Tuesday, June 25, 2019

American Ninja Warrior Junior competitor, Kira Hoffer. (Credit: Ben Hoffer)

Yakira “Kira” Hoffer from Springfield is your typical twelve-year-old girl: she likes sports, playing on her diablo (a Chinese yoyo) and spending time hanging out with her friends. What sets her apart, however, is the fact that she will be competing on the first- ever season of NBCUniversal’s “American Ninja Warrior Junior.” A Bruriah Middle School student, Kira’s athleticism and skill will be put to the test as she battles her way through one of the most difficult and rigorous competition shows on television today, in order to officially be crowned a Ninja Warrior.

“American Ninja Warrior Junior” is a new offshoot of Emmy-nominated sports competition show, “American Ninja Warrior”. Following an assortment of competitors as they battle their way through a timed obstacle course, the format has become known for its difficulty and intense challenges. For Kira, she’s mostly excited just to get a shot at such an advanced, elite level course. She’s also ecstatic to officially be a member of the American Ninja Warrior community, as American Ninja Warrior proper had an age range that didn’t allow children.

“I’ve been watching [American Ninja Warrior] for a while and I’m a huge fan,” Kira explained. “I’ve always wanted to give the course a try but the regular show didn’t let kids compete. I found out about [the kids edition] and was really excited. When my parents told me that I was going to be on, I practiced almost every day with a trainer although I only had a week before leaving for sleep away camp at Moshava. Some of my favorite ninjas [from the show] are Jesse LaBreck, Jessie Graff and Megan Martin and it’s so cool that I get to compete just like they did.”

Kira has been involved in sports and athletics ever since she was very little. As her father, Ben Hoffer, explained, she’s outperformed boys in her age group and has always been a little monkey, climbing on things and eager to explore new challenges most children wouldn’t even consider. Having recently celebrated her bat mitzvah this summer, he sees her appearance on the show as an amazing opportunity to show other young Jewish kids that even while keeping true to her commitment to halacha (specifically Shabbat and tzniut—most competitions are on Shabbat and Kira won’t compete on Shabbat and she does these challenging obstacle courses in a skirt) one can compete at the highest levels.

“We’re so excited for Kira and we know how much this means to her,” Ben shared with The Jewish Link. “She’s been so into this field of sports and athletics, that it’s really been a dream come true for her to be on the show. She’s worked extra hard ahead of the competition. To help her train, we even built her a practice obstacle course in our backyard and turned our attic into a rock climbing gym for her to train with. Hopefully, it will all pay off and give her the confidence she’ll need when she hits the real thing. Whatever happens, we’re incredibly proud of the character Kira has shown and know that she is learning invaluable life lessons from her training and the American Ninja Warrior experience.”

Ben added that the application to be on the show was rigorous.

“After Kira came to me, talking about this kids version of the show and expressing how interested she was in trying out, I did a little more research and found that they were still accepting applications,” Ben explained. “I submitted what they requested, including numerous videos, pictures, references and then a bit later I was really excited when I got the call that she had moved on to the next round in the process. The producers requested even more videos and interviews of Kira so they could get to know her and assess her athletic abilities. Once she was ultimately accepted in mid-June, things just kept building and it’s been a whirlwind. She’s made some great friends throughout this entire process.”

Regarding Kira’s strategy for the competition, as the obstacle course is timed, she’s focusing a lot of her attention and practice on speed and accomplishing the tasks as quickly and efficiently as possible.

“It’s going to be hard and fun at the same time,” Kira said. “I’m so excited to see how it goes but I need to make sure I focus on my approach to each obstacle and not get distracted by the person I’m racing against.”

The inaugural season of “American Ninja Warrior Junior” will premiere October, 13 at 7 p.m. on Universal Kids. It will be hosted by American Ninja Warrior proper hosts, Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbajabiamila. Olympic gymnast and “Dancing With The Stars” veteran, Laurie Hernandez will also be joining the show as a newcomer co-host. For more information on the show, check out https://www.universalkids.com/shows/american-ninja-warrior-junior. To keep up with Kira’s journey, you can follow her on Instagram at @yakiradiamondninja.

By Adam Samuel

Adam Samuel is a journalist from Teaneck. He blogs at adamssoapbox.com.