Paul Lord

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OK THEN.  After a very long weekend, Rose and I are home from the World Ninja League Season IX World Championships. Here's the skinny chonky:

Rose had an interesting choice to make at the very beginning of this season, after aging out of the Young Adult division. Does she compete against the Adults (18-40 years old…so, a few peers, but also, some ninja moms and aunties), or against the Elites (basically the pros, folks who have been on the American Ninja Warrior tv show, have sponsorships, show up on the marketing materials, and all that)?  With a little help from an unfavorable run-order schedule in her first competition of the season-- she had a theater obligation that conflicted with the Adult division run time on Sunday, so she HAD to compete with the Elites on Saturday, gosh darn it-- she eventually chose the Elites, on the (quite accurate, as it turned out) theory that she probably wouldn’t be challenged enough in the adult division.

Then her senior year of HS got super busy, with two plays and choir concerts (like last year) and a school trip abroad plus we took a vacation of our own this winter (unlike last year) and between it all, she only made it to two season IX competitions, total. Both of which she won 😂 which should have smashed that whole “what if I can’t keep up with the pros” question/problem into a million pieces, but she did not have much competition in those two late-season events; most of the elite women had already qualified and were either sitting out or nursing injuries. Still, winning any event qualifies you for the Regional meet.

The New England Regional went…ok. She qualified for Worlds, but finished off the podium, after winning the YA division last year and being picked by the Commentators as one of the favorites this year, even though she moved up a level. She was pretty happy with her runs, which included solving a brand new weird/fun/difficult obstacle on the challenge course, the donuts:

and getting a buzzer within the time limit on the flow course despite her shoes slipping on literally every other step for the whole last segment:

The Buzzer was kind of a big deal honestly, she hadn't gotten one in competition in quite a while!  The flow course has a time limit just like the challenge course, plenty of people timed out without reaching the buzzer.  So that was pretty cool.  She was pretty vexed, though, that every Elite woman fell on the same challenge course obstacle as her (they beat her because they got to that point in the course a smidgen faster). “We should be better than this. All these women are elites, they train like demons, SOMEONE should have gotten farther than me!” Those Boomerang Devil Steps were really hard though; way more slippery than expected and also a further back/up gorilla pullup than expected, and all the elite women fell either right at the beginning where Rose did, or else when trying to navigate between the up and down sections, which were not only 5 feet apart but also offset a few feet to the side.

Rose ended up 4th.  Some self-doubt came with this result, and she mentally prepared herself to get shut out of any awards or recognition at World's. I would have worried, but Rose has finally found a stellar therapist, and worked through all of this with them. She was good to go, whatever happened.

But also, a funny thing happened at Regionals: her home gym, the Vermont Ninja Warrior Training Center, qualified TWENTY TWO PEOPLE for the 2024 World’s. That’s more than double the amount they ever sent before, across almost every age group from 8 year olds to adults. A couple of those kids, including the youngest, took a summer camp where R. was a coach/counselor and decided to keep training. Some came over from gymnastics, same as R.  Some have just been training at the gym a while and put together a great run to qualify. Whatever! They all qualified, and only two of them couldn't make the trip (because of the cost...already thinking about how to crowdfund or otherwise fundraise a pool to help everyone get there next year).

We immediately booked a room at the Biltmore Greensboro again, and signed up for a late Thursday night open gym session at a place called LevelUp, so we could get registered and get our event wristbands without having to wait in the excessively long lines at the Greensboro coliseum.  What I didn't realize until much too late to make changes was: the WNL split up this year's event across FOUR full days instead of the usual compressed Friday evening -> Sunday evening spread. Whoops. So we weren't in town in time for the opening ceremonies on Thursday, and we missed some Monday night events, which was a shame as we knew two people still running courses at 10pm Monday night 😮

After landing and driving the 90 minutes from Charlotte to Greensboro-- one direct flight + some extra miles on the car that I will be renting anyway is a better plan, to me, than the possibility of missed connections in both directions, and it is usually cheaper-- we check in, say hi to the lovely staff at the Biltmore, grab a quick early dinner, and Rose starts asking me to check the run order again.

"You run stage 1 in wave 1 on Friday, which starts at 2"

"Yes, but who on our team runs first, and when?"

Well, shoot...I wasn't tracking all that. So we spend the time in between dinner and open gym clicking around the WNL website, checking run orders and wave start times across every age group. Her coaches made a spreadsheet with some of this info, but Rose needs more specifics: "If Roger runs skills right at 8am, we should be able to get over to Stage 1 in time to see Gwen and Finley, they run uhhh eighth and fourteenth and the stage 1 time limit is always at least a minute and a half...uh...soooooo...is it ok if we get to the coliseum early every day? I really want to support the team..."

Is it ok 🙄 Oh my sweet supportive sproglet, my only job here is to get you where you need to be, when you need to be there.  If that means we are in the building every day at 7, before people have to check in and warm up for their wave, then that's what we are doing! Even if that means a mediocre continental breakfast and marginal coffee. By the time we leave that evening for LevelUp, she has sent the group chat a list of everyone's estimated start times, across the whole weekend, and if people qualified for stage 2 or stage 3, she sent out regular updates as soon as the new run order was posted.

Level up is a fantastic if grungy gym in an industrial park, set up for pre-World's Open Gym with as many different kinds of obstacles as they can manage. Rose gets in her usual warmups, runs the balance obstacles, works on some cliffhangers, then finds a complicated apparatus that can be done normally or...hard mode, with a "flip this part then catch the other side and launch yourself to that tiny grip over there".  She sees the hard mode, tries it, falls.  A few more attempts, and now there are three other people lined up to try the same trick. Nobody lands it. One of the new folks is a girl close to Rose's age, they start chatting, turns out Lily is from South Australia, probably the furthest anyone traveled for this year's event! Lily is reserved where Rose is bubbly, lean where Rose is jacked, but she's obviously talented. They move over to the 15 foot warped wall, where Rose has a score to settle; she got her fingers on the rim multiple times last year but couldn't get up it.  This time, it takes her 3 tries and she is hanging from the top! Lily can't quite get up there but gains quite a bit of extra height with Rose offering suggestions. (Rose doesn't add Lily to the team list, but she does put her on her personal list of starting times, we wind up seeing 2 of her runs, Lily and her mom watch all of Rose's exploits, and the two of them were exchanging tips all weekend long. Super nice folks!)

Then, oh no!  Roger, one of the younger VT kids who qualified, was trying a big move and ripped a callous off his palm the size of a nickel 😕 Rose to the rescue; she has experience with this, and advice, but her kit bag of bandages, tape, and ointment is back at the hotel, so we will have to meet up with Roger first thing in the morning to help him get some protective cover on that rip. We send him and dad off with care instructions. Now we have even more of a reason to arrive right as things open in the morning, so we head back to the hotel and crash early so Rose can still get a full night's sleep.

Friday morning, and we are there right as the Coliseum opens up, along with the majority of the team, who saw Rose's schedule texts and immediately got on board. Which resulted in a weekend-long HYPE SQUAD. As much as the schedule permitted, the whole crew showed up to cheer each other on. They were completely obnoxiously enthusiastic about it. The Vermont crew was by far the loudest team here; several referees joked with the athletes about it as they waited on the starting block for the cheers to settle down.

(Yours truly might have contributed to the cheering. A little.)

