Being strong — inspiring students

Jenelle Kopa training at the Recreational Eagle Center.

May grad, early childhood education major to compete on ‘American Ninja Warrior.’

May grad, early childhood education major to compete on ‘American Ninja Warrior’

UW-La Crosse senior Janelle Kopa was student teaching at Harry Spence Elementary School in La Crosse in early April when she got the call. The early childhood education major and ninja warrior-in-training immediately knew from the Los Angeles area code who it was.

“It’s ‘American Ninja Warrior’ calling!” she excitedly told her second grade classroom.

The students had heard Kopa talk about her extensive training as a ninja warrior, including hours of high-intensity workouts five to seven days a week— all with the dream of competing on the TV show.

The room fell silent and listened to the voice on the phone. Kopa cried as she learned she was selected to compete on the 11th season of the show, which will air on NBC in August or September.

When the call ended, the students ran to Kopa for a group hug.

“They were so unbelievably excited for me,” she recalls. “It was a special moment to share with them!”

What Kopa likes best about ninja warrior training is setting goals and achieving them. She shares that message with her students.

By competing on the show, she is already achieving one of her personal dreams, she adds.

“I will make the most of this opportunity, compete fiercely and appreciate every moment,” she says.

But competing on “American Ninja Warrior” will also mean exchanging one special moment for another. The competition, May 11-12, in Tacoma, Washington, is the same weekend Kopa is set to walk at UWL’s commencement. Although she is disappointed to miss the ceremony, she is thrilled to live her dream of competing on the show.

“I am so lucky to have been chosen to compete,” she says. “Incredible athletes dream of this, and many of the best do not get chosen.”

Kopa will compete in the qualifying round May 11. If she places in the top five women, she will move to the second day of competition on May 12 — City Finals. If she performs well in City Finals, she could compete in Las Vegas in June.

Kopa has been a training ninja warrior for two years. She recently placed No. 37 in the National Ninja League World Finals, in Hartford, Connecticut, on Feb. 17.

Now slated to be on TV, Kopa is continuing to train intensely — focusing on grip endurance, explosiveness of movement and agility, she explains.

Her fiancé, Mason Engnes, is a ninja warrior who coaches her at Obstacle Academy in Edina, Minnesota.

“I owe all of my gratitude to Mason. He has spent countless hours training me into the athlete I am today,” she says. “His support and encouragement is the reason that I have this opportunity.”

Although Kopa competes in May, the show will not air until late summer or fall. “American Ninja Warrior’s” 11th season will run on NBC.