clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Meet Jessica Helmer, the Bunny Ninja

The rookie just got into Ninja two years ago and is using her platform to raise awareness for an often misunderstood pet.

American Ninja Warrior - Season 12 Photo by: Elizabeth Morris/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Jessica Helmer’s rookie season may not have gone as well as she had hoped, as she went out in the third obstacle in Semi-Finals, but the Orlando native was excited for the opportunity on the main Ninja stage.

“I didn’t really grow up with an athletic background at all. I did long-distance track and that’s about it... I came from a single parent family, and my mom couldn’t really afford to do all of those expensive hobbies,” she explained.

After college, Jessica made up for lost time, getting into martial arts, breakdancing, circus and aerial arts, snowboarding, and rock climbing. “And then I saw Ninja and I’m like, wow, I feel like this is like a culmination of everything that I’ve been working on... and sure enough, there was a ninja gym like right down the road from me I never knew existed. So yeah, I was super psyched. I was like a kid in a candy shop going in there for the first time.”

Jessica met American Ninja Warrior veteran RJ Roman at Obstacle Ninja Academy and he became her coach. When she got the call for ANW season 12, she was glad to have RJ by her side. “He really sticks up for me and he really believes in me,” she explained.

Jessica went out in the Qualifying round, but RJ’s Power Tower win gave his entire team a chance in the Semis. “Although she’s a rookie, she has been training with me for the past two years,” RJ said of Jessica. “I was really excited for her to show what she could do. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to, but I’m grateful I have a chance to help her get another chance to show everyone.”

While Ninja is Jessica’s main focus when she’s on the course, off the course, a cause is near and dear to her heart—Orlando Rabbit Care & Adoptions (ORCA).

“The first time that I had a bunny was right out of college. I just moved across the country and I was essentially on my own,” she said. “My boyfriend at the time, was like, why don’t you get a pet. I’m allergic to cats and dogs and I’d never really considered a bunny. Back then I didn’t know much about bunnies.”

They traveled across the country together and “she was just my little family member,” Jessica said. A decade later, Enni hopped into their lives as a stray. Abandoned by her previous owner, Enni was found in Jessica’s mother’s yard and just hopped into the house one day. “Which is rare, like you never really see a bunny that willing to interact with humans, especially after it’s been dumped.”

Jessica reached out to ORCA when she was looking for a home for Enni, but the young bunn had already found her person.

“Now’s she a little part of our family,” Jessica laughed. “She’s actually a free-roaming bunny. My boyfriend is really handy, so he’s built her a lot of things, for her furniture, to keep her away from cords or hiding underneath the furniture and all that kind of stuff.”

Jessica has also gotten very involved with ORCA as a volunteer and once she started doing Ninja and competing, she saw an opportunity to educate others about this often misunderstood pet.

“I just really think there’s a need to to educate people on proper rabbit care, and the joy that bunnies can bring in, because they’re just so misunderstood when it comes to being pet. I think a big part of that is because that there’s a fine line between being a pet and being livestock because most of the bunnies in the US are either livestock or pet. And sometimes people don’t realize that they’re taking care of something as livestock and not as a member of their family,” she said.

Behind dogs and cats, rabbits are the third-most popular pet in the United—and the third most abandoned.

Jessica believes that is in part due to legislation, because “by law, it’s fine, but it’s clearly just abuse of an animal. They’re not happy. They’re dying early.” It’s usually not on purpose, people just aren’t aware of the commitment. Bunnies have a lifespan of 10-12 years when taken care of properly (i.e. they live in the house, get proper exercise and nutrition, etc.).

Due to COVID-19 and a life-threatening rabbit virus that has been sweeping across the country, ORCA hasn’t been able to have their regular adoption events or fun activities like bunny yoga.

“We can’t have our regular events, we don’t have as many donations coming in, we’re not building as much awareness. We’re doing as much as we can, but of course, it’s much better in person,” she explained.

Instead, Jessica has been helping out with virtual events and raising money for the rescue via her GoFundMe.

“What I want people to know the most is that they should really do their research when bringing a bunny into their home. There’s a lot of conflicting information out there, but the House Rabbit Society is a great way to go. Any of your local rabbit rescues—look them up, they’ve got great information on how to properly take care of a bunny. Bunnies can be amazing pets, but you have to treat them with love, you have to treat them with respect, they don’t trust very easily, so you really have to be able to spend time with them, to have them come around... I find it so rewarding,” Jessica said.

For those that can’t adopt a bunny, donating time or money and fostering are other ways to get involved, and to see if a bunny is right for you.

View this post on Instagram

Let's talk about your MENTAL GAME! After my rookie year performance on @ninjawarrior, it became clear to me that I needed some serious work on my mental game . I've dealt with anxiety and depression for the better half of my adult life. Even though I've become really good at managing it outside of sports, anxiety had a way of rearing its ugly head during competitions and training sessions. A few months before I got the call to compete on the show, I was almost ready to give up on ninja. My anxiety kept me from enjoying the sport. I would be in tears driving home from most practices and I was exhausted from feeling worthless and scared all the time. I read the book "With Winning In Mind" a week before American Ninja Warrior filming and even though it was a great book, it was way too late to use for the show! I'm also just one of those people who need face-to-face discussions about my specific sport and experiences. Enter @peaksports.athletes and my mental coach @maximizethemind! After returning from filming, I made the decision to sign up and, let me tell you folks, it has made a HUGE difference already! Before I started mental coaching, I was really shy during practices and would often skip my "turn" because I would get so embarrassed about failing in front of everyone. Now I'm far more confident and aggressive during practice and - guess what - that has caused me to improve my physical game as well! I now have a great pre-game routine (which was non-existent before), have much less social anxiety before my run, and am far less critical of myself afterwards. Most of all, her coaching has helped me to find joy in training and competing again, regardless of the outcome. Its made a big difference in my game already and I can't wait to see what the future holds! For those of you on the fence about mental training, I'll say this. I spend SO MUCH money and effort on my physical game. I have FIVE gym memberships, I see a physical therapist on a monthly basis, home training tools and equipment, personal training, apps, meal plans, you name it. I spent ZERO time or money on my mental game when it's really a HUGE part of this sport. (Continued in comments...)

A post shared by Jessica “Rabbit” Helmer (@jessica.rabbit.ninja) on

As for ANW? Jessica definitely plans to be back.

“I’m sort of a late bloomer, when it comes to all this kind of stuff. You know, I didn’t grow up a gymnast, in martial arts or anything like that, I just wanted to be able to do amazing things. Ninja Warrior just really gives inspiration to people. It’s not that late, you know, people of any age, it’s not that late to get started and do amazing things.