Aquinas Academy freshman overcomes all obstacles as Ninja competition champ

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Saturday, October 22, 2022 | 11:01 AM


A lot of parents try to cast a large net when introducing their children to sports or other extracurricular activities at a young age.

Typically, their child settles on something not totally uncommon.

That wasn’t exactly the case for Travis and Amy Deschamps.

Their daughter, Savannah, was captivated at a young age by the hit NBC show American Ninja Warrior and decided that the obstacle course-based sport was where she wanted to take her athletic life.

“I’ve watched the show since I was 6 years old and was really interested in it,” said Savannah, age 14. “I would climb all over the walls in my house. So, eventually, my parents signed me up for a class.”

“She would sort of climb up the hallway walls by putting her hands and feet on either side,” Travis added. “Then we saw an ad for Steel City Ninja. It was near where Savannah goes to school, so it was really convenient.”

Savannah is a freshman at Aquinas Academy, a private school in Gibsonia. She is a member of the cross country team and a strong student.

She also has one of the more interesting passions of any of her classmates.

“Everyone at school knows about it, but my closest friends are the ones who really understand it because I talk about it all the time,” she said. “Most people think, ‘Whoa, she must be strong,’ without understanding what it is I actually do.”

After spending some time with Steel City Ninja, which now occupies a much larger facility located in Ross Township, Savannah began competitions. She’s been doing Ninja events — and having success in them — for the last three years.

That success eventually led her into OCR (Obstacle Course Racing). She has competed in two competitions in her age group, winning both.

Included in that was a world championship victory at a 15-kilometer obstacle course in Stratton Mountain, Vt., in September. Savannah persevered through 40 obstacles to take the top prize in the 13-17-year-old age group, edging out competitors from Canada and Denmark.

“There weren’t a lot of flat grounds to run on,” she said. “That was really taxing on my legs. I was cramping really badly. And then the obstacles, there were easy ones like jumping over boxes, swinging ropes, and then there were harder things.”

The most difficult portion was a sandbag carry in the last kilometer.

“I had to carry two 25-pound sandbags,” said Savannah, who stands around 5-foot. “It was really hard to get them up on my shoulders. That’s when my legs started to cramp up.”

“She was climbing up and down this ski slope, then they lump on these two giant sandbags,” added Travis. “When you see her try to carry that, it’s crazy. She collapsed down a couple of times. It was tough to watch, as a parent. … I’m just glad she survived.”

But Savannah has found a positive in the pain.

“It definitely builds your mental toughness,” she said. “Now, when I train, I try to have that mindset of competition, so that when I go into the competition, it feels like something I’ve done before.”

While in Vermont, Savannah also won a 100-meter OCR event.

She won both medals while decked out in familiar Pittsburgh black and gold colors worn by all competitors from Steel City Ninja.

“I love representing my gym,” she said. “It’s just really cool because everyone recognizes us at Steel City. We’ve created a name for ourselves.”

Travis and his wife, Amy — a former gymnast — have gone all in while supporting their daughter. She travels around the eastern United States to compete, going as far as Vermont and North Carolina.

“I like competitions that display your skills in different ways,” said Savannah, who has set personal workout goals for the year, like completing 100 pushups per day, as fast as she can.

“We’re really proud of her,” Travis said. “Her work ethic, I don’t know where she gets it, that daily focus on getting better. We’re just supporting her in every way we can.”

Next year, the world championships could potentially take Savannah out of the country. They’re set to take place in Belgium.

“That would set a new (travel) record,” Travis joked. “I don’t know if we’re going to make it to Belgium, but she does want to defend her title.”

Savannah is now becoming more well known — not just in the local Ninja and OCR community, but internationally. At 14, she still has plenty of competitions ahead of her.

But, right now, she’s just taking it all in stride, working on improving her personal fitness and helping grow the sport she fell in love with while climbing those walls in her home.

“I don’t really know where I want to take this,” she said. “But I just really enjoy the sport. And the competitions are an added bonus for me.”

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