By Richard Pratt
If you’ve ever watched the sports competition TV show “American Ninja Warrior,” you’ve likely had one of two reactions.
One, you’ve marveled at the physical prowess of the competitors as they make their way over and through the grueling obstacle courses, concluding that such endeavors are beyond your abilities. Or two, you’ve been inspired by their exploits and want to check it out for yourself, test your limits – and perhaps even attempt to qualify for a spot on the show.
Stephanie Phillips says she and her husband, Eric, believe their newest endeavor, the Victory Sports Center ninja warrior course in Marion, will appeal to both groups.
“We’ve tried to create a facility where everybody would feel comfortable,” said Ms. Phillips. “There are other facilities that have little ninja courses, but adults don’t really feel welcome there because it feels more geared towards children. We wanted it to feel like adults will want to be there too, and we even have a little ninja room that’s for ages six and under. So no matter where you fall on that spectrum of feeling like you’re an athlete or just wishing you were an athlete, you can find something to do at our place.”
After some construction and pandemic-related delays, the 19,000-square-foot, $3.3 million Victory Sports Center is now set to officially open May 1 adjacent to the couple’s existing Victory Gymnastics Training Center. The facility, a new concept for the Corridor, will feature many of the obstacles and equipment ninja course enthusiasts have come to expect – and a couple of unique features.
One, the “Big Dipper,” will be the first of its kind in the nation installed in a private gym outside the “American Ninja Warrior” competition sites, Ms. Phillips said. Another is a 60-foot-wide, free climb bouldering wall, similar to a vertical climbing wall but built in three dimensions with 25 different climbing paths. The closest similar wall is in Des Moines, she said.
The overall ninja warrior hard grid was installed by a Georgia company to closely resemble the structures on the television show, Ms. Phillips said. Obstacles mounted to the grid can be changed periodically to provide new challenges for competitive athletes and hobbyists alike. And the course will include warp walls, a spider wall, and many more features familiar to ninja fans.
The facility will be open Monday through Wednesday for formal ninja warrior classes, with openings for the general public Thursday through Sunday. Word-of-mouth demand has already been incredibly strong, Ms. Phillips noted – almost overwhelmingly so.
“I’ve told my gymnastics families I will let them know first when the web page is live to sign up for classes,” she said. “I don’t even know if people in the general area will get signed up for classes, because my phone rings off the hook. It’s just mushrooming out, probably because there’s nothing like this around here for families. We really geared it so parents wanted to use it as well as their kids.”
The Victory Sports Center has been in the works for about three years, Ms. Phillips said. She and her husband are friends with two Des Moines residents and ninja course veterans, one of whom competed in the show’s Las Vegas finals in 2019, and both have been advising them. Now the couple’s three sons, all gymnasts, are exploring ninja training and may eventually decide to compete themselves, she said.
“They’re going to transition over and start training for that,” she said. “That’s our real motivation for our family. We’re always together doing fun fitness-type things, so we wanted to expand our brand to something that families could do together.”
And don’t expect a serene environment, Ms. Phillips said. “We have a huge stereo system,” she noted. “The place will be thumping on the weekend. My husband is an electrician by trade, so we have a grid outside the building that looks like the grid on the courses, and he put all kinds of neon flashing lights in it, so on Friday and Saturday nights, even the parking lot will be flashing and thumping.”
The investment in Victory Sports Center is significant, but Ms. Phillips said she’s convinced it will be successful, nothing that she’s already getting training inquiries from people around Iowa and surrounding states.
“We don’t really do anything small,” she said. “When my husband and I decide we’re going to do something, we want to go big or go home. We have a beautiful new monument sign that just says, ‘Victory Sports Complex,’ because we’ll have multiple businesses there now with the Victory brand. And the sign has a blank spot for the next whatever we start. We’re just finishing this and we’re already thinking ‘What’s the next thing going to be?’ Actually, we already have that in mind.” CBJ