After months and months of waiting, it is FINALLY time for season two of American Ninja Warrior Junior!
Season one quickly captured Ninja Warrior fans with its breathless races and heart-pounding finishes from talented athletes (who just so happen to all be under 14-years-old). Just how talented? Well, the winner of ANW Jr’s first 13-14 year-old division just got a special invite to join the adults on American Ninja Warrior.
The true, raw talent of these young athletes will be on display once again when American Ninja Warrior Junior returns to Universal Kids on Saturday, February 22, at 7pm. While some features will remain the same, there were be some changes that you can read about here.
However, you can get your hands on the premiere episode right NOW. The full episode was uploaded early to Universal Kids’ YouTube page.
Season two of American Ninja Warrior adds a new member to the reporting team. Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbajabiamila are up in the tower. US Paralympian Gold Medalist and ESPN correspondent Victoria Arlen takes up the mic as the sideline reporter. (Season one’s sideline host, Olympic Gold Medalist Laurie Hernandez, was off focusing on her return to gymnastics.)
Victoria made a natural addition to the team. She’s a high-level athlete. Victoria earned three silver medals and a gold medal in swimming at the 2012 Paralympic games in London. She’s also one of the youngest sportscasters ever hired by ESPN. She more than checks all the boxes when it comes to being qualified for her new role.
But Victoria’s deep understanding of the determination it takes to overcome obstacles truly cements her into the Ninja Warrior family. She battled her way back from a devastating illness to take control of her future. From her website:
“Victoria Arlen’s life drastically changed in 2006 at the tender age of eleven when she developed two rare conditions known as Transverse Myelitis and Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis. This was an incredibly rare scenario and Victoria quickly lost the ability to speak, eat, walk and move. She slipped into a vegetative state in which doctors had written her off as a lost cause. Victoria spent nearly four years “locked” inside her own body completely aware of what was going on just unable to move or communicate. Doctors believed there was little hope of survival and recovery was unlikely. Victoria, however was not ready to give up. In 2010 after almost four years she began the nearly impossible fight back to life. Learning how to speak, eat and move all over again.”
In 2016, Victoria got out of her wheelchair and began walking again. Just the next year, in 2017, she was a semi-finalist on “Dancing with the Stars.” Now, with her unique comprehension of what it’s like to take on a challenge and exercise sheer resolve, she’ll be there for all the athletes on American Ninja Warrior Junior.
We had the incredible opportunity to chat with Victoria. We discussed how all her experiences played into her work on the new season of ANW Jr.
What drew you to ANW Jr? Why did you want to be a part of it?
VA: I have always been a fan of the Ninja Warrior franchise. The athleticism, the sportsmanship has always drawn me and it’s so much fun to watch. I have such a respect for Matt and Akbar, I have for many, many years, as TV personalities and the way they’re able to bring you in as a fan. So I loved the mentality around it and then when I heard about Junior, the fact that it would be with kids was really exciting to me because kids can do amazing things. To be a part of that story and be able to give them a platform and a voice was a really unique and beautiful opportunity. It was something where I was immediately like, “I’m in! I’m in! When do I start?”
Were you able to catch any of the first season? What did you think of it?
VA: I was! I did a crash course too, right before I started. I absolutely adore Laurie Hernandez, so I was watching and cheering her on last season. I just loved it. The kiddos are amazing, and the sportsmanship. You won’t believe the things that they say. I was hooked from the first episode. The first episode I was crying. Like, “Okay, I’m done!” All the feels!
What were your initial impressions of the ANW Jr athletes once you got to set?
VA: Oh my gosh! They are quite literally Ninjas. I was blown away at the athleticism. The course is insane. It’s so incredible. I was just immediately like, “Oh my lord.” I have never felt so uncoordinated in my entire life. But I was so excited and everyone was so excited to be there, and so welcoming to me. Immediately I was hooked. I saw the practice rounds and thought, “Whoa, this is going to be awesome!” I got really amped up. I had to chill out.
What was your impression of the course?
VA: It was crazy-ness! I totally geeked out. I’d watched it. I’d seen the course on TV, but seeing it in person, there’s really nothing like it. It was incredible and I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is even scarier!” It was so cool to actually be there and see it all come together. We study the course and we get familiar with it, but then you see it in person and it’s a whole different ballgame.
Is it hard to watch some of the kids fall on the obstacles?
