Two siblings in Powell are making their run on the ever-popular “American Ninja Warrior” scene. Sydney and Dylan Yee, both students at Hyatts Middle School, were selected to compete in NBC’s nationally-aired “American Ninja Warrior Junior” competition this summer as part of the show’s third season.
Dylan Yee appeared in the second episode of the season, which aired on Sept. 9, while Sydney Yee’s run will be included in episode seven airing on Thursday, Oct. 14. The show is aired on NBC’s Peacock streaming service.
For both Sydney and Dylan, making the show was the realization of a dream that took shape early in each of their lives. Both began watching “American Ninja Warrior” at a young age, and their mother recalls both children replicating what they were seeing on the television on anything they could find around the house.
“They started climbing around the house on doorways and banisters. Everywhere that you could climb, they were climbing it,” Christina Yee said.
Christina Yee began searching the area for ninja gyms that would provide her children with a proper platform to facilitate their growing interest in the sport. During the search, she came across Movement Lab Ohio, a gym owned by eight-time American Ninja Warrior competitor Michelle Warnky. “We started there, and the rest is kind of history. We’ve been there ever since,” Christina Yee said.
As their talents grew, and after hearing of the application process opening for the junior show beginning in March, Sydney and Dylan approached their mother about sending in applications. With approximately two months until the deadline, the Yees went to work on stating their case.
The application process included a series of videos Sydney and Dylan had to make that featured both their hometown and their ninja talents. Sydney Yee called the process “long and tedious,” and given that her mother was completing two applications simultaneously, the ordeal was even more lengthy, she said.
“It was a long process. Even after we submitted the applications, they reached out to us and asked for more footage … But we are just grateful to be selected,” Christina Yee said.
With the total number of contestants having decreased each season since it first aired in 2018, Sydney and Dylan had an even steeper climb to make the show this season than in seasons past. Despite the odds, Dylan said he felt they had a strong chance of making the cut due to the level of their ninja skills.
Both Sydney and Dylan were notified around the beginning of June that they had been selected to compete in the upcoming season, two of just four from the state of Ohio to make the show.
“I was so excited. It’s been my dream to be on either ‘American Ninja Warrior’ or ‘American Ninja Warrior Junior’,” Dylan said of finding out he’d made it.
Sydney added that she was “very, very happy,” a response her mother called an understatement.
While the family celebrated the announcement, Sydney and Dylan were unable to clue their friends in on what they had accomplished due to confidentiality agreements with the showrunners. Both said it was difficult to not spill the news to anyone prior to being given the green light. Fortunately for the Yees, that green light coincided with the first day of school, and they were able to wear their “American Ninja Warrior Junior” shirts given only to contestants on the show.
Filming for the show was held in Los Angeles, just the second time the Yee children had ever been to the city. Asked if there were nerves involved during the filming of the competition, Sydney said the realization of how hard it was just to get to that point offered some perspective that was calming prior to the run.
“It’s a little nervewracking when you’re looking down into the water (on the course). But once your adrenaline kicks, you realize that you’ve made it this far, you’re on the show, and this is a big deal. So even if you don’t do the best, it’s still amazing,” Sydney said.
Asked if they intend to continue their ninja training in the years ahead, Sydney and Dylan both said they plan to move forward with sharpening and improving their skills. Their plans are to continue qualifying for the junior show before, hopefully, taking their cracks at the adult show when eligible.
From a mother’s perspective, Christina Yee hopes to see her children stay with the sport because of the many lessons she feels can also be applied to life itself.
“I think ninja (training) has a lot of life lessons to it because you don’t know what’s coming,” Christina Yee said. “You don’t know what the obstacle is until you see it, and then you just need to use your knowledge and what you’ve learned to analyze the course and do it. Sometimes you do really well and sometimes you fail, but you get back up.”
Dylan said one of his lasting thoughts on the show experience has been understanding just how hard it is to make it on the show, making it critical to savor the moment while he’s in it, a sentiment that Sydney echoed.
“We had an amazing experience. They were so nice to us, on and off the set, as well as through the communication with the producers,” Christina Yee said. “I feel like we made some lifelong friends with the producers. We also met so many amazing ninjas and their families from across the country. It’s just an awesome, awesome experience.”
With many years of ninja training and competition still ahead of them, the question of who the best ninja in the family might be is still being answered. Asked who has the edge between the siblings, Sydney and Dylan chose to take the diplomatic approach, saying only that the gap is narrowing.
“We have very different skillsets, but he’s catching up to me. I think I’m still better, but he’s catching up,” the elder Sydney said following a shared laugh with her brother.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.