More than a decade before “American Ninja Warrior” started taking over airways, there was another show that tested people’s fitness. And there was Suzanne Himka, all 5 foot 5 inches of her, competing against wrestling heavyweights on a 1995 episode of “American Gladiators.”
Himka has never met a challenge she didn’t like. Before she was a “gladiator,” she grew up playing volleyball, basketball, track, tennis and soccer. She was also a college gymnast and learned tae kwon do.
These days, you’ll find her at Lost Island Warrior Gym in Colorado Springs, where she coaches kids and adults through some of the moves seen on “American Ninja Warrior” and where she’s known as “Ninja Granny Beast.” She got the nickname after her grandson was born in 2018. And she uses it as a motivator.
“If a 50-year-old grandma can do it, anyone can do it,” she said.
Himka started in the ninja warrior world in 2017. “I wanted to learn something new because I’ve done every other sport on the planet,” she said.
She applied to but hasn’t (yet) appeared on the popular TV show. That’s a goal for many who train at Lost Island Warrior Gym, she said.
First they have to learn the ropes. The outdoor park looks like a maze of monkey bars, hanging punching bags, rope swings, rock walls and warp walls.
“And there’s a huge dinosaur in the middle of it, so that makes it cool,” she said.
Yes, you can’t miss the giant green dinosaur towering over the park.
Himka describes the whole gym area as “intimidating.”
“A good ninja will make it look easy,” she said. “So people come in and think they can do it easily. And they all fall flat on their face. It’s a humbling experience.”
It’s also easy to get better with practice, she said. One of the kids she coaches started six months ago and is now a world champion.
“You gotta start somewhere, even if it’s just hanging on the bar for 10 seconds,” Himka said.
Colorado Springs has recently gained two obstacle training gyms, including Lost Island Warrior Gym, which opened in May, and Altitude Ninja Gym, which opened in December 2019. There’s also Ninja Intensity in Castle Rock. Because Lost Island Warrior Gym is an outdoor park, it’s only open if the temperature is above 40 degrees.
The opening of the gyms has been a hope for Himka for several years.
“It teaches people that fitness is fun,” she said. “You can become good at pull-ups and you didn’t even realize because it was fun.”
Himka loves watches kids laughing while they’re working out. She also loves sharing the passion with her 13-year-old daughter, Jaleesa.
At the recent ninja warrior competition in Detroit, they both won first place in their age groups.
“We love that it’s always a new challenge,” Himka said. “You can create a new challenge for yourself every day.”