Gymnast, 9, to appear on 'American Ninja Warrior Junior' on Sunday

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Wyandotte — Jackson Cook can execute a “flagpole” position by holding onto bars with legs horizontal to the floor.

Think Superman flying with outstretched arms. But the kid isn’t flying. He’s just exhibiting  9 years of intense gymnastic training.

And he’s 9, so he’s been training since he was an infant. Not unusual, because his mom owns the gym.

Jackson Cook, 9, who prefers Jack, of Wyandotte,  is a contestant on American Ninja Warrior Junior. His qualifying episode will air Sunday.

So it was a natural for NBC Universal Cable Entertainment’s Universal Kids television show, "American Ninja Warrior Junior," to select him as a competitor. His qualifying episode, filmed in Los Angeles, airs Sunday.

Jackson, who prefers Jack, is looking forward to seeing himself on TV.

“I think it’s real cool,” said Jack of Wyandotte, who is home-schooled and in the fourth grade, in a recent phone interview. “It’s like the adult version and I like that it contains a lot of grip strength.

"In the junior version, it’s really cool to see some of the adult Ninjas on the obstacle courses mentoring the kids.”

But the adult version, said mom Kelli Cook, owner of  Downriver Gymnastics in Southgate, differs a bit from the junior version.

“The course is a little smaller and closer together,” she said. “There’s water underneath the obstacles, like in the adult version, and if you fall off the obstacles, you end up in that water.”

Cook, a former gymnast, said the application process to appear on the show was grueling.

“We watch the adult show every week, and a friend of mine heard the show was going to do a kid’s version,” she said. “It definitely sounded like something Jack would like to do.”

She explained the process: “We sent in an online application, which was about 10 pages, and included several videos. “It was two days from the submission deadline and took 10 hours to complete and I almost didn’t follow through because it was a lot of work.”

Good thing she persevered.

“It was due by noon on a Friday in May, and I got a call from casting four hours later,” she said. “They told me, ‘He looks like exactly what we’re looking for.’ But then they requested even more information.”

Deirdre Brennan, general manager at Universal Kids, said in a statement that “they see kids as they see themselves and want to share their stories.”

“American Ninja Warrior Junior celebrates a kid-centric movement that everyone can be a part of and enjoy together. It will encourage and inspire all kids to push their limits and not shy away from challenges.”

Nearly 200 male and female Junior Ninjas from across the United States will face off on the same Head to Head courses in three age brackets from 9-14.

The courses will feature Ninja Warrior obstacles, including Sonic Swing, Tic Toc, Spin Cycle and the Warped Wall. Each age bracket will be mentored by All Star Mentors — Kevin Bull, Drew Drechsel, Natalie Duran, Meagan Martin, Najee Richardson and Barclay Stockett. Three final winners, one per age bracket, will be crowned the first American Ninja Warrior Junior champions.

Training for the show includes what Jack has been doing for years.

He practices gymnastics — including parallel bars, high bar, vault and pommel horse — for three hours a day, five days a week, and two hours of parkour four days a week. Parkour is a training discipline using movement developed from military obstacles course training. It includes running, climbing, swinging, vaulting, jumping, rolling crawling and other movements.

But the show, said mom, wants kids who are well-rounded with other interests.

Enter Jack’s critters.

“I have a tarantula named Chewy, a gecko, Lemi; a snake, Lucifer; and a dog,Rocky,” he said. “My snake eats frozen mice and sleeps in my sister’s room.”

Why does the snake sleep in his 17-year-old sister Logan’s room?

“Because she likes snakes,” he said.

When his mom was asked what she has in mind for her child, she said, "I just want him to do what he loves."