In between events, the team clumped on the floor or in the bleachers or on top of the folded up bleachers until security told them to get down (ninjas…they’re gonna climb, you gotta hang signs or something if you want to deter it). R. used her Body Markers to draw flowers on everyone (she draws at least one full sleeve worth on herself for every competition; the body markers let her change colors as she sees fit). Obstacle tips were shared for people who hadn’t yet run a particular course. There was much laughter. In-jokes and memes were birthed. Much bonding. Very team. Wow.

She even kept one of the parents in line; Danielle, one of the more nervous of the bunch, new to Ninja, ex-gymnast, running in the teen division where they really crank up the difficulty...fell super early. She bounced up and ran out the clock, clearing some tricky obstacles along the way, but she was near tears the whole time 😕 She exits the course, and her mom is waiting and about to lay it on thick with the "We are still so proud of you" chat and Rose basically gave her a little kick on the side of the foot and whispered "No, shhh, not now, she isn't proud of herself, wrong time for that message!" (Mom confided in me later that yep, "Rose was completely right, I'm glad she kept me from making it worse, what a perceptive daughter you have, she is such a sweetheart to show so much love and care to all these kids, etc."). So Rose grabs Danielle by the elbow and leads her away to a quiet corner and told her all about her up and down history with World's: her first, she foot faulted at the start of the course and finished dead last (there were other issues with that World's which was run by the other, smaller, less-well-run, far-less-global Ninja league, UNAA). Her second World's, at this very venue, she got overly confident, fell on an uneccessary skip move on a trivial obstacle, and blew her chance to win the World Championship outright (some readers will recall this story from 2 years ago).  Rose was maybe the only person who could deploy this tactic, plus after training with Danielle 3x a week, she saw things to specifically compliment. Did everything magically get better? No, of course not, and Danielle and her mom had the kind of late night chat that Rose and I had two years ago. Maybe minus the cosmology and particle physics parts. But it helped, and Danielle came back ready to go for her Skills on Saturday.

That is just one example, but Rose was everywhere for everyone. Leading the cheers. Making sure every athlete got mobbed after a good run. Helping Roger with hand care, again. Telling the two 10 year olds on the team how to handle the obstacles that looked maybe a little too long/tall for them. In the warm-up area, I watch as Hannah, the young lady in my 2023 recap whom I believe Rose inspired years ago, find Rose, big smiles, now they are strategizing together, pointing at obstacles and miming different grips and tactics.  All of which, huh, funny, gave her incredible amounts of energy and also distraction and selflessness and a sense of community and a feeling of being present in this exact moment, and when her turn on the starting block came for stage 1, she said that for once, she really did feel like it was any given Saturday at the gym, with her friends loudly cheering her on but also…kinda…it was just her and the obstacles in front of her. Focused. Poised. Electric.

The spell was broken briefly though, because the woman running right before Rose took a very bad fall at the end of her run. A land on your neck, roll the wrong direction, oh god please wiggle your toes kind of fall. There was one of these last year too, they have on site paramedics who brought out the backboard and carried that kid out for x-rays (he was fine, but it was scary). This time...I dunno, they had her on her feet awfully fast for my liking. Rose looked like she wanted to run over and help (she did want to).  Rose also, for the second year running, sent in her post-World's survey with an impassioned screed to please for the love of god put cloud mats under the most aggressive obstacles! It's not only safer, it makes for a better competition, because athletes who feel safe take bigger risks!

They got the previous girl on her feet and off the course for some more evaluation, and now it's Rose's turn, and wow, ok, that calm any-given-Saturday feeling came back.  Cutting to the chase: she cleared stage 1, hit her first ever buzzer at the World Championships, and qualified fourth overall for stage 2! 💪 🥲 (yes, I cried a little…she has worked so hard for this, over the last 8 years, through injuries and setbacks, skill stagnation and renewal, varying commitment levels for reasons having nothing to do with her love of the sport…but on Friday she put it all together).  I did not know this until yesterday, but in the history of the WNL World's, it was only last year that ANY elite female got the stage 1 buzzer, and only 3 accomplished it. This year, only seven did. That is some exclusive company! Here is her run from my vantage point in the stands:

The WNL official photographer got this shot of Rose hugging her coach Chris, with the smoke from the buzzer wafting in the background, which is such a phenomally composed and tangibly emotional picture that they made it the cover shot for the day 1 recap post on Instagram!

Coach Chris and Rose embracing after she cleared the stage one course and hit the buzzer in the elite female division of the WNL Season IX Championships.

Seriously, it's one of the best pictures from the entire event, yes I am biased but come on, that's an epic shot.  We've been talking about her stage 1 run since, of course, and Rose admits that this buzzer really did reframe and recontextualize her entire experience with this sport over the past couple years. After Regionals, she was ready to not accomplish much and get blown off these courses by the pros. But "No, brain, you were wrong, I AM good enough to run with this crowd, I DO belong in this division, sometimes I fall or fail like everyone else and that's ok, it's a fundamental part of the sport." 

Case in point: Rose has always been exceptional on the balance obstacles, she trains them constantly, but she seems to be an outlier in this? Those narow rollers she ran through on the end of the first lane, before the ropes...they posed no problem at all for her. The first and fourth are locked, the middle 2 spun freely. Younger divisions had more rollers and more of them locked; I think the Teen and Elite male divisions had the first one locked and the rest freely spinning. Honestly, this was only an average/standard balance test, they come in much harder varieties, but it took out a HUGE number of people in every wave, even the Elites! Last year's elite male winner, Tyler Smith, the first guy to ever clear all three stages at World's, fell on the balance.  Joe Moravsky, a famous ninja I have written about before-- yes, I finally did catch up with him and thank/congratulate him for his compassionate and nuanced response to questions at a meet and greet 2 years ago, from a nonbinary kid who was looking for validation to run with the boys even though they were AFAB-- fell on the balance. Two time world champion and show favorite Isabella Wakeham fell on the balance. One of the girls who bested Rose at Regionals fell on the balance (the other two fell on the last obstacle with the big swings, maybe in part because they no longer had the nerve to go for it after seeing that awful fall before Rose's run). Failure is a fundamental part of the sport!

The rest of Friday was spent cheering on her team and getting random kudos and congrats from strangers everywhere she went.  She was the first in her division to clear stage 1, because her small number of competitions pushed her early in the run order; I don't think anyone else in her wave made it through.  Her coach Sonic was in the 6pm wave, so we stayed for that, but we knew her stage 2 wave started at 8am (even though she wouldn't run until after 9 because she is seeded so high, she still had to check in at 7:30). We left the coliseum as early as we could, stopped by Food Lion for fresh fruit, veggies, kombucha, and epsom salts, dropped all that at the hotel, and turned right around for dinner.

As much as we love our hole in the wall pizza joint, this seems like a night for healthier food with more veggies and less cheese. Score, there is a fancy taco joint across the street, and since it is just the two of us, yes, they can seat us immediately.  We sit down, I look to my left and the kid sitting there has a WNL Finalist wristband just like Rose! We start chatting, and what are the odds, it's another kid from South Australia 😂 His first Worlds, running with the mature kids division (10-11 years old), his event hasn't started yet, he's nervous, what group do you run in? Oh WOW, any tips for the candy cane obstacle on stage 1? What about the Swords? When do you do Skills? and we don't get our order in for like, 20 minutes, because again, great people and fun chatting.  At one point the dad says "Ok, Jake has skills at 10:40, so we should be able to come by and, what do you all say, you 'root' for each other?" and I'm laughing because ah, yes, Aussies do not "root" for things, and thanks to the internet I know why 😂 they say good night and leave, we finally get our fantastic food ("Crafted" in downtown Greensboro, highly recommended), then back at the hotel Rose gets in a quick epsom salt bath, and we are in bed by 9:30.

