Your typical homecoming queen likely does not take pride in her blistered hands and cut thumb, earned by swinging from ropes and trapezes and literally flinging her body up a rungless ladder.
Nebraska’s Ninja Warrior homecoming queen does.
Leigh Jahnke, 22, was crowned University of Nebraska–Lincoln homecoming royalty in October. On March 20, she departed for San Antonio, Texas, to join hundreds of top athletes selected for regional competition for a spot on next season’s American Ninja Warrior TV show. Results of the competition won’t be made public before the show airs sometime this coming summer.
“I don’t mind getting cuts and blisters,” Jahnke said while her coach bandaged her bleeding right hand and thumb during a recent workout at Nebraska Ninja gym in Lincoln. “It shows I had a good workout.”
During the workout, coaches Nic Moore and Derry Walker put Jahnke through various obstacles, using hooks to climb a ladder, running across slanted steps and balance blocks to swing from a rope, climbing a warped wall and suspending herself using various odd-shaped gripping devices.
Her favorite obstacle is something called the salmon ladder, which has no rungs. Athletes hang by their arms from a pole and somehow thrust the pole and their bodies upward notch by 12-inch-notch until they reach the top of a 12-foot apparatus.
This is the second time Jahnke has competed in the American Ninja contest, which she has loved since she was a child. She applied in 2019, soon after reaching the competition’s minimum age of 19, and made it far enough into the competition to be featured on the TV program.
19-year-old Leigh Jahnke from West Point, NE just became the first woman her age to get to the third obstacle on @ninjawarrior. But she couldn’t quite reach the second of the Fly Wheels. #anwnation pic.twitter.com/5OMMrdv40Q
— Michael Boehnlein (@MichaelBCompany) June 18, 2019
The daughter of Terry and Kristy Jahnke, Jahnke grew up on a farm about 10 miles north of West Point, Nebraska. As a child, she practiced her Ninja skills on objects around the farm — climbing to the top of the corncrib, swinging on ropes in the barn, doing parkour on a cattle chute.
“I loved swinging around and climbing things,” she said, while balancing on a rail to fetch the salmon ladder rung from the top of the apparatus.
Jahnke, a biology and Spanish major who plans to graduate in May, has an extensive record of athletic and community participation. At Nebraska, she is a senior resident assistant at Massengale Residential Center on East Campus. She is a member of Alpha Omicron Pi sorority and is president of the Rock Climbing Club.
Standing 5 feet, 4 inches, Jahnke participated in gymnastics starting at age 4 and played for the West Point High School basketball team until her junior year, when she switched sports to her school’s newly established wrestling team. She also was a pole vaulter and volleyball player at West Point.
Jahnke describes her Ninja training as an enjoyable challenge.
“It’s a competition against yourself and I like that,” she said. “It’s a great way to stay fit.”
She’s worked out at Nebraska Ninja since the gym opened in February 2020. The gym now has 80 athletes participating in Ninja competitions, and officials say Jahnke is one of four Nebraskans traveling to San Antonio for the regional competition.
In 2019, American Ninja Warrior show producers featured Jahnke’s “corn-fed Nebraska-bred” background on the program, showing footage of her swinging from a center pivot, working cattle on horseback with her grandmother, and throwing hay bales into the barn.
Stay tuned until summer 2022 to find out if Nebraska’s Ninja Warrior homecoming queen wins the chance to compete on American Ninja Warrior.