A local athlete has one victory in hand and prepping for the Canadian Nationals this fall.
by Stephen Dafoe
Twelve-year-old Maëlle DePape, a George H Primeau student, just returned from Las Vegas, where she took fourth place in the 11U category at Ultimate Ninja Athlete Association (UNAA) Worlds Ninja. The event drew 1100 competitors from 14 countries.
Mother Melissa DePape explained that Ninja started in Japan in 1997 and has grown considerably worldwide over the past 25 years.
“Ninja is an individual sport with a strong team mentality,” DePape said, adding the sport involves running a course of obstacles consisting primarily of upper body strength and balance. “During a competition, the course has about 10 to15 different obstacles. It is a timed event, with each obstacle worth one to two points depending on how difficult it is. Points count first and then time. So if two or more people end up with the same amount of points, whoever was the quickest time wins.”
Maëlle DePape has been in the sport since 2019, having tried several sports over the years that just didn’t fit. After seeing an advertisement to try out at the new ninja gym in Edmonton and giving it a try that day.
However, her mother says she has always been a climber and a little Ninja since she could walk. “She has never looked back,” her mother said.
Three years after starting in the sport, Maëlle competed in some local competitions to earn her spot in Las Vegas this past weekend. In addition to the recent competition, Maëlle is working towards Langley, British Columbia, in October with the Canadian League to compete in the Canadian finals.
Maëlle says she loves the sport because it is a fun, fast environment and because she loves the challenge of trying new obstacles and the feeling of succeeding or landing it.
Through Ninja, she has met some great friends and enjoys the team mentality while still depending on herself to make that next obstacle along the course.
“She has always been a climber, and now she knows what her body can do and how to do them safely,” mom Melissa DePape said.
The family appreciates the coaches, who are both supportive and demanding in their expectations. They are proud of the accomplishment this past weekend.
“As a mom watching her live was so inspiring. She gets out there and zones out. She knows what she needs to do and how she will do it,” DePape said. “I was so proud and excited for her. She landed her first salmon ladder obstacle with grace. I almost jumped over the stands. It was intense. She had many of her teammates cheering her on from the stands and many family and friends cheering her on from home.”
The weekend competition was in two parts. Competitors ran their first course, and if they made the top 15 in their category, they moved on to the finals on Saturday.
Maëlle raced her first course on Thursday, placing sixth out of roughly 100 competitors her age. For the finale, competitors ran in reverse order, meaning Maëlle ran sixth from last. Of those left to compete in the final round, she placed fourth in her category in the event,
The young world champion encourages other young athletes to find something they love and to try their best.
“Everyone falls and slips up. It happens to the very best athletes,” she said. “Goal is to get up and learn something from your run or game and to keep moving and improving.”
With one competition victory in hand and another competition coming up this fall, Maëlle said she is focused on earning her stage two to get to the Canadian nationals in B.C.
“So I have a few local competitions to do this summer and in the fall. Once I earn that, I’ll be in Langley, B.C., competing to be one of the best in Canada,” she said. “I will be in a different age category competing against some really great athletes. So I am super excited and very nervous.”