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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Plant power: Vegan track stars share how they compete in meets without meat

By Caroline Kurdej
Medill Reports 

Like 3 percent of Americans, DePaul University running stars Violet and Henry Harper self-identify as vegans.

On a recent Wednesday evening, the Division I athletes ambled into their student center.  The pace: a lot slower than last month, when Violet led her Blue Demon teammates in the Badger Invite women’s 6K and her brother led his in the men’s 8K.

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Athletes with disabilities in it to win it

By Neel Madhavan
Medill Reports

Rohan Murphy lost his legs at birth and grew up thinking that he wouldn’t ever be able to play sports.

However, in eighth grade his physical education teacher introduced him to wrestling and he started to become fully involved with the team in ninth grade. He later went on to wrestle at the collegiate level at Penn State.

Murphy says going through life with his disability is much different than competing in wrestling with his disability.

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On the verge of a state sanctioned championship, Lake View wrestler seizes the opportunities in front of her

By Krystina Iordanou
Medill Reports

For Lake View High School wrestling captain Dulce Reyes, competing against the boys has been common practice during her first three years on the team. But with Illinois State High School Association championship changes arising more opportunity for female wrestlers await.

The 5-foot-2-inch wrestler competed in the 106- and 111-pound weight class last year, where she finished fourth in Chicago and 10th in the girl’s state tournament, hosted by Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Organization. Before this year, there was not an all-girls wrestling team at Lake View High School, which left Reyes competing against boys during most meets and practice.

“Even though I am on the women’s wrestling team now, I was still competing against guys.There were a couple of guys around my weight and I would just practice with them. They really help me to come along, and they took me in as if I were any other wrestler,” said Reyes.

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Young female soccer journalists chase dreams through Football for Friendship program

By Drake Hills
Medill Reports

MADRID — More than 14 million people in the United States watched this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup final in France, beating the total for the men’s World Cup final one year ago and the previous Women’s World Cup title match in 2015. As the growth of country participants and its viewers continue, so may the total number of women capturing its moments.

USA Today, ESPN, The Athletic and the Los Angeles Times were just some of the media outlets represented by women covering the World Cup. Nancy Armour, Alyssa Roenigk, Meg Linehan and Helene Elliott, respectively, proved that women are emerging in sports press boxes around the globe.

Just a week before the tournament began, a series of youth soccer events were held at the Dehesa de Navalcarbón Sports Complex, found in the western limits of the Spanish capital. Nearly 100 12-year-olds representing 57 nations sported their ocean blue, green and white Football for Friendship jerseys, blending in as one soccer contingent. On the sideline closest to the stands were youth journalist participants. Since the Football for Friendship’s birth in 2013, a growing number of those aspiring storytellers have been girls. Continue reading

Working to end the stigma: Athletes and mental health

By Kate Constable
Medill Reports

As sports fans, we often put athletes on pedestals, dehumanizing them in a sense. We think of them as strong, focused and mentally tough, which they are. But this mindset is also part of the reason that mental health issues are too often ignored in sports.

On this episode of Medill Newsmakers, we focus on the role of mental health in sports and how athletes are working to end the stigma surrounding it.

Photo at top: Will Heininger speaking at the NCAA headquarters (Will Heininger/Michigan Medicine)


College athletes tackle mental health

By Max Goodman
Medill Reports

Take a moment and think about the amount of responsibilities that are on any college varsity athlete’s plate…

These student athletes have a full slate of practices, games, classes, assignments and meetings on a daily basis. Not to mention seeking out sleep, a social life, relationships, family matters and time to just relax.

On this episode of Medill Newsmakers we take a deep look at how these busy, high pressure and often overwhelming schedules impact the mental health of these young adults.

Photo at top: Kiley Jones, pitcher on the Loyola Ramblers softball team, smiles while examining the diamond. (Kiley Jones/@kileyjones00 on Instagram)

Darting Ahead: Windy City Darters hopes to help grow the game in the USA

By Tim Hackett
Medill Newsmakers

The game of darts is changing. It’s grown into a worldwide spectator sport attracting thousands of fans, and the popularity of the sport is surging in Europe and in other parts of the world. But that surge has yet to really take hold here in the United States, where professional darts is an afterthought and amateur darts is uncommon.

But there are efforts to grow this sport across the country, and some of those efforts have roots right here in Chicago. In this episode of Medill Newsmakers, we clear up some confusion about the great game of darts, and introduce you to some players who are trying to bring this game into the forefront.

Game on.

Photo at top: Mark Gillespie lines up a throw in a Windy City Darters Open League match at The Garage on a Monday night in May.