As is usual, Stage 2 was a long, almost completely airborn grip endurance test, and Rose peeled off at the intentionally designed crux point that took out 75% of the stage 2 athletes in every single age group. But she was fast enough to get through to stage 3; ALSO a first for her!  Her entire team is there screaming, and all the Aussies showed up to watch her and cheer as well.  It was very sweet.  Here is the video her coach took on the course while running chalk and giving advice; I love how, at the end, she was less bothered by falling than she was by the fact that she didn't get to try the big gears obstacle, which is the sort of thing very few gyms in the country have, you only see them at Worlds.

After her Stage 2 run, after being swarmed by her team, Rose finds me in the stands and we sit for a moment with our smuggled in fruits and veggies. Behind us, a young woman is explaining the Stage 2 obstacles to her dad, Rose pipes in with a comment, and we quickly figure out that Esperanza also runs with the Elite Female cohort, she fell on the balance on stage 1, she's only been doing ninja for 18 months after being a gymnast all the way through college, yada yada yada ok we are friends now. We get up to go cheer on somebody else over on the Discipline circuit when Esperanza's dad, with his heavy accent (not sure, some flavor of South American? not Brazil but perhaps Peruvian or Argentine?), tells Rose: "You, you have a great style and a presence out there. You dress different than all these girls, you approach the course different, you do the art on your arms. You don't see it, but I see it, all these kids watching, they are picking their idols, their heroes, who they wanna be like when they get older, and a lot of them, they are looking at you!  You do all this in a way, you stand out, people see you!  Some of them are gonna wanna be like you, because you, you have a style!" which I am very poorly paraphrasing, but the vibe is accurate. It was just the sweetest, most earnest bucket of compliments ever.

Later that evening. Rose gets to run Stage 3, the “fun” course with the amped up difficulty, no time limit, and new / strange obstacles. For anyone who cleared both prior stages, it’s also where the World Champion will be determined; but for all these athletes it is a mad ninja scientists’s playground. Or laboratory, whichever. She got about halfway through it before falling, but was DQ’d early on for what I would call a clever abuse of the rules, and they just called a fault.

That obstacle where you need to use the swinging platform to open the doors?  They said hands only on the cliffhanger and no kicking the doors. Rose thought maybe kicking the cliffhanger while still holding the prior obstacle would fly, but the refs disagreed. Ah well, it was worth a try.  She wishes she could have gotten that last cliffhanger going around the corner, but her grip is toast at this point.

More cheering for her team, another Food Lion run, another late dinner, another epsom salt bath, and another good 8 hours of sleep. I swear, she got more sleep in 4 days last weekend than in any whole week of school her entire senior year.

Sunday was the skills/discipline circuit, with speed, endurance, and technical challenges. Endurance, she moved through smoothly and efficiently and posted a strong time but eventually got knocked down to 10th;

The Tech discipline was another tactical mostrosity, with huge risk/reward vectors and multiple ways to skip sections; nobody was going to win this event without making some kind of incredibly risky move. Here is Rose's attempt, wherein she got 3 out of 4 points; she wound up 17th here.  Only 4 women hit this particular buzzer. Hey, also, remember this course, I will return to it in a separate post next week (he said foreshadowingly).

It's hard to tell, but that last obstacle before the buzzer, you are supposed to push the blue PCV tube through the holes in the blocks (which are completely out of play), while hanging from it, to get yourself segment by segment close enough to reach the buzzer.  Some folks pushed the tube forward while still standing on the platform, and tried to horse it with one big swing from the second or third gap between the blocking-boxes to the buzzer; others tried to swing on the rope hard enough to get launch velocity. Most of those folks failed because they lost all their swing when the rope collided with some part of the rigging, the skill was designed to discourage that particular move, but I DID see one or two people successfully hit the buzzer with just the rope. This was always going to be the part where people got dangerously creative, and I also saw people hitting their head, elbow, wiping out on the balance at the beginning, and falling in every possible way from the PVC in that last segment. 

By Sunday, it was pretty well known that the Speed discipline course had a known design flaw. Exploit? Flaw. It’s basically a straight line race, a balance test ->variations on monkey bars->more balance test->get past two 6 foot tall walls->12 foot warped wall. The 6 foot walls were propped up with triangular braces that came up about 3 feet.  Most people went straight over the walls, using a wide variety of techniques, but on the prior days a couple ninjas tried going around the side. You had to have a hand on the top; you had to start from the narrow blue mat beforehand and end on the (offset!) narrow blue mat afterwards without stepping off either side; and you could not so much as graze any part of the bracing/feet/stanchion with a tippy toe, or the refs would fail you.  After the first person exploited this, they cracked down HARD and judged that move to the Nth degree.

None of the women in R’s division had yet tried this move when her turn came, because either they weren't stalking the Discipline courses during their off hours and hadn't seen anyone try it (even though Rose was clearly working on variations in the warm-up area before her wave ran), or else they saw somebody fail at it, and didn't want to take the risk.  Whereas Rose saw opportunity, trusted her(recontextualized)self, went for it, got it. I have done you the courtesy of trimming the linked video below, to spare you my unhinged hollering after seeing that she posted the fastest time in her division so far 😂 Alas, there were still several very good ninjas left to run in her wave and now they were aware of the skip and considering it. Isabella Wakeham tried the move and clipped the bracing with her toe, failing; another athlete came around the wall so hard she spun out and stepped off the offset mat. But two others executed it quickly and safely, which bumped R. to third place overall.

Still and thus, even after stepping up into the most difficult division available to her, going against the best athletes in the world, Rose brought home a bronze medal 🤘

(as you can see from my camera work, I fully expected her to link the entire series of moves without any extra swings, but she landed the second wheel a bit crooked and felt that she had to steady it up).  Remember Esperanza's dad with the comments on Rose's style? Kinda obvious on the podium:

A world class athlete sticking her tongue out at her father from atop the podium after accepting a bronze medal.  "Daaaaaaaaad that's enough photos!"

(Yes I picked the "daaaaaaad that's enough pictures" picture.)

All told, she ended up:

7th overall in the Elite Female World Champion rankings (one spot higher than last year, even though she moved up to the big leagues)

4th on stage 1
16th on stage 2
17th on stage 3
…for 13th on “Stages overall”

3rd in the Speed discipline for bronze hardware
10th on Endurance
17th on Tech
…for 10th place on “Discipline overall”

And taking every placement above summed up and ranking low total to high, she landed 9th on “World’s Strongest Ninja” rankings.

Much much much more importantly: she had THE BEST TIME here. She competed to the level she always expects of herself; she took great care of her team, especially the littles (every parent made some comment to me about R.’s positive impact on their kid), she made new ninja friends (in her division and out, including all the Aussie folks), she got random complements for her style (aesthetic, athletic, and sartorial) from complete strangers…it was a comprehensively validating experience. Ten members of her team made it to stage 2 (!), and her coach Sonic was the first elite male to clear it!  Both of her coaches, Sonic and Chris, plus Rose, plus three other teen/YA kids made it to stage 3, which is a huge accomplishment for such a tiny gym.

