You’ve seen Jen Hansen on American Ninja Warrior and you didn’t even know it.
As a professional tester with the ATS Team who builds and operates the course, Jen can be seen in many episodes demonstrating the obstacles. That means she can take on most of the the obstacles in camera-perfect form at any given time. It’s pretty darn impressive if you ever get to see it yourself.
Jen Hansen is a powerhouse of skills, strength, personality and kindness. After meeting her, you’re left asking yourself, “Where the heck did she come from?”
We wanted to find out.
To start off, you only need to Google her name to find out you could remove Jen’s work with American Ninja Warrior from her resume and she’d would still have an impressive career to talk about.
USA Gymnastics has this to say about Jen: Jen Hansen was a standout gymnast for the University of Kentucky, winning the NCAA all-around title in 1993, 1994, and 1995. She graduated in 1997 with a degree in animal science and still holds the record of winning three straight NCAA all-around titles!
Here’s Jen at age 19, leading her gymnastics team at the University of Kentucky.
She grew up on a farm in Wisconsin, surrounded by open space and horses before she headed to the University of Kentucky. There, she blew everyone away with her performances on the gymnastics team while she majored in Animal Sciences, specified Equine.
After her college career, she turned her focus towards a more “traditional” career path.
“I worked at Rood and Riddle which is an equine hospital. I actually learned a lot about confirmation and proper direction in movement. Watching and understanding. Dr. Bramlage was the leg guy. I would watch him watch the horses' gait.
I got into personal training, and I started thinking, not of people as horses, but when you watch a gait, when you watch somebody move, the movement of their body is really what you're trying to correct. Even though you're strengthening them. So working at the equine hospital really helped me out.
I worked in surgery. I prepped them [the horses] for surgery and sometimes I got to step in. I would be flipping around on the mats and the vets were like ‘Yeah! Hansen! Go!’
Finding that she couldn’t shake her love of movement, Jen began her foray into the entertainment industry.
From there I went down to Florida and got into Seaworld. I did a live show with Seaworld in Orlando, San Antonio and Ohio. I did that circuit for about a year and a half.
I finished at Seaworld because their show was going down in the sense of the gymnastics part. I had worked with someone at Seaworld that also worked at DisneyWorld. When I left Seaworld they called and were like ‘Hey, we've got an audition for you at this other place.’
So I was an inline skating monkey for DisneyWorld. I got to climb ropes. Once again I was a live performer.
Then I went back to Seaworld and I started diving. It was a dive show called Viva in San Antonio. I did russian swing, dive, bungee. From there, one of my girlfriends, Chrissy Weathersby, stunt woman, got ahold of me and was like, ‘Hey, they're doing a gymnastics show.’
So that's how I got on ‘Make It or Break It.’ One of the coordinators ended up contacting me. I was in North Dakota at the time, so I was out of it. I moved out here (LA) for like 2 weeks to see how things were. Then they kept me on. I was with Make It or Break It for 3 seasons.”
Jen’s time on the gymnastics themed TV show “Make It or Break It”, gave her a foundation to start building her career in Hollywood. While she was expanding her stunt skills and taking up coaching gymnastics, American Ninja Warrior came calling.
“It was last year at Venice. The challenge producer got ahold of me, and said, ‘Hey do you want to come out and test?’ I was like ok. He said, ‘We're looking for strong women.’
But I couldn't find anybody. Strong women for me were in the industry and most of them that I knew were trying for the show or participating in the show. So they couldn't come out. I just went out there and actually made it through an obstacle.
That's when the ATS Team were like ‘Hey, come on!’ We started talking. Then I started testing in house. That's when they offered me a position working with ATS on the road.
I had the opportunity to go on the road and test with them. But they were actually constructing the trusses and making sure everything was safe because of their backgrounds.
I don't necessarily have a rigging background, but I'm learning that as I'm working with them.”
So let’s get this straight, Jen’s list of CURRENT jobs includes: Gymnastics coach, Crew member at DisneyLand, American Ninja Warrior, and an active career in stunt work.
Does this leave her tired and looking at a burn out? Absolutely not.
“You never know what you get to learn, what you get to know. Being out here [LA] is fast paced, but it gives you so many different opportunities. You can talk to anybody. You can always have some sort of understanding.
Because that's whats so unique about the entertainment industry. Everybody has done almost everything, so you have a commonality between you and somebody else. Even if it's one thing. Some times it's a battle to find that one thing, but when you do it's like ‘Oooh!”
