By Todd Travis
Being one for uniqueness
Following in her dad’s footsteps, Jess Wombles was hooked on flying propeller planes from the moment she sat in the pilot’s seat. “I was a little scared at first, but then it became my favorite thing. The first time my dad let me put my hands on the controls I just felt very close to flying,” Wombles recalled.
Wombles tried a lot of sports from a young age, looking for a new sport to try every few years.
“Flying was a big thing that just helped me realize I’m one for uniqueness,” she said. “That’s where me knowing that my sport is ninja came in. It’s something you don’t see every day.”
Introduction to ‘American Ninja Warrior’
About six years ago, one of Wombles’ neighbors introduced her to the show “American Ninja Warrior.” At that time, Wombles was doing gymnastics and cheer, and her friends suggested she make it a goal to get on the show. “They were like, ‘this would be the perfect show for you’. So of course I was like ‘I definitely would want to be on the show. It’s so cool!’, never imagining in a million years that I would actually be on the show,” she said. Wombles began watching the show regularly with her friends and cheering on her favorite competitors every time the show aired. A little while later, she actually built a mini training course under the deck at her house. After watching an episode, she would immediately go out to the deck and start playing on the obstacles, pretending she was on the show.
Getting serious about training
After a couple years of dreaming and imagining herself on the show, Wombles decided it was time to look for some serious training if she wanted her dream to become a reality. She was only in seventh grade at this point and didn’t realize at the time you needed to be 21 to compete on the show. Still, she did some research and found Train Yard 317, a ninja training gym. “I remember the first class I went to – I was in heaven seeing all the obstacle courses and the famous warped wall. I also saw people that were on the show and my jaw just dropped,” she described. It was also a little bit of a reality check for her as she realized the obstacles were much more difficult than they looked when she was watching the show. “I was thinking I could show everyone what I was made of. But I quickly realized I could not do ANYTHING in there. I jumped to grab a rope and ended up falling flat on my face and I couldn’t even get up halfway up the warped wall,” she remembered.
Pushing through adversity
Wombles didn’t let this challenge discourage her. She realized it was going to take a lot of work to make the show, but she also realized that she had found a sport that she loved and wanted to excel. “I worked harder than I ever thought I could, and I got to the point where the things I thought were hard before started to feel easy,” she said. She made a believer out of everyone, including her coach George O’Dell, who knew she would have to push her limits to achieve her goals. “Jess has what it takes to lead people and inspire people and to achieve greatness in whatever she wants,” O’Dell mentioned. At this point, “American Ninja Warrior” had added a junior class, and Wombles was selected to compete on their third season. Competing on the show only fueled her fire and made her want to work harder and get better.
Living the dream
After competing on the junior show, Wombles got right back into the gym and increased the intensity of her training. She also took the opportunity to train younger ninjas who want to get into the sport. Her determination has now earned her a spot on the adult version of “American Ninja Warrior” which will be aired on June 27 on NBC. She is the first 15-year-old from Indiana to compete on the adult version of “American Ninja Warrior” and one of only five total 15-year-olds competing on season 14.