Can’t wait for next year 🥰

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I was thinking those balance beam steps looked like something I might conceivably pass, until I realized "oh crap, they ROLL", so nope. I'd probably injure myself attempting those things.
You guys are my parenting heroes.
Thanks! but also, Rose has been like this-- the climbing AND the empathy-- since birth, I am just your humble scribe :) It's awesome to see her turn empathy into action, and awesome to have so many other parents see and compliment that...
dude, this kicks so much ass
I have no words. She's an amazing athlete... but she could be that and not be the lovely human you've raised and who got to be in this moment. I'm glad you got to share this with her.
I am too :)
 

Well shit.  We just got back from the 2024 World Ninja League world championships, and I haven't even told y'all about last year!  So strap in for another long one (of two) and let's review the 2023 WNL season VIII...

Rose made it to a handful of New England region competitions in 2023, easily qualifying for Regionals even though she never quiiiiiite got through an entire course to hit a buzzer. The WNL New England Regionals happened once again at Ultimate Obstacles in MA, a great facility with an amazing staff that we always enjoy traveling to. I hate to do this to you, but here is the official WNL video with commentary from her group...on Faceblech.  I don't know how to screen-grab the relevant section, and obviously FB won't let you save anything off the goddamn platform, so just FF to the 20:45 mark and enjoy her performance and the commentary thereto (no spoilers).  OH AND: you'll want to right click and "open in new tab" or else you'll have to hit the back button to return to OPW.  Because Fuckbook wants to take over your browser.

I suspect some readers are asking "wait, what's the big deal?" WELL. The "Circuit Board" obstacle is a grip and endurance killer; you have these little T-pins with short handles that you have to hang from and move around through slots in a horizontal board, 15 feet off the ground, to get from point A to point B around 10 feet distant.  It was taking the boys almost a minute to complete the obstacle, and all of them were wiped out afterwards; they didn't have any grip or bicep strength left.  IIRC, only a single young adult (age 15-17) cleared the entire course, and that kid is a horse. Rose knew she had to at least get through the Circuit Board to guarantee she would qualify, but she also knew the rules: once you clear an obstacle, you can continue to use it for assistance as part of the next obstacle provided you don't let go.  In her case, "assistance" meant skipping the circuit board entirely and going for a huge 10+ foot flying dismount. She still had to stick the landing on that pad for it to count, but that is the kind of one-ups-person-ship she and her crew and her coaches push each other to do after class every week. Nailed it! This was easily the most pumped up she has EVER been about a competition performance. She saw a legal but non-obvious move that played directly to her strengths, SENT IT, and landed the trick. Even after she showed everyone else how, only a couple boys even attempted the skip move, and nobody else successfully landed it! Cutting to the chase, and perhaps obviously, Rose won the Young Adult Female division for the New England Regional and qualified for Worlds.  Sick. The commentator in that video was still talking about this move a year later at the next Regionals (see part two).  "Rose is always a contender, for heaven's sake, she has an 11.5 foot laché [those swinging release moves from point A to B without landing] in her arsenal" 🤣

Long time readers may recall that the 2022 Worlds were an utter physical and emotional roller coaster, with an early mistake on the course nearly derailing the entire weekend before things happily turned around with a victory in the Speed Skill. Leading up to the 2023 Worlds, Rose had been a busy busy bee...She acted in both school plays, sang with the Madrigal group on weekends, missed a bunch of training, but still managed to get to a half dozen competitions. She had good runs and marginal runs, learned to accept what her body and level of exhaustion would let her do on any given Saturday, and was just generally in a much better head space. Lessons from 2022 well-learned and dare I say, almost internalized. She was happy to get to go hang with her sport-people, and she was gonna have fun at World's regardless.

Sidebar: Because I didn't want to jinx it by booking anything for Worlds before she qualified, we found ourselves shut out of all the WNL sponsored hotels. Oops. What to do, what to do. Oh look, here is a downright ancient looking hotel (with some obscure connection to the actual robber baron Vanderbilts?), in the middle of downtown, maybe a 10 minute drive from the Coliseum? This could work? Hey they have a room available, we're in.

Friends, the Biltmore Greensboro is a HOOT.  Every hallway and stair has big thick old carved wooden molding with 100 layers of paint on it. The elevator is an old-school "call for the elevator with an exceedingly mechanical clicky button, turn the doorknob then slide the grate sideways by hand to open and enter" contraption.  Watch the floors and doors scroll past as you ascend.  The room keys are actual, you know, big metal keys, like your great-grandmother's summer cottage back door key. The  queen bed in the room was a gigantic 4 post thing so high off the ground it came with a stepping stool. Posh looking art on the walls, maybe actual vintage? Or else, well done replicas.  A nightly staff-led $10 tour of Greensboro landmarks, which includes, I kid you not, the very spot where Vick's Vaporub was invented in 1894.  Upon checking in, the exceedingly fabulous front desk staffer, in silk-scarf, slippers, and brocade smoking jacket, asked if we would be joining them for the nightly wine and cheese tasting.  "Uh, I'm 17, so...no?" says Rose. Over the weekend we meet the rest of the staff and everybody is funny and queer and friendly with ink and weird color hair and they all want to hear all about Rose's exploits.

On the flight, then at the hotel, and with touch ups and additions all weekend, Rose uses temporary tattoo markers to don her competition armor:

A forearm, with tattoo-marker art of many blue flowers.

Our days are long, we wind up eating late dinners, but just down the street from the Biltmore is a local fixture, a pizza joint that has been around forever and in that same spot for 22 years, it ain't the healthiest food, but it's good NY style pizza in the deep south and they are open until midnight. THAT tatted and inked staff ALSO want to know what's up with the arm art, and wow you are here to do WHAT, that's awesome, how did today go? We become late night fixtures with our cheese and veggie slices and just water, thanks.

There are 51 young adult female ninjas in the competition.  Rose had a slightly different and IMHO better schedule than the year before; Friday night she was just a spectator for the 4 of her gym-mates who qualified (all young adult guys), worked on her sleeves some more sitting in the stands, then an early-ish night and some good sleep.  Saturday morning, she started with the Stage 1 course, then Skills in the afternoon/evening, then if things went well...more stage 2/3 course runs on Sunday.  Here is her stage 1 run:

Awww, dang, she came up ONE swing, literally 4 feet short of the buzzer! That knocked her out of the running for "World Champion", because several girls cleared stage 1. But that DID qualify her for Stage 2 in 8th place, a first! So she got to run another new course on Sunday morning with harder obstacles to try, could continue to progress on the "Course Overall" ranking, and her stage 2 (and maybe stage 3) score(s) would count for her "World's Strongest Ninja" placement also. No matter what else happened, this was a strong run that she was absolutely thrilled with.

That afternnoon, it's Skills time again. The first skill, "Tech", is this absurd connect-the-dots George of the Jungle thing, with a ridiculous "Slide a piece of PVC pipe UP a slanted pole while you are hanging onto it" finishing move and you know what? Words fail. Here's a clip of Rose's coach, Sonic, doing it pretty well, actually:

That attempt was 6 or 7 seconds or so...which placed him square in the middle of the pack.  54th out of 105 in the Elite Male division 😮 I mean, that looked pretty effieicnt, right? The winner got through that nonsense in TWO AND A HALF SECONDS and I honestly can't even. I didn't see it. I have trouble imagining it. That's one swing that throws your whole body UP.  Did he blind grab the far side mail slot on the middle box and just hurl himself out there?  Does he have an 8 foot wingspan?  HOW?!  Anyway, Rose...Did not figure out this particular finishing move.  Also, she got over amped to keep trying it aggressively, when for this particular skill, slowly grinding out one buzzer tap to get the extra point was way WAY more important than the time...especially in her division.  Ah well. She places 10th.