For all of American Ninja Warrior Season 8, Jen was part of the traveling team of obstacle testers. This not only introduced her to the fascinating world of creating a competition show, but also brought her back in touch with her gymnastics roots.
“They are amazing athletes [on American Ninja Warrior]. All around athletes. I get to work on, do the obstacle, and get the opportunity to break them down. They only get one shot. They hit it once. It's pretty incredible. To be able to watch them and to see their movement and what they would do and their strategies of hitting it once.
That's kind of the mentality that I use when I test obstacles. When I'm standing there I'm thinking, ‘Okay, I only have one shot, how am I going to get across there?’
Sometimes you just eat it. The reason I'm there is to tweak it. To make it a little less difficult or a little more difficult. That's what the producers are looking at. That's what all of us as testers are trying to do.
It's different for men and women even though the course has no bias toward anybody. Everybody has to do it, regardless of if you're male or female. Long, tall, short, strong, not so strong, everybody has their different strengths. That's what's so unique about Ninja. It's mostly upper body, but you still have to be agile and be able to move.
From an outsider’s perspective, gymnastics can look like a limiting sport. It seems to be dominated mostly by the very young, and it seems your only option to keep the sport in your life for a long period of time is to begin coaching.
While Jen is living proof that those skills can dovetail into so many other areas, she also never realized how her background would change her future. When asked if she had always thought gymnastics would be part of her life, Jen laughed.
“NO. I did not! It was so crazy. After I was done with gymnastics, I kind of wanted to be done with gymnastics. It wasn't a bad experience. Obviously gymnastics was a great career for me and I had a lot of fun in it. But just the body and mentality take a toll for doing so many years of it.
But now I absolutely love it. Coaching gives you a different perspective on it. Especially with the kids and what their potentials are. What you knew you had. You try to go back to when you were a kid and how you were learning and what you were trying to learn and tried to apply it in that sense.
It's been a challenge being a coach but it's good to be back in the industry of gymnastics and that little niche.”
It's really kind of fun. I never thought gymnastics would take me where it has.”
She could never have predicted it would take her to the obstacles on the American Ninja Warrior course.
“I like the trampoline obstacles, but that trampoline is definitely a different spring than a regular tramp. But those were the most fun I thought.
No one really liked to test the log roll. I got to test it once and I agreed with everybody else.”
While Jen certainly has a very busy present, she’s also thinking about the future. She recently got married, and her husband is located on Colorado. The two plan to balance Jen’s work with their love of the wilderness as best they can.
“As far as career wise, I think I'd like to do some more film. Actually do a film. Then also possibly more national commercials.
Furthering my career within ATS. Being out here [California], but my goal is being able to have two places. If we can stay in Colorado, and we can stay in California and I can travel back and forth that would be the ultimate ideal life.”
Next time you watch American Ninja Warrior, look at those opening minutes carefully. As Kristen Leahy walks us through the obstacles, keep an eye out for Jen. She’s a part of the very talented family that makes this show for us!
Editor’s Note: The first time I really met Jen Hansen was in the Oklahoma City. Sure, I had seen her in all the other cities with American Ninja Warrior, but she was always busy doing something death-defying whenever I saw her. Never felt like it was a good time to walk up and introduce myself.
In Oklahoma City, a severe thunderstorm rolled through that soaked everyone. As it left the area, the temperature plummeted. Combined with the wet clothes and a nice breeze, it was FREEZING. I was freezing. I hunkered down next to some of ATS’ gear crates to try to get out of the wind.
And Jen Hansen, in the middle of helping Ninjas safely complete the course and resetting the obstacles, spotted me. She immediately swooped in with warm, dry towels that she covered me with.
That’s the kind of person Jen Hansen is. She always has a little more to give. It’s why she’s a valued member of the ATS Team and beloved part of the American Ninja Warrior Family.
More on how American Ninja Warrior is made
- 5 things you should know about the team that builds the courses
- The ATS Team is coming up with new American Ninja Warrior obstacles right now
- Behind the scenes where the obstacles are born
- Meet the green hats, the people in charge of the American Ninja Warrior course
- The past, present and future of the company at the core of the course
- The other insanely cool things the company the makes the course are doing
- Get your hands on the course as a tester
- Jen Hansen has the coolest job on American Ninja Warrior
- Meet the man dedicated to destroying Ninjas
- What you need to know about being an audience member
- 5 surprises from the American Ninja Warrior production trailer
- How many people does it take to pull off an episode of American Ninja Warrior?