By Elyse Pitkin

Jeff Mongold, associate director of admission, has been ninja training for the last three years and recently competed at the 2022 Ultimate Ninja Athletes Association World Championship in Las Vegas. Over 1500 competitors participated with 17 countries represented and of that, only 15 percent qualified to move onto stage two finals. Though Mongold wasn’t selected, he admits that this was one of his favorite runs ever. “I felt really good about it after I was finished,” he said.  As soon as he returned home, Mongold took three days off and then jumped back into training for next season.

When it comes to physical fitness Mongold has done weightlifting and cross-fit, but nothing has compared, or challenged him more, than ninja training. “It all started with Lebron James,” Mongold laughs.

When the Lebron James Family Foundation partnered with Akron schools in 2018 to create the I Promise School in Akron, Ohio, Mongold’s wife had accepted a position as the school’s librarian. During the grand opening of the school, celebrities came to support the endeavors, including Akbar Gbajabiamila, one of the co-hosts for the television show American Ninja Warrior. “Akbar had just written his book, “Everyone Can Be A Ninja” and gave everyone in the school signed copies,” said Mongold. “Then, they set up obstacle courses in the school which got my wife excited enough to try the warped wall and start the tv show with me.” Although hesitant to watch, Mongold found himself immersed in the show. “I thought it was going to be so cheesy, but it was done so well. I kept thinking, I could do this, I could do that obstacle. Next thing I knew, I was on google looking up ninja gyms,” said Mongold.” He soon found himself at Adrenaline Monkey, located in Cleveland, Ohio.

Eventually, Mongold changed his entire fitness routine, joined a bouldering gym, and began investing his time training and studying ninja. “It’s all about weight to strength ratio. Can you throw your body around, with just your fingertips,” said Mongold. The vast majority of his routine focuses on yoga, bouldering, ninja training three times a week, cardio machines at Planet Fitness and bodyweight exercises. He has done nine ninja competitions in total and has just finished his rookie season. His goal is to continue his training to become more prepared for the next competition.

“I’ve been physically active most of my life, but I lost my why when I was out traveling in California,” said Mongold. “I got up to go to the gym but I didn’t feel like going. So I didn’t. I really had to reevaluate my reason as to why I want to be healthy. Fitness had become a grind and not fun for me. I now find joy in what I do. It’s physical fitness through play. You are working your muscles, you’re getting stronger, but you’re playing. It’s all fun and exciting.”

Although he has sharpened his physical routine, Mongold believes ninja training is just as much mental training as it is physical. He said, “essentially, when you look at ninja and what excites my imagination most is that it’s all a metaphor. Really. What you are doing is the same thing you are doing in life. You have a path before you and you have a bunch of difficult obstacles that you come across. How are you going to conquer those obstacles?” One of his favorite quotes by Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, is “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

Even though he leans heavily on late philosophers, monarchs, and Rocky Balboa, his family is his number one supporter. A mantra they share is one Mongold learned when he was a student in college when learning about Hannibal Barca, “I will find a way or I will make one.”

“The kids all have it on dog tags in Latin,” said Mongold. “It stuck with me since college and now it’s a family thing. Those words have gotten me through a lot and to do a lot, and they’ve inspired my kids to do the same.”

To learn more about the UNAA click here.