Second skill is "Dash", the "run on weird surfaces and swing from bars" one, where in 2022 Rose won the gold medal by not only being faster than anyone else, but by scoring an extra point completing two full laps on the apparatus.  This year, there were some extra obstacles built in, and she was still gassed from the Tech skill run; she got all 3 points, but a stumble and a hitch getting over a 6' wall slow her down, and she ends up 11th. 

Third skill is Grip, just what it sounds like, all variations on hand-stressing themes.  This was tucked into such an impossible corner of the facility that I couldn't get a good video, but  you should still see it:

Those obstacles, in order, are: Devil Steps-- last year the entire Grip challenge was just this obstacle, and she got the bronze medal for third place-- into a new weird Hand-Hop-on-pedestals thing, into Doorknobs, then Cliffhangers (2" wooden bars at various angles, tacked on the side of the wall you can't see there)...then she peels off trying to do another "the landing is higher than the start" move.  Note the smooth, continuous movement?  Skipping a doorknob or three?  This is her "Any Given Saturday" pace, and just like we discussed the year before, it is pretty damn good! Only 6 out of 51 got past the Doorknobs; nobody else got further than she did; and only two girls were faster, so just like last year, she brings home the bronze 🤘 Most kids got slowed up on the Hand-Hops, and stressed their wrists out so much they couldn't complete the Cliffhangers.

The fourth and final skill was the Power category.  Perhaps you have noticed, in these pictures, that Rose is kinda jacked, and enjoys being so, and only competes in tanks or sleeveless T-shirts.  Late in the weekend, she got to adding shoulder roses to her marker-armor and instantly love-hated them...becuase they REALLY brought out the contour of her shoulders, it looked amazing, but crap, now she would want to/have to draw them *every time*.  Anyway.  Pocket powerhouse Rose, the Buff Chipmunk, the Weightlifter Anne of Green Gables, the Cat with KGB Training (all things she has lovingly been called by her friends) approaches the Power Skill like so:

...and that's all you are getting, because she lost a shoe on the last move jumping up to the buzzer, and took so much time failing to get it back on her foot that she didn't complete another run within the time limit.  Which didn't matter, because her first and only run was the fastest in her division (so far) by almost a half second! By now it is late afternoon; I looked at the standings and almost all of the ninjas I would consider to be her competition had already run except for two, and I didn't think either fit the mold of a Power Skill person, so I was hopeful that her time might hold up. It did, first place, a gold medal!

Sunday morning, she got to run Stage 2 at World's for the first time.  Just like the way they progress skills on the TV show, Stage 2 is a mostly airborne affair, maybe a balance bit right at the start to slow some people down, then jump up, grip strength, laché, grip strength, laché, grip strength, buzzer, often with brand new, invented-for-this-competition obstacles that none of these kids had ever seen before.  Here is how it went:

I just now noticed: at Regionals, she finally fell on a "take this ring with you to the next hook" obstacle...but here on stage two she completed that move twice! Also, this is not the first time that Rose almost fell on a course, hung on by one arm, then kept going.  A short lived reprieve in this case, as her grip was really shot at this point, but...stage2!  and she got 75% of the way through it!  She was very happy, but we wouldn't find out how it went until later, so we left the coliseum complex in search of food, and now we come to a moment that still tickles me almost a year later: we are on this break in between rounds, out hunting for a light healthy meal. In North Carolina. Near a gigantic sporting complex that usually offers sixteen different fried and breaded delicacies, plus waffle fries, nachos, and Dippin Dots. So "healthy" is relative. Then...salvation? A vegan Mexican joint? Cashew cheese and Impossible beef and otherwise all the trimmings for tacos and burritos and bowls and whatnot? Sold! We go in, and of course the place is stuffed with other ninja families who had the same problem and found the same solution.  We are sitting down with our food when one of them comes over with her dad, another YA girl named Hannah, a year or two younger than Rose and basically the exact opposite body type; much taller and skinnier, super long blond braids (these are relevant facts, as you will soon see). Also relevant: Hannah is a VERY talented ninja.

Hannah introduces herself to Rose-- Nervously, maybe? but all these kids are teens (or younger), everybody is a little gangly and awkward-- I say hi to Dad, we are small talking about the course setup, where we are from, food choices (Hannah is vegan all the time, not "just looking for a not-fried option today" vegan), when Hannah says to Rose "Weren't you on American Ninja Warrior Jr. in Season 1? and you won a couple races, right?" which, yes, she was, and yes she did, and suddenly it dawns on me: skinny long blond hair-in-braids Hannah competes in Ninja as her chosen sport SPECIFICALLY BECAUSE she saw a skinny long blond hair-in-a-ponytail 12 year old Rose on ANWJR Season 1. So I smile, raise an eyebrow at dad, and ask "How long has Hannah been competing?" and when he smiles and raises an eyebrow and says "oh, 5 years or so" I am now 100% certain. I mean, the "we are a tribe" camaraderie in the ninja community is still one of the most pure things in youth sports, the competitive spirit almost never turns nasty...whenever one of these kids so much as says "hi" to another there is an instant bond, awkward teen or no awkward teen. But I am sure of it: Hannah was nervous introducing herself to Rose because Rose INSPIRED HER to do this sport. Rose is her HERO. This whole conversation is now ADORABLE, and Rose is completely CLUELESS.

When I tell her my theory later, it kind snaps into place for her too, and she has no idea what to do with this knowledge. She is flustered by compliments most of the time anyway (see: teenagers are awkward), but this is a whole different level of "what, who, ME?" that she isn't used to.  It's useful though, because later when we get back home, and she starts her summer job coaching camps at the ninja gym, there are a LOT of smol ppls who also look up to her, and now she knows a little of what to look for, and how to low-key be that role model and inspiration without letting it go to her head. Good life skill, that.

Back to the Coliseum to find out Rose finished Stage 2 in 9th place, and will only get to watch Stage 3.  Only FOUR girls made it through to this final stage (a group which included Hannah, it turns out; she winds up second both on stage 3 and on the overall world champion ranking). So three of them will get hardware, and one will get shut out. Stage 3 is, as always, insane, a real playground of difficulty. The first obstacle here has you pull on a rope emerging from a hole in a big anchored box, then haul yourself, standing on a sled, some 12-15 feet across astroturf.  The first competitor reaches down, grabs the rope, gives a pull...and discovers more slack line than she anticipated. She falls backwards, lands on her ass...and that's that. Done. Absolutely brutal. Not unexpected, or even contrary to the demonstration video they sent out, but jeeeeez what a time and place for a mental error. She is off the podium without even making any forward progress at all. (footnote, so I don't forget to mention it on my 2024 recap: This girl, Rebecca Harris, was again in the YA category this year, and she took home 3 medals, making it to Stage 3 and finishing second, then taking bronze in the Speed and Tech skills. Good for her!)

All told, Rose's tally for 2023 is:

  • Sooooclose to a stage 1 buzzer
  • Qualified for stage 2 in 8th
  • Finished stage 2 in 9th
  • ...for 8th place in the world in the Young Adult Female World Champion standings
  • 10th, 11th, third, and first in the skill challenges
  • ...for 4th place in "Skills Overall"
  • and summing all of that and ranking low total to high, she is 5th in the "World's Strongest Ninja" rankings.

