By Katie Moritz
“It’s just really cool,” Cabot Hepburn, 14, of Montpelier, explains as he talks about his Ninja Obstacle training. Hepburn, who will be a freshman this fall, is well-spoken and appears older than his age. In July, he will attend the Ultimate Ninja Athletic Association Finals in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
When asked what he finds most challenging about his Ninja training, Cabot Hepburn explains that “The routines and challenges are always changing… So, whenever something new comes out, I work to be able to do it. If you put in the work, you’re able to do it.”
Ninja is a specific sport and its training style is one that utilizes Ninja obstacles frequently seen in a television show by a similar name. This means a lot of jumping, climbing, and body-maneuvering for its athletes. Hepburn started Ninja training less than a year ago, in October 2017. The only sport he had done prior was baseball. He realized, though, that he wanted to try something a little bit different.
Hepburn first encountered Ninja at his previous gym, Green Mountain Training Center in Williston, Vermont. There he tried out some Ninja and Parkour and trampoline style workouts. He liked Ninja the best. Now he trains at the Regal Gymnastic Academy in Essex, Vermont. This particular gym is specialized in that it is designed to prepare participants to handle the sort of challenges
seen on television. According to Hepburn, the way the space is laid out is that “it is basically a room full of obstacles.” Courses are set up and athletes run through them. There are also drills, meaning certain obstacles to be completed over a certain amount of time. As Hepburn prepares for Nationals, his training varies between two and five hours a session. Which sounds intense. “We’re not going hard the whole time,” he reassures me. “It’s a lot. We take a lot of breaks.”
Hepburn has always liked doing high physical stuff. He likes Ninja in particular because he doesn’t have to go to the gym with a singular purpose. Instead, his workouts vary, keeping it fresh and exciting. “It’s a great way to exercise and it’s so much fun,” he says. “No matter what you do, it’s fun.” Plus, he mentions multiple times throughout the conversation, “The people are great!”
When Hepburn first started Ninja training, he didn’t expect to find much of a community around the sport. However, it didn’t take long to find out about the leagues and competitions. Once he learned more about them, he realized just how fun the sport could be.
“It’s tons of fun. Because it’s such a small sport, you see famous people at the competition, which was a huge surprise.”
The route to Nationals starts with a Qualifier Competition at the local gym. If one scores high enough, as Hepburn did, one would then move on to the Regional Competition. If one continues to score high enough there, he/she then moves on to Nationals. Which is a big deal. Hepburn will now be competing with contestants from around the world. Plus, he’s at the bottom of his age group, meaning he will be up against seventeen-year-olds. Although somewhat intimidating, he says he feels good about the challenge and that he has been training specifically with that in mind.
Hepburn has found his “thing” with Ninja and he strongly encourages others to check it out as well. “If you’re a beginner,” Hepburn explains, you learn about “just being able to control your body. Being able to hang… knowing your body, knowing yourself, making yourself aware… It’s a lot of technique, you don’t even have to be that strong.”
Hepburn is noticeably excited as he sits forward in the chair and explains that “No matter who you are, really, anyone can do it. I know people who are in their fifties who do it and I know little kids who do it. I just think people should try it. Strength comes out of it.”