Writer: DANNY MOGLE / Photographer: SARAH A. MILLER / July/August 2016
If friends Trace Wohlfahrt and Greg Geis are intimidated by the mile-high (it’s actually only 10-feet high) warped wall in their way, they’re not letting on.
Wohlfahrt takes a deep breath, picks up speed and leaps upward. The fingers on his outstretched arms latch onto the top platform and he uses his strength to pull up. Having conquered the formidable obstacle, he raises his arms in the pose of a champion.
Moments later Geis also scales the wall with relative ease.
Fans of the television show “American Ninja Warrior” will recognize the warped wall as one of the elements on an obstacle course famous for testing competitors’ strength, balance and courage.
The concept originated in Japan (thus the Ninja warrior name) and gained a following in the United States thanks to the show. Ninja courses, which look like supersized and slightly scary jungle gyms, are one of the hottest trends in athletic recreation.
Wohlfahrt and Geis are testing their skills — but mostly just having fun — on the recently opened iNinja course at the iJump Trampoline Park in Tyler, Texas.
To set the record straight, both are 30 years old and keep in top shape through CrossFit training. Most of the young teens and youths attempting to scale the warped wall are failing miserably.
Business partners Jared Guthrie, Cody Ferguson and Todd Sceroler opened iJump last year in a 15,000-square-foot warehouse.
“Tyler responded very well,” says Guthrie. “We exceeded the (attendance) numbers we expected.”
Business was so good that the partners began exploring the possibility of opening a ninja-inspired course in Tyler. When the warehouse adjacent to the trampoline park became available, they jumped at (pun intended) the chance to acquire it.
Guthrie says they wanted a course that was easy enough for most children yet challenging enough for older kids and adults who want to take it more seriously.
And they had to take into account the limitations imposed by the space.
The courses on “American Ninja Warrior” feature obstacles laid out in a straight row that stretch on for dozens of yards. Those who fail most obstacles fall into a pool of water. Guthrie says those two things would never work in Tyler.
The partners hired EuroBungy, a company that specializes in extreme rope courses, zip lines and adventure parks, to design and install the course. They consulted with Pam Devore of Trampoline Parks & Supplies on other key decisions.
“This is a unique custom-made course,” Guthrie says. “We had it designed specifically for this space.”
It is a Friday afternoon and the trampoline park is packed. The line on the platform at the start of the iNinja course is full of mostly children and teens.
“This is everything I hoped it would be,” says Guthrie as he looks on.
The course has three lanes of different obstacles positioned side by side. The infamous warped wall is placed at the end, after the lanes merge, for those who dare to attempt it.
Employees stationed throughout the course offer a helping hand. Those who fail to complete an obstacle fall into several feet of big soft foam cubes. Some people seem to have as much fun falling into the cubes as they do getting through the obstacles.
Some obstacles appear easy — such as leaping onto a cargo net or using ropes to navigate across an opening. Others appear impossibly difficult — such as the jumping spider which requires people to use a mini trampoline to leap between and then press their body (legs and arms spread out to the sides) against two parallel walls.
And then there are the tilting ladders. Think of them as overhead monkey bars that tilt up and down as you move across them. They require concentration and upper-body strength to master.
“It’s kid friendly but even in-shape athletes are telling us it is everything they hoped it would be,” Guthrie says.
Obstacles can be swapped out or altered to make the course more or less difficult. Guthrie envisions hosting competitions on the course.
“It was awesome,” says Geis after completing the course for the first time. “There’s something on it for everyone. There’s some things that are easier for the kids and some things easier for us.”
Adds Wohlfahrt, “Yeah, this is a neat idea and a pretty good workout. ”
“Are you ready for another try (to complete all the obstacles)?” Geis asks his friend.
“Yeah, let’s go,” replies Wohlfahrt, again summoning his inner-ninja warrior.