Milford teen conquers course, anxiety in return to American Ninja Warrior Jr.

Photo of Brian Gioiele

MILFORD — Collin Cella needed to compete in American Ninja Warrior Junior this year — not just for another title but to conquer the anxiety that derailed his competition last year.

Collin, as a 10-year-old, won the nationally television competition in 2019, but his return to defend his crown the next year ended prematurely because of his struggles with anxiety. That was all behind him this year, as the Harborside Middle School eighth grader made his triumphant return this year.

“My mental health was not in a good place, and I was really struggling with anxiety,” Collin said about his early withdrawal in season 2.

“After season 2, I took a break from competing and really focused on my mental health,” Collin added. “I spent a lot of time training my brain with a process called neurofeedback. Season 3 was delayed a year because of the COVID pandemic. When the new season was announced I knew I was ready physically but more importantly, I was ready mentally to prove to myself that I was more than my anxiety.”

Collin was featured on the Sept. 30 edition of American Ninja Warrior, televised on Peacock, but the results of his latest foray into ninja competitions remains secret until all eight episodes air.

“When Collin first competed on American Ninja Warrior Junior season 1, it was a dream come true for him,” his mother, Jaime, said. “Watching him hit the buzzer was amazing, seeing how sincere and genuine he was each time he finished a race truly made us proud.”

The mental health struggles Collin has experienced since season 1 have been difficult, his mother said.

“As a parent you never want to see your child suffer, you just want to fix it, but you can't,” Jaime Cella said. “Collin has worked so hard to overcome his anxiety and we are so proud of him for admitting he needed help and working to be as mentally strong as he is physically.

“Season 3 was all about proving he was more than his anxiety,” she added. “Collin is very happy with his performance this year, the course was harder because he moved up to the oldest age group, but again for Collin the goal was to get on the course and prove he could do it.”

Collin, now 13, began training at New Era Ninjas in Hamden when he was 7 years old.

Soon after, he was selected to be part of the New Era competitive ninja team. Collin was the youngest child on the competitive team which competes nationwide. He now trains about 20 hours per week at the Ninja Academies in Hamden and Stamford.

“Ninja competitions are different from most sport games or competitions,” Collin said. “It's awesome that while you are competing against the other competitors everyone is really cheering for everyone and wishing each other the best. It’s really about how efficiently you can conquer obstacles.”

Collin said it seems that people are always training for obstacles in life, whether it is physical or mental, school or athletics — life is about overcoming all the obstacles that are in your way.

For season 3, Collin said he changed his diet, increased his protein and went to an all-around healthy diet.

“I added strength and endurance training to my weekly routine and because of the pandemic I was able to add a lot of hours training in my home ninja gym,” he said.

The competition was filmed in Los Angeles, so, he said that it was important to get there early to adjust to the time change and “for me routine is really important, so my family made sure that I had all the things I needed to feel at home and be comfortable while I was away.”

He said one of his best friends was also competing on the show, so the pair were able to travel together which made the whole experience more fun.

“The whole city has been really supportive of Collin, after season 1, he received the key to the city from the mayor,” Jaime Cella said. “Collin's friends have also been really supportive, it's great for them to be able to see the results of all of his training.”

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com