky for him, he didn’t have to wait that long. The Polk County resident competes in all the local ninja competitions and placed 5th in the 2019 World Championships. He also competed in the 2021 American Ninja Warrior Junior television show along with Harry.

Bray, with his long blond curls and tanned skin has earned nicknames like “Miami” and “Point Break” from his trainers, but his Ninja name is “BrayMan”. He loves the Lache Bars, where participants hang from a bar, then swing hard to gain momentum before launching themself to the next bar. “It’s fun to fly. It’s like Ninja therapy,” he said. His favorite part about being a ninja isn’t a particular obstacle, however. “I like getting better and hanging with people and having fun,” he said.

Miracles Happen

The son of two star athletes, professional wakeboarders Nick and Sonja Weinacker, Bray’s got a natural talent, but that doesn’t mean it’s been an easy road. At the age of five, Bray was injured by a bungee cord, which hit him in the eye, causing severe retinal damage. Even after doctors reconstructed his eye, the nerve damage caused constant nausea and other issues. Bray couldn’t run, couldn’t catch a ball, was constantly sick, and was even losing color and shadow perception in his good eye.

The family watched him struggle for three years until his mom made him an appointment with long-time friend Lynn Teachworth, a massage therapist in Orlando with advanced training in structural bodywork, bio-mechanics and movement as well as energy medicine. Using a technique Teachworth developed specifically for Bray, he was able to help Bray’s brain overcome his injury, Sonja said.

She recalls the day everything changed. “Bray said, ‘I see blues, I see greens, I see yellows. We didn’t know he was losing color.” He could see shadows on the wall and dimensions again, too. Teachworth also worked with Bray to keep his bad eye focused in the same direction as his good eye. Within three months Bray was the number one scorer on his soccer team. “For Bray to swing and do ninja and catch these tiny little obstacles— it’s a miracle what this kid can do because I know what he was from five to eight years old,” Sonja said.

Look for Bray on Episode 9 of the 2021 American Ninja Warrior Junior competition on Peacock.

Girl Power

Sonja was the number two female wakeboarder in the world and helped launch the sport back in the late ‘90s and early 2000’s. Now her daughter, Zofia, or “ZoZo” as she likes to be called, is following in her mom’s athletic footsteps. The ten- year-old was not on the American Ninja Warrior Junior TV show this year, but in 2019 she was a Florida state champion and qualified for the Ninja World Championships, but didn’t place.

After watching her brother finish out the competition and take fifth, ZoZo decided to take the sport more seriously. She said getting trained by RJ is “really cool” and described ONA’s gym full of obstacles as “a playground times a million.” She said she’s good at most of the challenges, but has had to work at the Slack Line, a loose tightrope balancing obstacle.

ZoZo said the challenges are the same for both boys and girls and wanted to encourage other girls to check out the sport. “If you try hard enough, you can be anything you want,” she said.

Become a Heartland Ninja

ONA welcomes kids and adults to “become your own superhero” by trying their hand at the obstacles they see on TV and gaining strength and confidence. They hold classes for different age groups and skill levels (including a beginner adult class Friday evenings) and have open gym times as well. Everything is designed to be safe and fun.

“We want to build a community where people feel welcome and where everyone wants to see everyone succeed,” RJ said.

On November 22nd, ONA will host a Ninjafest camp/clinic for kids and adults featuring big names ANW fans will recognize: Jesse “Flex” Labreck, Jake Murray, Ethan Swanson, Daniel Gil, and “Mighty Kacy” Catanzaro. If you’re of the “I just want to watch” mind, you can purchase spectator tickets for the kick-off pro competition on November 20th and 21st. Kids can register for the kids competition on November 23rd.