Ninja warrior

Janelle Kopa standing between posts with people working out behind her at the Recreational Eagle Center.

To qualify for World Finals, Janelle Kopa had to earn sufficient points at National Ninja League qualifying events. At the world finals, more than 40 percent of all pro competitors fell on the first obstacle. Kopa is proud to have completed it.

Senior Janelle Kopa talks setting goals, achieving dreams and a future in early childhood education

UWL senior Janelle Kopa is a teacher in training by day — and a ninja in training by night.

Walk into UWL’s Recreational Eagle Center after 7 p.m. on a weeknight and you’ll find the early childhood education major climbing, swinging and jumping on top of four-feet-tall blocks — before tackling 21 pull ups.

Kopa has been a training ninja warrior for two years, including intense training 5-seven days a week for the last year. She recently competed in the National Ninja League World Finals, in Hartford, Connecticut, on Sunday, Feb. 17. She placed No. 37. Kopa was in the final wave of competitors, reserved for athletes with the most points scored during the season.

Kopa loves ninja training because she loves “being strong.” When she started two years ago it was “hard” and “humbling,” and it took a lot of hard work. But the lessons about pushing through she learns from ninja training transfer over to how she approaches life and teaches students, she says.

“One of my favorite things about ninja warrior is the ability to set goals and dreams and take steps to achieve them,” she says.

She recently spoke to Emerson Elementary School fourth graders about her ninja status, as well as, self belief, working hard and setting goals. She also took that message to Uganda, Africa, in summer 2018 on a mission trip where she trained children ages 5-14 on ninja warrior techniques. Using ropes, wooden benches, and whatever they could find, the kids and Kopa created a course and practiced setting goals.

Kopa says being a ninja resonates with kids. The idea is probably buoyed by the popularity of the NBC-TV show, “American Ninja Warrior,” and more recently, “American Ninja Warrior Junior.”

It was Drew Knapp, ’16, who competed on the TV show, who initially initially got Kopa interested in ninja warrior. Knapp was her assistant UWL gymnastics coach her freshman year. Gymnastics wasn’t too far removed from ninja training and Kopa ended up leaving gymnastics to pursue ninja full time.

Janelle Kopa grabing a bag to hang from and swing at the REC.

The TV show is the next closest potential competition, says Kopa. She has no plans to be on the TV show in the near future although she has applied. 

She does know, however, that early childhood education is a big part of her future. She was inspired to teach from her experience as a student. Kopa’s parents divorced when she was in second grade and her father died when she was 14. Her support system became teachers and coaches who listened, built relationships with her and included her in their own family activities.

“My teachers and coaches have always been the biggest support system in my life,” she says.

Kopa hopes to have that kind of impact as a teacher. She is getting her start training second-grade students at Harry Spence Elementary School in La Crosse, when she is not coaching gymnastics, babysitting or ninja training.

Learn more about the National Ninja League competitions at