One of the most popular family TV shows for the past several years has been American Ninja Warrior. Kids especially love the thrill of watching athletes try to complete demanding obstacle courses. It’s also what inspired local entrepreneur Casey Miller, along with his brother Joel, to create a place where kids could feel like contestants from the TV show. And last summer, they successfully opened Kids Warrior Gym for children up to age 12, at two locations within Omaha: 168th & Blondo, and 180th & Q Streets.
Having been the owner of nearly a dozen child care centers, two pet grooming and boarding facilities, two fitness centers, and a catering business, Casey has years of experience as a small business owner. He said he wanted to provide an alternative to traditional sports for kids, and something that was gender neutral. “The TV show is so popular with kids, but there really isn’t an avenue to develop those skills at a young age,” he said. Creating a class-based model where kids learn week over week with an instructor, was the driving force behind Kids Warrior Gym.
Josh Hutchinson, who has degrees in early childhood education and physical education, first worked with Casey at one of his daycare centers. When Casey asked him to join him in the Kids Warrior Gym venture, he didn’t hesitate. “Fitness and kids have always been a passion of mine,” Josh said. “It gets kids out from behind their computers, off their iPads, phones, and video games.” As an instructor at the 180th & Q location, Josh developed his own class curriculum to help teach kids about health and fitness while also having fun.
A typical class begins with the kids stretching and talking about different muscle groups, an active game to get warmed up, followed by working on just one particular obstacle on one side of the gym. Josh shows the kids techniques for how to complete that obstacle better and faster, based on their age. He then has them do a simple exercise to strengthen the muscles used on that obstacle. The second half of the class they move to the other side of the gym and work on a different obstacle. For example, if the first obstacle was leg intensive, then the second obstacle uses the upper body. At the end of class, they often run through the entire obstacle course.
Each class builds on the previous lesson, and to incorporate overall fitness, kids are often given “homework” in between classes to keep them active, even if it’s something as simple as sit ups. Kids achieve a different colored headband every time they successfully complete an obstacle, and there are 12 different levels (one for each month of the year). “Our motto is to ‘commit, train, and succeed’ in our program, which is what we emphasize every class,” Josh added.
In addition to month-long classes, Kids Warrior Gym also offers birthday parties, open gym time, and field trips for day cares and organizations. During open gym time, parents stay at the facility with their kids, and are even encouraged to participate. For birthday parties, kids can enjoy one full side of the gym with a private party host for 45 minutes, followed by another 45 minutes on the public side of the gym, and an additional 30 minutes in the private party room. Because the Blondo Street location is a slightly smaller gym, birthday parties are completely private there.
One of the things that makes Kids Warrior Gym especially unique is that they manufacture every obstacle in their gyms such as the warp wall, quad steps, and spider wall. They also easily have the option to change out obstacles over time. “We scoured hundreds of obstacles in adult gyms but tailored them to kids,” Casey said. “We found a partner who was able to design and make everything, which cuts down on our costs tremendously.” In fact, earlier this year, Casey auditioned for Shark Tank in hopes to win funding to expand Kids Warrior Gym into other markets and eventually franchise the concept. “We’ve learned a lot in our first year, and we definitely fill a gap with this type of activity for kids,” he said. “Everyone wants to be a ninja warrior!”