UNI students compete on ‘American Ninja Warrior’



UNI junior Jon Klippenstein competed on season 14 of ‘American Ninja Warrior,’ which aired in June 2022. He advanced onto the second round of the competition due to his fast time before being eliminated.


Two Panthers channel their inner ninja on hit TV show

The hit NBC TV show American Ninja Warrior covers elite athletes as they tackle America’s most challenging obstacle courses. Two UNI students, Jon Klippenstein and Ella Sankey have had the opportunity to compete nationally on these formidable courses in front of a camera and live audience.

Klippenstein, a junior majoring in exercise science, has been training for American Ninja Warrior since he was around twelve years old.

“It’s been a very long time in the making for me,” Klippenstein said. “I used to watch it with my brother, so it was definitely a childhood dream of mine.”

Sankey, a sophomore majoring in computer science, also grew up watching the show.

“I was always a superfan,” Sankey said. “I had seen so many different types of people be able to compete on this platform, and I thought it was so cool. I’ve done local competitions for years, and getting on the show is really the top level in the ninja community so it was really the goal to get up there.”

Both Klippenstein and Sankey trained at Ninja-U, a local gym in Cedar Falls located on University Avenue. They both met the age eligibility requirements this year to apply for the show, and submitted a video recording and paperwork for their official application.

“I waited for the call from the 818 code from Los Angeles,” Klippenstein said. “I actually missed my call because I was napping so I woke up to a voicemail saying, ‘Hey, this is Mike Edwards from American Ninja Warrior. Call me back when you have the chance. I have some good news for you.’ It was super cool.” 

Klippenstein’s brother was also accepted onto the show. Sankey received an email confirmation from the show’s producers that she was selected to compete.

“I was actually sitting in the UNI library, and I checked my email and it said I had been selected to compete,” Sankey said. “I kind of lost it and went crazy. I was being way too loud to be in the library.”

Klippenstein was slightly intimidated by the size of the obstacles on the show, but was undeterred.

“I was surprisingly not the most nervous I’ve been for a competition,” Klippenstein said. “When I do local competitions I get super nervous, but when I got there I was just like, ‘Well, I’ve made it. I’m on American Ninja Warrior.’”

Sankey recalls her favorite moment on the show being just before she began the course.

“When I first walked up to the stage we had the opportunity to have friends and family Zoom in, and I remember looking at the big screen seeing my whole family and some of my closest friends up there,” Sankey said. “It was insane to think I had worked hard enough to get to that point. My favorite part was just standing there and seeing the crowd and the obstacles. It was just unreal.”

Klippenstein fell on the second to last obstacle during qualifiers, but made it to the second round due to his fast time.

“I wasn’t paying attention to the time or anything because in my mind I was going so slow,” Klipperstein recalled. “I fell and I went back into the holding area. I was sitting there for a while and eventually one of the producers came over and was like, ‘Jon, will you come with me? We have to get your information so you can move on.’ I said, ‘So I can do what now?’ That was a good moment.”

Both Sankey and Klippenstein note the friendly nature of the ninja community they encountered while competing on the show. 

“It was very much a competition, but it was also just a fun trip with friends,” Klipperstein said. “Everyone in the community is super supportive of each other and super nice. You get to meet a lot of like-minded people and hang out.”

Both Sankey and Klippenstein plan on trying to get on the show again.