VA: Oh my gosh! It absolutely is! You’re cheering them on and you’re wanting to see them succeed, but it’s hard. Just the fact that they made it to American Ninja Warrior Junior is a feat in and of itself. But then of course you want to see them make it all the way up the Warped Wall.
How was this role similar or different to the work you’ve done with ESPN?
VA: Sports are sports. I think there’s a beauty in the sportsmanship and being able to celebrate these victories. I started out reporting and telling stories through the X-Games, the Olympics, and the Frozen Four. All these various sport platforms. To be able to dive back into that role of sharing stories and getting to know these kids and their families, it’s very similar to what drew me to broadcasting in the first place when I was 20 years old. They definitely paralleled one another. But sports are sports and sports are a beautiful thing. Then you bring in the sportsmanship as well and the stories behind it and it makes you want to cheer all the more.
You’ve faced some very scary, very real obstacles in your own life. From your experiences, what did you want to share with the athletes of ANW Jr?
VA: I think they shared a lot with me, honestly. I learned a lot from those kids. I got to speak with quite a few of them and a lot of them were fans of “Dancing with the Stars,” so I immediately got the thumbs up from them. But I think that honestly, you’re never too young to achieve your dreams. You’re never too young to shoot for the stars. Also, when you fall back down, you get back up again. I think that was the message that a lot of the kids shared with me that they had learned through my story. But they taught me a lot too. It was definitely going both ways when it comes to the inspiration and motivation.
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Beginning of this decade: I was emerging from a 4 year vegetative state dreaming about what lies ahead. End of this decade: I’m living a life beyond what I could’ve even dreamed of... For those going through a tough time... keep going. You’ll have your cheesy “I can’t believe it” smile moment.
Did you find yourself giving out any advice as someone who’s competed at a high level?
VA: There were a few times where some athletes had fallen and I said, “Look, when you fall down, you get to stand up taller.” For me personally, I had quite a few silver medals under my belt before I got the gold. I remember that was something my dad would always tell me. You gotta keep pushing forward and this is just something to fuel you to be better next time. I encouraged that, and just reminding the kids that, “You’re here. You made it here.” That, in and of itself, is a victory. Anything after that is just an extra sprinkle on top. Making it here is the victory and everything else is the sprinkles on top.
How did you find it working with Matt and Akbar?
VA: Oh my gosh. I just adore the two of them. I saw Matt the other night at a birthday party and they’re just amazing. They were so welcoming. They immediately welcomed me into the family and showed me the ropes. It was just so much fun. They entertained me so much. It was really just nice to work with two people who I’ve respected for many, many years and then actually to be a team with them was really special. They’re awesome. They are epic humans all around.
Why do you think it’s important for kids watching at home to see athletes their own ages?
VA: I think, at times, kids think they’re too young, or too not enough in certain ways. We can all attest to that at some point. We were all kiddos at some point. To have a show like this, where there are kids from all walks of life competing and being a part of something, it shows them that you can dream big. Nothing can get in the way of that. I think it’s important to remind kids that that’s also for life in general. Even if you’re not necessarily competing in Ninja.
If you fall down, you just get back up. You take a moment, and you cheer other people on. I think it’s all around sportsmanship. It’s about family. It’s about cheering on one another. But it’s also about, look, there are obstacles in life, big and small. These are literal obstacles, but there are other obstacles in the world. You just have to keep pushing forward and if you keep working hard, you can achieve great things.
Can you sum up what viewers can expect from the new season?
VA: Oh, they can expect all the feels. I think I cried every single day on set. You won’t believe the beautiful things these kiddos will say about everything. Also just a lot of incredible competition. I dropped my mic so many times. I was losing my mind. You’re going to have all the feels and just be thoroughly entertained but also inspired along the way too.
How would you sum up your experience working with Ninja Warrior Junior?
VA: An absolute dream come true. One of the coolest experiences I’ve ever been a part of.
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To say sports has been / is a huge part of my life is quite honestly an understatement. I’m beyond grateful for the crazy amazing adventures that sports have brought me on. And I’m even more grateful for the women who paved the way before me and continue to inspire me. ••• Happy National Girls & Women in Sports Day
Season two of American Ninja Warrior Junior airs on Saturdays at 7pm on Universal Kids. The premiere episode is also available on YouTube now.