‘I like flying through the air’: Sault teen shines at Ultimate Ninja Athlete Association’s World Series Championships

If you combine gymnastics, rock climbing, trapeze work, and physical problem-solving on a next level jungle gym with over one thousand competitors, you have the Ultimate Ninja Athlete Association’s World Series Championships held in Las Vegas last weekend.

Sault Ste. Marie teen Sylas Snider looked like a seasoned ninja as he swung like a monkey, soared through the air, balanced skillfully, and climbed to new heights to take home second place in the amateur male category.

“I love how demanding the sport is,” Snider told The Sault Star. “It takes a lot of strength and balance, and I like flying through the air. There’s also so much variety in the sport, that everyone can be good at something, like balance, or grip strength moves. I like that you can dig into different specialties in ultimate ninja.”

Pre-COVID, to qualify for the Worlds, competitors had to place at a qualifier event, and then a regional event. Snider qualified in 2019, but then COVID hit. Qualifying in Canada in 2020 required a series of virtual challenges. With little else to do during the lockdowns, Snider trained even harder and qualified again through the virtual events in 2020/21. He credits his coach at Rebel Gym, Tyler Belanger, for helping him get ready, by sending him workouts to do at home.

According to the website, more than 5,000 competitors tried to qualify, but just over 1,000 competed in the UNAA July 29-31 event at Orleans Arena.

Snider faced the preliminaries for the amateur male category with 99 other competitors who were over 16 and not pros yet, to qualify for the finals. Judged based on the number of points a competitor (ninja) obtains on the course, timing is still a factor, as athletes have to complete the course in a certain amount of time, and point ties are broken by completion times. Snider dropped a point on a lache (when you swing your body and release off an object to catch and hold onto another object), and lost another point when he fell off a door obstacle in the preliminary round. In total, he scored 19 out of 21 points, completing the course in 4:54.77, ranking him in fifth place for the finals.

“Those doors are really tough because they are hanging vertically and to move from one to the other you have to pinch with your fingers and feet,” said Snider. “It’s cool that they moved it to the end of the course, because it was physically demanding, and that made me think about how I would conserve my energy for that skill.”

In the final round, Snider sped up his time to 4:19.04 gaining time on his signature balance challenges, including a new balance bar and skinny teeter totter component. Again, he dropped a point in the door obstacle. His total score for the finals was 20 points. Three other competitors scored 20 points, but Snider’s speed gave him the silver, beating the third place competitor by 15 seconds. Had the doors obstacle not shut him out, Snider would have tied for points and won based on his faster course completion time. Instead, Henry Katrek, of the United States won first place in the amateur male category, with 21 points and a time of 4:43.45.

Snider loves the challenge of the sport, citing that each course has different obstacles and that ninjas don’t get to practice on the course before they run it. Athletes are given an initial walkthrough, to know where points are awarded, but then it’s up to the athletes to figure out how to run the course: “I like the problem-solving part – you can do a course a whole bunch of different ways, but you need to think: How can I do this the most efficient way, the best way for my time, and to not tire myself out?”

Snider won $350 US in prize money, along with a medal, gear worth over $300, and the title of second place at the UNAA World Series Championships. Katrek’s first place won him $800 US.

Before the event, Snider, 17, was training five days a week, and coaching four days a week. His father, Clint Snider, also dabbled in the sport and has filled their family garage with obstacles, grips, pull up bars, and slacklines for his son to train on. They often watch videos and then build new obstacles together.

Snider will now train even harder to compete in the Pro category next season. “They’re really good, so I’ll need to train to be as good as them, hopefully. I really look forward to getting in the gym and training with the other guys.”

When asked how he got into the sport, Snider said: “I used to do martial arts and gymnastics, but I was getting a lot of injuries. When my strength and conditioning coach, Tyler Belanger opened a ninja gym and I moved over there and started training and coaching. Ninja is like gymnastics, but interesting because you can get different people’s takes the best way to attack an obstacle, more like rock climbing.”

Since leaving the gymnastics club, Snider and other ninjas from Rebel Gym (formerly 17 Barbells) have been competing and ranking at qualifier and regional competitions. Three others locally had qualified for Worlds, but were not able to attend. Snider’s dual citizenship allowed him to cross the border more easily.

Snider also competed at the Worlds in the 15 under category pre-COVID in 2019, but he finished middle of the pack, not making it to the finals.

His parents booked flights in May to Vegas, but they wouldn’t commit to the event until their family all had both of their COVID vaccinations. Then, Snider competed in Kettering, Ohio in July, taking first place in the amateur male category.

“I was training a lot, but without a lot of feedback,” said Snider. “Tyler would send me workouts, and I’d do them, but I had no clue where I was in my training. Ohio helped me to see that I’d progressed, and helped me to get the nerves out in advance of the World Championship.”

His mother, Mendy, and sister, Abby, attended the event in Las Vegas, cheering him on and supporting him on the floor. They also made sure that he had the right food to fuel him, since he has celiac disease.

“I love watching my kids do anything they are passionate about and Sylas is very passionate about this,” Mendy Snider said. “He’s always been a climber, and a bit of a monkey, so being a ninja came naturally to him. COVID and lockdown was hard on everyone, and we were grateful that Sylas had a goal, and the motivation to do something constructive and useful. I wanted him to be able to compete in Las Vegas because he’s worked so hard. We never really focused on the finishes, but suddenly he was in first place, almost to the end. I didn’t realize he had gotten to that level in his training. Now he’s going pro. It’s shocking and amazing. We’re all very proud.”

Snider’s qualifying and second place runs at the Ultimate Ninja Athlete Association’s World Series Championships can be seen online at

“I love that this sport has such a strong community,” said Snider, who’s going into Grade 12 at Superior Heights High School this fall. “Everyone is very supportive, and it’s not uncommon for other competitors to tell you about a tricky part of the course. Everyone wants to get better and people want others to get better too. That’s why I love competing in the sport and coaching it.”

Snider encourages anyone interested in the sport to visit Rebel Gym and try out a class.

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