SYCAMORE – At first glance, Daniel Martin might look like a typical middle-schooler who happens to run cross country after his school day ends at Sycamore Middle School.
Come next month, however, you might also recognize Daniel, 12, as a contestant on “American Ninja Warrior Junior,” a new show with the same announcers as NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior,” which premieres at 6 p.m. Oct. 13 on Universal Kids, NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment’s network for kids 12 and younger.
Daniel said he and his 14-year-old sister, Susana, got into “American Ninja Warrior,” which has been on the air for 10 seasons and was nominated for three Emmy awards this year. They both started training at local strength gyms and on obstacles set up in their basement. When the chance came to submit audition videos for the show, Daniel and Susana sent in clips of them running up a curved wall, rock climbing and tackling monkey bar-type obstacles.
Susana did not make it to final taping, but Daniel got to go to Los Angeles this summer.
“It felt awesome knowing I had a chance to go out there and do that stuff,” Daniel said.
About 200 children from across the U.S. will compete in head-to-head courses within the show’s three age brackets: 9- and 10-year-olds, 11- and 12-year-olds and 13- and 14-year-olds. Three final winners, one in each age bracket, will be named the first American Ninja Warrior Junior Champions.
Jeanette Martin, Daniel’s mother, said she and Daniel were told at least 6,000 kids submitted audition tapes for the show’s premiere. She said there was a period of time after several more video submissions, photos and phone interviews where the family didn’t hear from the show and thought that Daniel didn’t make the final cut after all.
“And then it was like, boom, boom, boom, all this craziness,” Jeanette Martin said.
Jeanette Martin said part of the craziness involved a production crew for the show coming to Sycamore in August to film interviews with the family and Daniel at Sycamore-specific landmarks, including the DeKalb County History Museum and the Great Western Trail.
Daniel said he can’t talk about show results until the winners are announced, but he said he’s going to keep trying out for the kids show the next few years. He said the hardest obstacle course element he had to tackle during filming was jumping from a trapeze-esque swinging bar onto a swinging pendulum, but he felt pretty good about his involvement in the show overall.
“I got to do a bunch of cool stuff and meet a bunch of cool people,” Daniel said.
Daniel said he will continue ninja training, and the end game is to eventually make it onto the original “American Ninja Warrior” show once he turns 19.
Jeanette Martin said it was refreshing to watch the competitors and their families support each other throughout the filming of the show. She said it also was unreal to watch people come up to Daniel and ask to take a picture with them or for an autograph after running the ninja courses.
“It was truly like a surreal moment,” Jeanette Martin said while looking at Daniel. “We’ve watched this on TV, and now you are one of them.”