CHS ninja champion competes one more year


Matt Lavoie competes at nationals in Las Vegas

As a kid, I started gymnastics as an outlet for excess energy. It grew into something that I looked forward to. Sadly, Flipz Gymnastics didn’t have a class for older males. Dale Grant one of the owners of Flipz, said that I could continue at another local gym or help pilot a new program that he was working on.

This project would come to be known as the USA Ninja Challenge

The idea was to have athletes race through obstacles as fast as they could. I started with two other guys who were in the same boat as me, Lyle and Jameson. I will refer to this group as the “pioneer ninjas.” We trained through the winter of 2012-13 to put on an exhibition course at Flipz’ annual June Gym Jam in the summer of 2013.

The three of us played rock-paper-scissors in plain sight of an anxious audience to see who went first. The order ended up being Lyle, Jameson, then myself. Our runs at this event must have intrigued many ,because the following year we had an actual competition with more than 40 athletes. 

In following years, more athletes and gyms participated and we had our first season of competition from January to June of 2015.

Around this time, I started watching a show called American Ninja Warrior which bears a lot of similarities to what was happening at Flipz. For those who may not know, the show features a qualifying course and a finals course at major cities around the United States, and athletes who make it past each city finals course get to go to Las Vegas and compete at what they call on the show “Mt Midoriyama.” 

The competition consists of four stages. A $1 million prize goes to the winner.

Strong competition has helped me grow as an athlete and as a person. I’ve had numerous wins but also hard losses. For example, one year I had a problem with the long jump, not because I wasn’t fast enough or because I wasn’t a good jumper, but because I got overconfident and started to write off obstacles as not deserving of the effort I should have put in.

That taught me to take things one step at a time. This lesson is just as applicable to school and life in general.

It also made me start doing a stop-breathe-go in competition. If I got to an obstacle I wasn’t positive I could do on my first try, I would stop, take a breath to slow myself down, and go.

I also learned how to cut my losses. At a competition down in South Windsor, Connecticut, I spent a lot of time on one obstacle: the floating boards. My rival, Buddy Gilbert, got partially through, made one attempt at the transition, then dropped and took the time penalty of 10 seconds. That strategic move helped him beat my time. 

After becoming the five-time regional champion, I went on a hiatus to focus on running in the fall of 2018. This coincided with aging out of the program at 14. I didn’t want to be doing two aggressive sports and risk injury.

During 2021, I heard that the age limit for Ninja competition was moved up to 17, and I was allowed to come back and compete. This marked what I thought was going to be my final year with this group as a competitor and I gave it my all. 

During my first five seasons, you got a time penalty if you fell. These time penalties varied from 5 seconds to 20 seconds, which can impact a run far more than it sounds.

In the 2021 season, we joined the Ultimate Ninja Athlete Association (UNAA), another group that ran ninja competitions. It changed to allow two falls; if you fall a third time, you’re done. Scores are also based on points now, where each obstacle completed is worth one or two points. Placement is now based first on points, then by time. 

I won regionals for a sixth time, and went on to the national competition in Las Vegas. The Las Vegas competition was huge, having athletes from all over the country. This took place at the Orleans arena where the UNAA had five different courses set up over two days for the varying age groups, as well as courses for the finals which took place over the following two days.

I would like to say that I went to finals and did very well, but I slipped up in the preliminaries and it messed with my thought process through the rest of the course. 

This year, I was excited to hear that because I turned 18 so far into the season, I am allowed to compete for a seventh and final season. I currently train for 90 minutes twice a week, and I’m always trying to improve every skill I can.

I’m mostly working on laches (two handed flying grab) to eliminate the possibility of making a mistake anything like what I messed up with at nationals.

After this season, I will be looking to train at other local gyms and hopefully make it onto American Ninja Warrior.

The future of the sport itself is also looking bright, with the whispers of being an exhibition sport at the 2028 Olympics. No matter what the future holds, I will always strive to be the best I can be in this unique sport.