...stay tuned for a recap of this past weekend, when the 2024 World Championships went down 🤘🤩

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Holy freaking fartknockers. I haven’t even watched the videos yet (I’m saving them for tomorrow when I can watch them on a bigger screen) but this whole situation sounds like two or three lives in a day.
I have never been able to do any of that because my delicate fingers are suitable only for typing. I did do some rock climbing at HOTT.BOB, but I'm pretty sure I was only lifting with my legs.
I hadn't seen video of Rose in a long time and no joke -- she is indeed jacked.
Also, PLEASE don't make us wait a whole year for the 2024 videos!!!!
I won't! Editing for YT and writing up a longer version than appeared on toot.cat.

 
"It's all so very alive and jumpin' and in the pauses one can hear the atoms exploding out there in the Milky Way where the grass comes up every once in ten billion years and there are no moth balls, or frigidaires, no box office

receipts, no railroads, no crucifixions, rosy or otherwise...It is very far out, your Lordship."

-- Henry Miller (!) to Lord Buckley (!!)

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4/11 '22 1 Comment
 

[This is edited and hugely expanded from a long twitter thread, so go get your tea and block some time.  Sorry for anyone seeing it twice, I have tried to add enough to make it worth your while]

Ms. 16 and I spent the past weekend in Greensboro NC for the National Ninja League World Championships.  NNL is the bigger of the two competitive leagues that operate in the US, and has a broader international presence; there were kids and adults from over a dozen countries represented here, teams traveling from across Europe, South America, and Australia. It also seems much more connected to the professional crowd, with at least 20 folks competing in the "Elite" division who have also appeared on the American Ninja Warrior show. 

The other big league, UNAA, operates mostly out West and well...we have opinions.  You see, R. qualified for UNAA Worlds when she was 12, the same year she was chosen to appear on the first season of American Ninja Warrior Jr.  Being in LA for the show taping, meeting her favorite Ninjas, being surrounded by her people (ninja training definitely self-selects for a certain type of kid), winning 3 races and making the semifinals, that was all awesome.  But UNAA Worlds was the day after taping ended...The UNAA people knew this and made the absolute minimum accommodations for the kids who were doing both...we chose to take a red-eye rather than go from the airport directly to competing the next morning...the emotional high of the show was fading...not the best circumstances any way you look at it.  Then we get there and the event itself was a mess, wobbly courses seemingly slapped together from spare parts, no stable schedule or run order, extremely hardass referees who made the kids cry.  We wound up sitting and waiting for hours.  Then R. had a toe over the line right at the start, was failed for it, ended up dead last, and swore she would never go back to that event.  Which, we haven't, or even gone to any UNAA events that I can recall.  (Of course we haven't gone to *anything* over the past 2 years until the local and regional qualifiers in February).

By comparison, this giant NNL event was air traffic control at O'hare.  All of the courses were professionally rigged by one obstacle vendor (DGS; they are where I got all the hanging obstacles for the backyard gym I built for R), and structurally similar; mostly the same obstacles, just closer together with easier grips or helpful ropes for the smaller kids, or big gaps and grips that spin for the older kids and adults.  They managed to run 6 courses and 8 challenge skills simultaneously in the enormous Greensboro Coliseum complex, with over 1,500 competitors.  I mean: they got 300 kids aged 6-8 through their course in around 20 hours?  One every 4 minutes, 1:30 of which is the actual course time limit?  That is TIGHT.  They ran everyone through in waves, and the actual start times were never more than a couple minutes off the schedule, that I saw.  The Refs were extremely clear during the course walk through about what was ok, and what was a fail; this is critical, because some kids take bigger risks (foreshadowing) and they need to know "you can grab this to steady yourself, you can use this stanchion so you don't hit your head, but if you grab anywhere on the black part on the top of this widget, that's a fail."  In actual competition, the refs were fair.  Incidental contact wasn't an immediate fail, if it didn't give you some kind of advantage they mostly let it slide.  This is the correct approach, especially for the youngest groups!

The league works hard to give many different awards for different kinds of competitor.  The big one, the "World Championship" trophy, goes to the athlete in each age/gender category who makes it the furthest through the course, in the fastest time, without failing.  This matches the way they choose the winner on the TV show.  The course is split into 3 stages of increasing difficulty; the top 35% in Stage 1 move on, the top 20% in Stage 2 move to the final stage.  Aha, but! the World Championship includes the "without failing" part.  So if nobody finishes stage 1 and hits the buzzer in your age group, then the top % of folks still advance, but the big WC trophy goes to whoever was fastest/furthest on stage 1.

They give separate "Course overall" medals, gold/silver/bronze, like you do, to the people who makes it furthest overall in all 3 stages.  So you could sneak through stage 1 and 2 by the skin of your teeth, then manage to go one obstacle further on stage 3-- which was, honestly, an impossibly difficult looking course-- and you would get the Course Overall gold medal, but maybe not even place on the World Championship podium.

Then there were 4 specific Skills challenges, how well can you do this one specific ninja thing, like move across 1 inch wide "cliffhangers" on a vertical wall by the tips of your fingers, or swing for distance between oddly shaped hanging obstacles.  This is kind of like the individual apparatus events in gymnastics, beam or vault and such, where the course run (or course overall maybe) is more like the gymnastics "All Around" title.  They gave medals for top 3 in each skill, plus an "Overall skills champ" medal for the lowest sum-of-individual-skill-placement...so if you got second in all 4 skills, and someone else got 1st, 1st, 4th, and 5th, you win, because your total place sum of 8 is better than their score of 11, even though they beat you twice. Kind of weird I guess? But it allows a kid with one specialty a chance to get a medal, and also lets the kid who is really good in all skills but not the best in anything a chance to get a medal for their consistency.

Then finally, they add your "course overall" place to your "skills overall" place, and the lowest sum gets the title of "World's Strongest Ninja" for their category.  This is also a trophy, but smaller than the one for World Champion.

[OK SORRY, PREAMBLE DONE, THE STAGE IS NOW SET]

About that foreshadowing.  On Friday night, R was on stage 1.  All of the athletes found out only a few hours earlier that the time limit was 1 minute 30 seconds, an extremely aggressive time!  The league does this on purpose, to weed down the list for stage 2; they know some kids will get anxious, some will try riskier moves, some will just psych themselves out.  R. was moving smoothly through the course, then got over-ambitious, went for a skip move to save time, and fell off the third obstacle.  She got back up and made it through the sixth of seven obstacles before time ran out.  She fell well short of her hopes and expectations of herself, not to mention her abilities, and it was looking like a long rough disappointing emotionally chaotic weekend. Never mind that failing is part of the sport, the pros frequently fall on "simple" balance obstacles, the guy who won a million bucks fell on his second obstacle the next time he was on the show...nobody is perfect in Ninja, and if anyone gets close, they go and invent a new category of more difficult obstacles.  Failure being a defining feature of the sport is a tough thing to internalize, but she will get there. It's a process. But oooh there was a lot of processing happening Friday night.

