Sep 17, 2023 - Things to Do

Pinellas County gym gives locals a chance to chase their ninja dreams

Jason Bergstrom moves through an obstacle as his son Caleb watches

Jason Bergstrom moves through an obstacle at Jungle Gym as son Caleb watches. Photo: Selene San Felice/Axios

"American Ninja Warrior" just wrapped up its 15th season, but some of the show's most successful ninjas are battling obstacles year round in Tampa Bay — and you can, too.

Driving the news: Two local contestants found themselves competing in last week's season finale, with 18-year-old Vance Walker from Pinellas Park taking home the $1 million prize.

  • Seminole resident Caleb Bergstrom, 24, was stoked to represent the family in the finale after competing alongside his sister, Caitlyn Bergstrom-Wright, and their spouses, Ashley and David, respectively.

State of play: At Jungle Gym in Pinellas Park, run by Caleb and Caitlyn's parents, Jason and Kathy Bergstrom, everyone is part of the family.

  • "(The show) helped to highlight for us that the future of what we do isn't the success ... It's actually the family we create while we're going through it," Caleb told Axios.

Flashback: After watching "American Ninja Warrior," the family started building obstacles in the backyard of their Seminole home in 2016. Soon they started hosting ninja breakfasts there, which became so popular that neighbors complained about all the cars parked on the street.

  • In 2018, after spending nearly a year renovating a former catering space, they opened Jungle Gym.

How it works: The family built almost every piece of the gym themselves. Obstacles are made of interlocking wooden pieces — sort of like Legos — so they can be changed continually.

  • The sport is essentially a cross between rock climbing and gymnastics; athletes are focused more on problem-solving than on building muscle.
  • The gym also has a room with traditional weights and equipment.
  • "Ninja pulls out that childlike element of fitness through fun," Jason said. "You're not thinking about, 'Boy, I'm gonna grind and get the reps in.' A lot of it is, 'I'm having fun with my friends,' and then you're getting stronger in the process."

What they're saying: "Perseverance is one of the biggest things you'll learn whenever you come into ninja," Caleb said. "Not just the perseverance of failing, but also the perseverance of succeeding and understanding that you are capable of more than you ever thought you were."

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