All posts by Junie Burns

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.

“When it’s 70 degrees in the middle of October, you can’t beat it,” said Bendtsen, 34. 

The women’s top spot belonged to 26-year-old fitness clinic manager Emily Paull, who finished with a time of 18:56. Other notable runners included Captain Jack Sparrow, Pac-Man and Forrest Gump.

The family-friendly event also featured pumpkin carving, costume contests and free pumpkin pie for race finishers. 

The race made its debut in 1999 to raise money for the Chicago Park District and was organized by park district employee Krista Bryski-Richard. Today, the 5K supports Night Out in the Parks, a Chicago Park District program overseen by Bryski-Richard that plans over 2,000 events each year.

Hundreds of children, some as young as 2, ran (and crawled) alongside their peers in the “Spooky Sprints” held earlier in the day. The youngest racers toddled across 10 yards while the 10-year-olds covered nearly 400 yards. Superheroes, princesses and animals dominated their costume choices.

Five-year-old Sofia Villarreal, who dressed as Elsa from Disney’s “Frozen,” said she “ran as fast as a cheetah” during her sprint. Businessman Gabe Villarreal, her father and a longtime runner, attested to her first time at the event.

“It’s great seeing her be a part of the running community,” said Gabe, 41. “She loves the bling, getting the medals.”

The VIllarreals participated in Pumpkins in the Park as a family: He and his wife, Sandra, ran their 5K with Sofia in a stroller.

“It really brings out the community and brings out the families,” Gabe said.

The event also attracted hundreds of costume-wearing adults like Corey Fast, 30, who ran her fourth “P in the P” dressed in green and wearing an alligator hat. She didn’t have time to complete the “Chance the Snapper” costume she was planning, Fast said, but the evening was still a success.

Fast attended the race with seven-time participant Doug Baker, 33, who dressed as a pumpkin and was the first costumed runner to finish.

“It’s a great way to get outside in the fall,” Baker said. “It’s just nice to come out and use our parks.”

Photo at top: Kids line up at the start line for the “Spooky Sprints” fun run at the Pumpkins in the Park 20th Anniversary.

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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