[It doesn't matter at all or change anything, but I went back through the video on Monday.  Before and after her mistake, she was moving calmly and efficiently through the obstacles, like it was any given Saturday of training.  She landed on the mat and cleared the 6th obstacle at the 1:15 mark.  Nobody in the "young adult female" group completed Stage 1, everyone timed out or fell on the 7th obstacle.  The winning time for your eventual World Champion through obstacle #6 without failing was...1:21, six whole seconds slower.  I waffled on whether or not to tell her this, eventually did, but I framed it this way: Your average everyday pace is good enough.  You are strong enough, fast enough, smooth enough, all you have to do is clear as much of the course as time allows and at worst you will move on to stage 2.  This will be my sports psychology mantra to her from now on.]

We stayed for an hour more to cheer on the other two VT kids who qualified-- her best bud C. moved on to stage 2 for young adult males!-- then went back to the hotel to decompress.  She was pretty mad at herself, so I just waited.  Eventually she started explaining what her inside voice was saying, and we talked through that A LOT, then we talked about how shitty it is to be a 16 y.o. girl in this country, and expectations of girls are bullshit anyway, and she doesn't want to be a dumb blonde (she is a straight A student, basically? what? fuck the patriarchy) and she doesn't want to cry all the time with every little bit of misfortune, and why does her period always start on competition days, and and and.  She worried about her over-busy schedule, why is this one teacher so vague about what she wants on assignments, can she really get off-book for the Spring play this week, she is finally making a big group of friends with the weirdo theater kids and choir kids and the queer kids and there just isn't time for everything and and and.

I got her to admit that this particular event was slightly more than a little bit of misfortune (mentally, emotionally), and anyway "society" isn't in the room with us, so you should cry all you want on this shoulder right here, and Z's mom or the front desk or the pharmacy down the road has pads if she thinks she will run out, and while I can't fix all the stereotypes or expectations for 16 y.o. girls, I am always here and I can support you, whatever you need, or what's a dad for?  We talked about priorities. Ninja is a fundamental part of her self image.  She sets insane standards for herself.  She wants to be competitive with boys her age who are 15 inches taller than her, with a bigger wingspan.  She wants to get on the adult show and go further than other women have.  She trains 3 days a week but that kind of goal is going to require a different level of commitment.  Something has to give?

So.  As soon as they release the next season's schedule of NNL competitions, we will circle dates and make plans. We will travel anywhere a sane driving distance.  She won't quit on the play right now, but Spring theater is missable going forward.  She will still do the fall musical, because she needs that peer group and the singing and the acting and the whole let's-put-on-a-show thing in her life right now.  We will set a schedule to get on the backyard gym on off-days whenever the weather allows. I will look to see if we can get a personal trainer (we both could use one, honestly).  We will look at diet (although she eats pretty clean already just by living in this house).  We will make sure that she can train somewhere not-too-far-away when she goes off to college.  We will probably grab a couple weird grips to add to the mix, because the stuff on the later stages of the course was insane.

 Then she took a long midnight bath, then we switched topics and eventually we were talking about astronomy and biology and the Standard Model of elementary particles until she felt relaxed enough and "smart-blonde" enough to go to sleep, even though she still had questions about whether information leaks out of black holes (A. says, "So does everyone else?").

***

On Saturday we slept in.   Her wave of young adults didn't start the Skills challenges until the early evening, so we could rest, enjoy the bright clear 70 degree spring day in NC, walk a mile and a half to a lunch place, work on a little bio homework, grab a bonus nap, then make our way to the coliseum.

On her first Skill challenge of the night, she did this:

...which-- and she insists that I include all of these qualifiers because she is modest to a fault and also demands precision-- turned out to be the winning run for your 2022 NNL World Championship young adult female "Express Lane Skill" gold medalist.  BOOM!

The two skills in Express Lane are among the very first things you learn in ninja, right after "how to fall safely": keeping your balance while moving across weird slanted or wobbly surfaces, and the lache (la-shay, but I've never seen any ninja or coach spell it with a diacritic?), a swinging release move that you use all the time to move through the air from one obstacle to the next.  This version, the giant monkey bars, is the canonical form. We learned this weekend that the world record for longest bar-to-bar lache is 19 feet, which, what, no way, how did his shoulders survive the landing grab?

In this case, that is a 20 foot run, with 4 bars, spaced evenly but starting a little in from the ends.  Call it 6 feet between bars. Maybe that doesn't sound like it is far? but reader, let me tell you: it's no joke to fling your body that far and catch yourself. If you watch again you will see that R took exactly one extraneous swing; every single other move was linked in a continuous chain. Form-wise, a nearly flawless performance.  After the start, you get a point when you cross the middle of the lache bars and a point for stepping on the last slanted block before turning around; she was the only girl to score a full 8 points for two full "laps" of the course.  She would have beaten ~45 of the boys her age.  She. Slayed. It.

With that, in a mere 42 seconds, the entire weekend turned around. She appreciates the hardware, and the recognition, and all that, but the most important thing is: she was satisfied with herself.  She Did The Thing to her (unreasonable, like I say, she'll get there) standards.  All she wants from this sport is the knowledge that she can put it all together and perform as well as she believes she can (or, believes she can most of the time, and this run shut that inner doubting voice right the hell up). 

For bonus validation, on the next Skill, "Spiral Staircase", she did this:

...which wound up being good enough for third!  For this obstacle, it's basically how many times can you go up and down the upside down small twisting steps, holding your weight the entire time, but as the bigger kids learned: if you can still hold yourself with one hand and reach out from the third step to tap the bottom step, you can save a lot of time and grip strength on each end. 

[The fall at the end looks bad, and you can probably hear me wince, but they are falling onto 10" cloud mats, and that was actually an intentional drop.  I am actually glad she didn't decide to try to lache from the top all the way to the other end to tap the bottom step as she went by, and just dropped to let the last few seconds run out.]

They moved quickly between Skills; maybe 15 minutes between dropping off one and starting the next for each kid (staying on that tight schedule).  The next skill, "Full Swing" was of the "take as many attempts as you can in 45 seconds, we will count the points for your best run" variety, but it had an impossible-to-resist skip move; she went for it and missed.  Eh, I would have told her to try it too, it looked reachable (and might have been if that had been her first skill, with fresh hands).  The last skill was a row of cliffhangers, 1" square rods tacked to a wall at different heights that you move back and forth on while hanging by your fingertips. She did pretty well there! but there was absolutely no way to get a good angle to film it, so you will just have to imagine her zooming back and forth, sideways, 6 feet off the ground.  All I could see was her feet!

Her final four Skill places: 1, 3, 5, and...uh, 32.  For the Skills Overall standings, that put her sixth.  Add that to her Course Overall place (23rd), and for the Strongest Ninja standings, she was 14th.  To anyone else, me for example, 14th place out of the top 56 qualifying young ladies in the whole dang league is pretty good!  But for her, irrelevant.  She plays this game for herself, and she found the joy in it after a rough start.

Photo bombing courtesy of her VT teammates who also qualified, Z and C.

C even hit the stage 1 buzzer and advanced to stage 2!  Which was so brutal only a dozen young men cleared it.  Stage 3: none of them cleared it, and about 80% got peeled off on the second obstacle of 7 😳 If you win Course Overall, you earn it!

