Cool Jobs: Meet the man behind Waterloo's 'Ninja Warrior' program

John Manon wears many hats, including husband, father, and employee. But dive a little deeper, and you'll learn about his unusual after-hours hobby and passion. 

Manon is the program director for Classic City Center’s “Ninja Warrior” program. The Classic City Center is a 48,000-square-foot sports, community, events, and entertainment facility in Waterloo, just north of Auburn. The center is a destination for recreational activities ranging from soccer to dance. 

Its Ninja Warrior program, however, isn’t as traditional. NBC's popular show “American Ninja Warrior” features competitors racing to achieve the best time on a multi-stage obstacle course. To help potential competitors prepare, Classic City Center's Ninja Warrior program boasts 35 obstacles on which they can train and test their skills.

Manon's role at the Center is both hands-on and behind the scenes. Equal parts an artist and a scientist, he's in charge of building replica obstacles from the show. He also serves as a coach, event coordinator, and the one who ensures the overall integrity of the Warrior experience. 

Obstacles are designed to challenge Warriors with a full-body workout involving running, jumping, swinging and climbing.
How he came into this role is a story in and of itself. About 5 years ago, Manon approached the Classic City Center's owners about renting space there to install and operate an indoor bouldering gym. He was given the go ahead.

As he saw success early on, it became clear there was potential for growth beyond the climbing wall, and around that time, the "Ninja Warrior" show was gaining popularity and viewers. So the bouldering gym proved to be a launching pad, Manon says. 

“We need to do more with this," he reminisces. "What could we do Ninja Warrior wise?” 

These were the considerations he had in mind when he set out to establish and grow the Ninja Warrior program in Waterloo.

“The goal was to bring all that 'American Ninja Warrior' offers to northeast Indiana and do it right (to) make it a unique experience," he says.

To that end, Manon spent half a year researching other Ninja Warrior programs in the country to develop a framework. He designed the obstacles from scratch “to capture the essence of the show.”

Today, the boulder wall remains a part of the course, but much else has changed in the past few years. According to Manon, the program grew from nothing to producing a two-time "American Ninja Warrior" adult finalist.  Along the way, his team has also built connections with other Warrior gyms and competitors nationwide, putting northeast Indiana on the map.

While a Ninja Warrior gym might seem like an unusual addition to a small Indiana town, the Midwest's supportive nature makes it an ideal location for such an experience.

Manon says it takes a combination of factors, like strength, agility, rigor, and speed, to advance in the program, but physical ability is just one element at play. The gym atmosphere can be best described as high energy and contagious. Walk in during a training session, and you'll hear other participants yelling words of encouragement to one another.

More than anything, Manon says his job is about helping individuals overcome obstacles—figuratively and literally. He has seen both children and adults lacking confidence and then finding strength in training with the Ninja program.

“So the individual lives we’re able to touch is the most rewarding (part),” he says. 

Learn more

Ninja Warrior training at the Classic City Center in Waterloo is available on Fridays from 5-9 p.m. For more information, visit the website.

Cool Jobs is a new feature on Input Fort Wayne highlighting members of the northeast Indiana community who have unique or interesting jobs here. To suggest an idea, email editor@inputfortwayne.com.

Read more articles by Lauren Caggiano.

Lauren Caggiano is a Fort Wayne-based writer. A 2007 graduate of the University of Dayton, she returned to Northeast Indiana to pursue a career. In the past 12 years she has worked in journalism, public relations, marketing, and digital media. She currently writes for several local, regional, and national publications.
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