As she drove around Freeport’s industrial area last year, Kathryn Gawrych, 27, of Massapequa, was searching for the perfect place to house her vision, a Ninja Warrior academy, where she would train people of all ages to complete the obstacle courses from the “American Ninja Warrior” TV series.
Gawrych, a life-long athlete, was having trouble finding a tall-enough building or realtors who would take her seriously because of her youthful appearance, but when she spotted an available space at 272 Buffalo Ave., she thought she was destined to make Freeport the home of her first business.
After converting the empty, nearly 10,000-square-foot building into the first Ninja Academy franchise outside of Connecticut, Gawrych officially opened her Freeport Ninja Academy in January.
Despite the challenges and pitfalls caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Gawrych said she hopes to overcome all obstacles and make the Freeport Ninja Academy an island-wide destination.
“I never imagined that I would have to deal with a global pandemic just weeks after opening up my first business, but I roll with the punches,” Gawrych said. “The gym’s model is, ‘Together, we will overcome all obstacles!’ And that’s never been more true.”
Giving it your all
Gawrych, a former accountant, first got the idea to open a Ninja Academy franchise when visiting a franchise expo at the Javits Center in 2018. Gawrych said she had initially gone to inquire about opening an iLoveKickboxing, the gym she frequented to stay active, when she spotted the Ninja Academy table.
While the table was small and only had a diorama of what a Ninja Academy looked like, Gawrych found herself drawn to the idea, as she grew nostalgic reminiscing about her family’s fondness for watching both the Japanese and American Ninja Warrior competitions.
“I always thought I would start a business when I was in my 30s, but when I learned about this opportunity, it just seemed right,” Gawrych said. “You don’t have to wait 10 years to go after your dreams.”
Using her accounting background, Gawrych applied for a Small Business Administration loan to open up the Freeport Ninja Academy. In all, Gawrych invested about $250,000 in the business.
The Freeport Ninja Academy houses a plethora of official obstacles from the “American Ninja Warrior” series, such as the Warped Wall, Jumping Spider, Salmon Ladder and many others.
The facility serves as both a workout gym and training location for those who seek to compete in American Ninja Warrior. It can also host birthday parties, special events and field trips.
Gawrych said that while interest in the gym was high when she first opened, the pandemic took its toll, as she had to cancel all events in the spring and close the gym.
Gawrych was able to recoup some of her losses when she was allowed to partially reopen in July to run her summer camp for children. And when the facility, along with all gyms, was allowed to reopen on Aug. 24, she found her customers patiently waiting to return.
“It means so much that they stuck with me and knew that I could get through this and welcome them back,” Gawrych said.
Freeport ninja fans
Jeanne Naclerio, of Levittown, said she had been keeping an eye on the Freeport Ninja Academy since she and her son, Lorenzo, 7, had first heard about its development last year.
Naclerio said her son was over the moon when, at an event at Coleman Country Day Camp, contestants from the “American Ninja Warrior” series revealed that Freeport would be getting its own Ninja Academy.
“When it officially opened, I signed him up immediately,” Naclerio said. “If it were up to him, he’d live there.”
Dawn Luisi, of Farmingdale, also enrolled her 7-year-old son, Declan, at the Ninja Academy. She said that when the facility was closed in the spring because of the pandemic, Declan lost an important outlet to exercise and socialize. That is why she was ecstatic when the Ninja Academy reopened for its summer camp.
“Knowing he had a place like this was so helpful during these overwhelming times,” Luisi said. “It helped him feel normal, despite all the changes we’ve had to face.”
The Freeport Ninja Academy offers three different courses for children, split for ages 5 to 7.5., 7.5 to 9 and 10 to 14.
While the afternoon adult classes are for those 15 to 55 years old, Gawrych said she would allow anyone older who could prove that they could handle the obstacles to participate.
Morgan Dalal, 20, of Lynbrook, and her mother, Suzanne Dalal, both enjoy taking the adult program. The two attended the courses four days a week before the pandemic.
The mother-daughter duo said that while the obstacles can seem intimidating, Gawrych and her staff work to modify everything so anyone can have a shot at any obstacle.
“You don’t have to be in insane shape to try this,” Morgan said.
“Other places I’ve seen don’t help you get better like this place does,” Suzzane added. “If you can’t do those obstacles, you can’t participate, so I’m happy that’s not the case here.”
Suzzane said she and her daughter would be re-enrolling at the Freeport Ninja Academy in the fall.