Plymouth-area ninja takes on 'American Ninja Warrior' tonight


Most kids dream about growing up to one day be something bad-ass like a superhero or a ninja, but very few actually achieve it.

This past spring, Sara Heesen made that dream a reality as part of this season of American Ninja Warrior.

The Plymouth resident works at Conquer Ninja Warrior in Eden Prairie, where kids and adults can try their hand at an insanely physical obstacle course like the ones on television. Last year, however, Heesen decided to take things one step further by auditioning for the show. While she wasn’t selected to run the course on TV, she was invited by producers to be a test-runner and try out the different courses before shooting.

“I figured that I’m in my 30s, I don’t have any kids, when else am I ever going to get another shot to travel around and do something like this?” Heesen recalls.

As a long-time rock climber and gymnast, she was a natural fit for the job, and began climbing, jumping, and sliding across obstacles around the country. It was the perfect gig for an athlete like her, but something unexpected was lurking around the corner.

A few cities into her ninja tour, Heesen began to feel increasingly exhausted. It got to the point where she was unable to do much of anything for up to a week after a hard workout. After nearly nine months of uncertainty, she decided to see a doctor, who diagnosed her with Lyme Disease. This forced her to put to put her training on hold, and watch from the sidelines.

“It was tough watching all of my friends do competitions and get stronger knowing that I couldn’t do it with them,” she says.

(Fernando Leon/NBC | 2017 NBCUniversal Media, LLC)

Still, that didn’t stop her from auditioning for the show once again this winter. This time, however, she made the cut.

“I was better, but I really hadn’t been training as much as I would have like to,” she recalls. “I had to squeeze nine months of training into five or six weeks.”

Heesen pushed through, and made it into the top five of the qualifying round in Kansas City. The episode where she did it aired last month.

“I just didn’t want to fall on that first obstacle,” she laughs.

Her next run on the ninja course will be tonight, August 21, on NBC. While she can’t divulge any details regarding her performance in this round (the episode was pre-taped several months ago), she says that her obstacle course career is just heating up.

“I want to keep competing and try out for the show again next season,” she says. “But the thing I like most about having this experience is that little girls recognize me when they come into the (Conquer Ninja Warrior) gym. Pushing little girls to try something new is really my jam. Anything I can do to help them find that confidence.”