All posts by Junie Burns

Kids in Iowa get involved in the 2020 presidential campaigns

By Ellen O’Brien
Medill Reports

Kathleen McKean stood in the back corner of a Joe Biden campaign event, listening to the former vice president’s stump speech. At McKean’s feet, her two young children alternated between scribbling with crayons on “Go Joe!” coloring sheets and playing iPad games.

For McKean and her husband, Ryan, if both of them wanted to see a candidate on a Saturday morning, it meant bringing their two boys along.

“This is what it’s like to be a kid in Iowa,” McKean said. “Growing up in Iowa is the place to be for politics.”

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Ninja Warrior joins obstacle course racing to set sights on Olympics

By Junie Burns
Medill Reports

Acclaimed athletes such as gymnast Simone Biles and swimmer Katie Ledecky prepare for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. But behind the scenes, Ian Adamson and Bob Clark are hard at work to introduce a new sport to the Olympics: obstacle course racing joined by Ninja Warrior athletics.

Every season of Olympic Games provides an opportunity for new sports to be showcased as demonstration sports, and each of those sports hopes to be selected as an official Olympic event. The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo will welcome back baseball and softball as Olympic sports while also debuting Rock Climbing.

Ninja Warrior became a phenomenon as a youth recreational sport following the success of the NBC hit series American Ninja Warrior, launched in 2006. The televised Ninja Warrior competition has spread to more than 18 countries, and local gyms are popping up in the Chicago area and all over the world, providing ample opportunities for local competitions.

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iO’s new show breeds space for fresh, diverse voices in comedy

By Junie Burns
Medill Reports

Six brand new performance teams took the stage in iO Theater’s two-night New Team Smell Season 2 premiere on Oct. 29 and Nov. 5. These new groups of students are selected by audition, and earn a spot performing at iO on Tuesday nights throughout the eight-week season.

Lincoln Park’s iO Theater, formerly the ImprovOlympic Theater,  1501 N Kingsbury St, is one of Chicago’s prestigious venues and schools for improvisational comedy. The star-studded theater alumni include Mike Myers, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Tim Meadows and many more. And the theater’s writers and performers frequently feed into Saturday Night Live.

Chicago has a reputation as a breeding ground for aspiring comedians and has been home to successful artists such as Bill Murray, Stephen Colbert and Aidy Bryant. It is no surprise that so many young performers come to Chicago to perfect their craft.

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Kids take Ninja Warrior to new heights

By Junie Burns and Selah Holland
Medill Reports

Most people view Ninja Warrior as an entertaining sports competition where strong, agile athletes compete. But to the kids of the Ultimate Ninjas Chicago Elite team , it’s more like life outside of school.

Across the nation, kids are taking the American Ninja Warrior world by storm. This year, Universal Kids launched American Ninja Warrior Junior, a new show where kids race each other across the obstacles made famous by NBC’s adult competition series, American Ninja Warrior.

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Pumpkins in the Park 5k celebrates 20th Anniversary

By Junie Burns and Zachary Fishman
Medill Reports

More than 1,300 people took their Halloween costumes for a test run at the 20th annual Pumpkins in the Park 5K on Oct. 19.

Runners enjoyed unusually warm temperatures as they looped through Lincoln Park for the race. Real estate agent Joel Bendtsen was the first across the finish line in 16:51, completing the 5K nearly 20 seconds ahead of the next runner.

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American Ninja Warrior local leagues host ninja competitions

By Junie Burns
Medill Reports

After swinging, balancing, climbing and flying through the first 10 obstacles of the ninja warrior course, pro competitor Derrick Pavoni paused for a brief moment to stare down the final obstacle: the infamous American Ninja Warrior Warped Wall.

The crowd watched eagerly as Pavoni, a 26-year-old pizza maker nicknamed “The Pizza Ninja,” sprinted up to the top of the 14-foot-6-inch Warped Wall to finish his perfect course run.

Windy City Ninjas, a Chicago Ninja Warrior training gym, hosted its first Athlete Warrior Games (AWG) competition of the season on Oct. 6. Pavoni, an Illinois native, finished in first place out of 26 competitors.

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American Ninja Warrior growth sparks Olympic bid effort

By Junie Burns
Medill Reports

Initially, American Ninja Warrior structured its TV presence so that the top Americans could compete in Japan. But as the show gained popularity and athletes became more skilled and aggressive, the show catapulted into a larger market, leaving NBCUniversal affiliate G4 for a new home on NBC ‘s prime time schedule.

Japan began airing a ninja-style sports entertainment special in 1997 where 100 athletes competed on a rigorous four-stage obstacle course called “Sauske.” G4 adapted this format in the United States to create American Ninja Warrior.

Now, the success of the television show carries over into local gyms and ninja gyms while competitive leagues continue to pop up across the country. Patrick Losch, co-owner of the Hanover Park ninja gym Muscleball Ninjas, is the co-founder of Athlete Warrior Games, one of the up-and-coming ninja warrior competitive leagues based in the Midwest.

Losch, a native of Illinois, trained at Muscleball Ninjas for six years before launching Athlete Warrior Games with gym co-owner and 5-time American Ninja Warrior veteran Tyler Yamamuchi.

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Chicago Marathon runner Brigid Kosgei sets a new women’s world record

By Junie Burns
Medill Reports

It took 17 years to the day for Brigid Kosgei of Kenya to set a new women’s world record in running this year’s Chicago Marathon in 2:14:04. On October 13, 2002, Great Britain’s Paula Radcliffe set the Chicago Marathon course record and a world’s record for a woman runner with a time of 2:17:18.

Coming just one day after Kenyan runner Eliud Kipchoge broke the two hour barrier by completing the Vienna marathon in 1:59:40, Kosgei’s world record wraps a historic weekend of distance running for Kenya.

“I come here to run my own race,” Kosgei said.  “I have been training good. I was happy.”

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