Bringing ninjas to Hazelwood

Bringing ninjas to Hazelwood
New obstacle course in Howdershell Park attracts those in search of a challenge, including a local ‘American Ninja Warrior’ contestant

By Charlotte Beard

Reality television has made a great impact on the culture and various lives in society from launching the careers of entertainers to expanding the popularity of those involved in the culinary arts. With the increase of various cooking shows, it is fitting that shows that focus on physical feats and healthy living would have its place.

The “American Ninja Warrior” show was one of the main inspirations behind the creation of the Hazelwood Ninja Obstacle course in Howdershell Park, located at 6701 Howdershell Road in Hazelwood. The course officially opened Sept. 9, 2017 during Hazelwood’s Harvestfest.

Doug Littlefield, Superintendent for Hazelwood’s Parks and Recreation Division, came up with the idea for the course around the time Hazelwood was applying for one of the municipal parks grants. He had been observing the growth in popularity for cross training and obstacle courses.

“And I loved that ‘American Ninja Warrior’ show,” Littlefield shared.

He presented his idea to a playground company, Landscape Structures out of Minnesota. Littlefield shared that in approximately two months the company followed up with presentation of some preliminary drawings. Hazelwood picked out 11 different obstacles that was of interest. Landscape Structures handled the logistics for approval of the designs for safety.

“I submitted the grant request [to Municipal Parks] and we were fortunate enough to be awarded the grant,” stated Littlefield.

The “American Ninja Warrior” television show has not only influenced the creation of Hazelwood’s obstacle course, but it has also influenced one of Hazelwood’s long-time residents. Missourians may have the opportunity to see 37-year-old John Wilmas on the Indianapolis show when it airs on NBC Monday, June 18, at 7 p.m. for a two-hour episode. For Wilmas’ entry into the competition he included footage of him doing some of Hazelwood’s obstacles. 

Wilmas, who works for an architectural firm downtown, has been trying out for the show for the past four years. He received call-backs for the last two videos he submitted for Season 9 (2017) and Season 10 (2018) and an invitation to participate in a city qualifying round. Last year he placed 37th out of 110 contestants. Viewers will have to wait until June 18 to determine if Wilmas made the show for Season 10.

Wilmas is a fan of Hazelwood’s obstacle course.

“What a great idea!  I’m proud it’s here in my hometown so I can use it,” he said.

Additionally, he believes it is a great way to promote fitness and it can provide some deterrence to cell phone usage for teens and young adults. Also, he shared that his six-year-old son, Kaiden, likes to join him at Howdershell Park to attempt doing some of the obstacles. Though some of the obstacles are too challenging for his age he enjoys spending time on the playground. Wilmas shared that he envisions both he and his son climbing the obstacles together in another four or five years.

Wilmas said that for over four years he has also been working out at KOR Komplex, a facility in St. Charles that offers obstacles, fitness and parkour training. He stated that most of their obstacles are hand-built for strength. Due to his long affiliation with the facility he became instrumental in uniting Littlefield and KOR Komplex for Littlefield’s desire to have a local competition. 

“We have teamed-up and working on having a full competition sometime this fall,” states Littlefield. The day of Harvestfest, Sept. 8, is a tentative date for the competition. There will be a combination of Hazelwood’s Ninja Obstacle course and a ground course of approximately 13 additional obstacles. Participants can expect various challenges not limited to warped walls and atlas stones.

“John is involved with me on the competition as well,” shared Littlefield. “He’s been not only an ambassador for me but a great resident for us [in helping] promote this and help guide me as we move ahead. We are big fans of John Wilmas around here.”

“This will be, to my knowledge, the first ever speed race—Ninja Warrior/Hybrid Obstacle course race,” Wilmas said of local races.

Wilmas is working with the team on planning the type of obstacles to be included and other logistics such as timing for challenges and the age group divisions.

“I’ve done a lot of races for timing. That’s one of the biggest issues with a race. A lot of races will fail after a few years because people won’t come back just because of the timing issue. KOR Komplex is going to help build the obstacles.” 

Wilmas’ passion for physical challenges and fitness is not limited to competitions. During his lunch hour he works out on the Gateway Arch’s Grand Staircase. He created a 30-minute routine in which he invites co-workers to join him in the activity. Wilmas said that he believes his sharing of this story in the last video to the “American Ninja Warrrior” show made a difference. 

“It’s a way for me to help them get out of the office,” stated Wilmas. “Get a quick workout out in—get your blood pumping. And then back to work.”

Wilmas invites others who are in the downtown area at noon to join him and others for the 30-minute session. Unless the weather is bad, he has a group out at the staircase once a week. He can be reached on Facebook to confirm the weekday the group will be active for the week. Look for ‘StairNinja Fitness.’

As for those who are in and near Hazelwood, Littlefield reports that since the course went live last year its usage has been consistent except of course during the cold months.

“It’s out there and open to anybody all the time. Nobody reserves it or shuts it down. We encourage people to get out (there) and give it a shot,” he said.

CUTLINE: Photos courtesy city of Hazelwood

Cover-ninja1 John Wilmas likes the Wheel Bridge on Hazelwood’s ninja obstacle course at Howdershell Park because it helps him develop the ability to use body swings to go from one part of the obstacle to the other. Wilmas says “American Ninja Warrior contestants must be able to swing with their body weight or hold their body weight while suspended in air.    

Cover-ninja2 John Wilmas tackles going through the Angled Cargo Net obstacle at Hazelwood’s Howdershell Park and uses his strong hand grip and the strength of his legs to power his way through to the end.  Wilmas says in doing “American Ninja Warrior-type” obstacles, athletes need relative strength which can be achieved by doing a lot of pull-ups, dead hangs and other calisthenics.