While some people might think that Orthodox Jewish girls are all proper and demure, 13 year Yakira “Kira” Hoffer, would better be described as exuberant and daring. This past fall Rachel Goldzal created quite a buzz by winning Chopped Junior. This Saturday night, Kira Hoffer will be the latest religious Jewish teen to appear on a reality TV show.
Competing on American Ninja Warrior Junior, the 13-year old from Springfield, NJ has always been athletic and plays on her school’s basketball team. She says, “I’ve always been climbing and jumping around swing sets and play stuff, and then one day my dad found an ad on Facebook for American Ninja Warrior Junior.” Hoffer had been watching the show for three years, and the opportunity to try out was a dream come true. “I’ve always been such a big fan.”
The process from application to audition was a few months long. Her family sent videos, photos and showed them the ninja-warrior playground that they built in their own backyard. “Rock climbing for me has just always been fun…My dad built me a course.” She also included in her application materials that she would be competing in a skirt. There were thousands of applicants from across the country, and they selected 64 participants in each of three age groups. Her father Ben says, “You have to have a certain athletic ability, and when we sent in her submission video, it clearly demonstrates that she is able to do the challenges that they’re going to be putting these kids through.”
The filming was in July and they flew the family out to Universal to tape it. Ben Hoffer says, “There are only 4 kids per age bracket in each episode, and only one kid will advance to the semi-final round.” Hoffer wearing a skirt was not an issue. “They asked me if it was harder, but other than that it didn’t come up.” They also asked her what being Modern Orthodox means to her. The participants asked more about her religious needs than the producers. “It’s nice. You have people who are going to do the same thing as you. You [all] like to climb, to play around on the set. It’s just so cool. In my hometown, there aren’t a lot of people who like to do this.”
Hoffer knows that she will have an impact once her participation goes public. “It was fun but it was also a kiddush Hashem.” She has become friends with some of the kids who participated alongside her. Hoffer’s father not only created an elaborate obstacle course in their yard, but additionally, due to the cold weather in the Northeast, turned their attic into a rock climbing gym. When she was accepted in June, she started going to a gym with a trainer, who taught her the skills. Ben Hoffer explains, “[Kira] has a lot of athletic ability, but in order to do the obstacles, you need to know technique, and that was something that she didn’t have formal training in.” The most important factor in Ninja skills is a strength-to-weight ratio, which Hoffer has to spare.
Ninja competitions were becoming more widespread before the show began, but now interest has exploded. The popularity of Ninja gyms has also been a boon to the success of this sport. Ben Hoffer relates, “There was a Japanese version of Ninja Warrior that was a precursor to the American version. The success of the American show and how it’s caught on like wildfire with the younger demographic has pushed the producers to create a [junior version].”
Despite her mother often having told her to “get down” when she was climbing in unsanctioned spots, her family has been beyond supportive. Ben Hoffer knows that “Setting a goal for yourself, pushing yourself, failing, failing, time and time again, with a lot of hard work, eventually accomplishing that, is really great.” The Hoffers are also thrilled that the competitiors are always cheering each other on to succeed. “It’s a really great community to be a part of,” says Ben, “that’s been great for her.”
In terms of what the future holds, Kira Hoffer is in no danger of stopping. “I hope to be on the show next year and be a part of the global competition with a bunch of other kids.” She offers solid advice for other kids who may want to participate. “Push yourself to your limit. Do your best in everything you do. Believe in yourself. If you really want your parents to build you something, you really have to show them that you’re committed.” Ben Hoffer adds that, “If you want to be successful, you have to be ready and willing to exercise and build your physical ability. Kira does it every single day.”
You can follow Kira on Instagram at @yakiradiamondninja. Set your DVR to catch Kira’s debut this Saturday at 7pm, or watch after Shabbos on https://www.universalkids.com/shows/american-ninja-warrior-junior.