***

Scattered other trip and event notes:

Since we were most thoroughly in The South, I took these pale Vermont kids to a Waffle House. Other than the quality of the "syrup", they approved (and the tea-spilling Waffle House staff was *hysterical*. All I know is I don't ever want to work third shift with Duane, he's gonna burn that place down by accident one of these days). We should have gone late night, for that full dimensional crossroads/liminal space/cryptid hostel experience, but this wasn't that kind of trip really.  Instead we went for an early dinner in between the final stages, and I told them tales of the year I lived 5 miles from college and biked back and forth every day, with a Waffle House on the corner of the gravel road that led back to the farm I lived on.  I wrote a lot of papers, drank a lot of coffee, and ate a lot of hash browns at that Waffle House, I tell you hwat. 

The young ladies of our group saw a big billboard for the local Hooters, and were amused for about 12 seconds until they asked me about it and I had to explain 😕 They were both already kind of "why are men?" and this just put another check mark in the "Seriously, why?" column...

I continue to be extremely impressed with the overall Ninja crowd, kids, adults, parents, and professionals alike, which continues to be one of the most supportive and least toxic sports communities I've ever seen. The kids are cut from the same cloth, and the parents who go all-in with them are (mostly) awesome. The one dude who spent the weekend circling the enormous gymnasium complex making sure everyone had an opportunity to see his "I WILL NOT COMPLY" shirt was an aberration.  The professionals in attendance were gracious, generous with their time even as they were warming up to compete.  We went to a Q&A with Najee Richardson, Isabella Wakeman, and Joe Moravsky, where they made sure every little kid got to ask their question (and later, get a signature on whatever garment or limb they wanted).

A moment stands out.  A young (10?  12?) NB kid introduced himself and explained his situation, going so far as to use his AFAB deadname.  He was looking for guidance on what category to compete in, since his presentation no longer matches his birth gender.  This was clearly a new Q for the pros, not one they had any practiced answer for, but Joe stepped up.  It would be kind of risky to give firm advice of the "Joe Moravsky says I should compete with the boys" variety, right?  That is a possible mine field.  The kid seemed to be at this Q&A solo, no parents in attendance, so who knows what the support situation is like at home?

Instead, Joe went to great lengths to validate this kid, welcome them, encourage them to follow their heart, but also: you don't have to have a final answer to this question right now.  "We want you in this sport as your authentic self, but we all-- all sports-- have some learning to do and some guidelines to figure out, just like you are figuring yourself out."

I'm not doing it justice, and I'm misquoting.  Basically it was a nuanced, sensitive, fundamentally kind answer, and the kid was smiling on his way out the door with his signed shirt.  I should write Joe commend him for how well he handled it.  I think I will.

The awards ceremony at the end of the event was looooooooooooong, but a lot of people stayed through the end and gave all these athletes the applause they deserved.  Remember my description of all the scoring and awards, way back at the top of this monstrosity?  There were strange results!  A very young girl, maybe 7, swept first place in all 4 Skills, Skills Overall, and Course Overall, so she got the Strongest Ninja, and...did not even podium for the "World Champion" trophy, because she fell early in her Stage 1 run!  Contrariwise, the World Champion for R's division, farthest fastest w/o fail on stage 1, won zero other hardware of any kind in any category. 

ANYWAY.

This is one of my main Dad jobs now, and has been for a few years.  I am, obviously, enjoying it enough to overshare🤘

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I've only consumed parts of this so far, but I'm bowled over by the emotional intelligence you, R., and that Joe guy are showing.
I loved reading this. I say *chef's kiss* to your Most Excellent Dad Skillz as R processed that rough patch. Seriously, you nailed that. (As did Joe as he spoke to the NB athlete. Wow. Nicely done.)

When I watched that first video of R doing that lache/angular surfaces run, my jaw hit the dang floor at her incredible strength and agility. But when she turned around and came back towards the camera, I said out loud to no one, here at 2:06am in my kitchen: "HOLY CRAP! She did all that in a mask!?" I love masks, yet I will still kvetch because it's harder for me to breathe when I go for a brisk walk while wearing one... and here's R doing freakin' ninja stuff in one. No more kvetching from me!

I'm so happy for all of her successes, Ninja-ing and beyond. Thank you for taking the time to write this up. Y'all are really awesome humans.
Yeah, didn’t she just get over a case of COVID, like, two minutes before competition?
Pretty much. All her symptoms cleared, and she tested negative right beforehand. Sheer luck.
But imagine if she had been at 100% lung capacity, unmasked?
Uh maybe? I mask for my fitness class, and other than being a little more sweaty underneath it, I don’t notice any difference in terms of air.
This is amazing!

BTW, did/do you know the Compton-Meyer family? Acquaintances of mine from Philly. Their 12-year-old son was a competitor but passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in mid-March. I understand some of his peers were there and I wondered if you might have been wondering at any tribute you may have seen for Noah.
I do not know the Compton-Meyer family. There was a moment of silence during the opening ceremonies, and a very nice tribute speech after the medal presentations, for two people who recently passed, an athlete and a coach, but I do not remember the names so I can't confirm it was for Noah :(
Everything about R's freak out after the first day is... well... being smart and 16 and female. There's no way to make it easier. The only way out is through, but she is not alone. I love what this sport offers her and I'm deeply sorry it's not something we knew existed when B and G were deciding how they felt about sports. Softball has been a very mixed bag community-wise. A great pitching coach has kept G engaged, but I have often wondered at what cost. This last year or two we've found a balanced community in the U18 league -- one that doesn't exist in U13 or in the high school or god-forbid in the travel softball community. Anyway, this is pretty amazing stuff. I'm super happy for her!!!
What concerned me a little is that I knew she was just mostly really mad at herself for that one little mistake, but it spiraled right out into a big everything-is-wrong-maybe-it's-me meltdown. Which...that's a pattern I recognize. It took a while (I didn't share all the turns of that part of the conversation), and we took the long way around the topic, but we did finally get back to ninja-related specific goals and tentative plans to address the "one little mistake" and that kind of damped down the "everything" and then we could wind down for sleep after some random, completely unrelated "dad knows things" chatter.
Your concern is understandable -- but also it sounds like you did the best you could with it and got her over the hump. *hug*
 
This is not a self-referential poem.

In fact, it's completely obsessed with talking about all of 
the other poems that influenced it, those poems which

once

were read by poets come and gone, or in other cases come
and not gone so much as moved quite far away, or had their
weltanschauung changed so greatly that this poem is not any
longer
particularly
impressed
as such things go

This poem is extremely, embarassingly well read;
it just finished
the Cantos (that wretched man),
and
the Duino Elegies (translated, sadly (but well-)
and it re-read
The Sonnets
for the umpteenth time just last weekend... this poem has an inferiority complex

It wants to apologize for its existence, but it can't seem
to find the right words. Which is just so...much...a thing It has big important neighbors, this poem, and often gets
lost in the shadows, but at least it's not a self-referential
poem...this poem doesn't like self-reference, and honestly
resents being the work of a poet who does This poem would consider itself a complete failure if it
didn't have something in common with the Iliad, namely,
this poem doesn't end, it stops
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10/28 '19 5 Comments
Well. That was familar. :)
I had forgotten about it completely!

Apparently I made some edits in 1999? So this is the final draft :)
Actually I don't remember reading it -- for all I knew it was brand new. However, it is a headspace full of sentiment as familiar as a pair of old shoes.
But I was still waiting for a closing parenthesis!
 

Well now that I'm inviting others to OPW by the handful I guess I better buckle down and write more often than once every couple years...

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12/22 '18 4 Comments
*dryly*

That would be nice.
Speaking from a position of experience... don't rush it, man ;-)
Let me know how it goes for them, and if any little adjustments might help.