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Illinois Ninja Pastors

Warrior-trained pair hope to make it on American reality show.

Erik P. Scottberg never participated in sports while growing up and wasn’t particularly active in early adulthood. But two years ago, as he sat on the sidelines at Shinobi Fitness in Bethalto, Illinois, and watched his then-9-year-old son, Kent, practice obstacle training and martial arts, he thought, Why does he get to have all the fun?

Since the studio offered adult classes as well, Scottberg gave the obstacle training a try and everything clicked. He began volunteering and teaching kids’ classes at the studio. Within nine months, Scottberg, 39, began competing in the National Ninja League (NNL) and had applied to be a contestant on the television reality show American Ninja Warrior.

“What I like about the ninja warrior obstacle training is that you compete against other people, but really, a lot of the competition is against yourself,” Scottberg says. “It’s just you and the obstacle.”

David M. Womelsdorf, 33, understands that sentiment. Seven years ago, he was overweight and out of shape.

“I couldn’t even bend over and tie my shoes without getting out of breath,” Womelsdorf says. He realized he needed to make lifestyle changes, so he joined a gym and started working out, but he felt he needed a goal to keep him motivated. One day he announced to his wife, Brittanica, that he planned to try out for American Ninja Warrior.

“I shot for the moon,” he says. He began training, and after five years, finally felt ready to compete in the NNL and apply to be on the show.

On March 29, Womelsdorf received notification that he had been selected to appear on the show as part of the Indianapolis competition. Filming will be April 29-30, and his appearance will air in the summer. Like Scottberg, he is also an American ninja warrior coach for kids ages 2 to 13.

While Scottberg and Womelsdorf both discovered ninja warrior training as adults and now compete and teach kids, they have something else in common: the pair are Assemblies of God Illinois District Council pastors.

Scottberg, senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Bethalto, admits that when people find out he’s a pastor and a ninja warrior, they usually are surprised.

“Not many people expect a pastor to engage in such physical warrior training,” says Scottberg, who with his wife, Bethany, also has a 14-year-old son, Parker. But he enjoys it as an opportunity to get out of the “church bubble,” to engage in a hobby he’s passionate about, and to model a spiritually and physically healthy lifestyle.

“It’s allowed me a unique venue to have spiritual conversations with people,” he says, although he doesn’t teach classes and compete with a conversion-driven agenda. “If someone wants to talk with me about what’s going on in their lives, I’m all for it.”

Womelsdorf, a U.S. Missions missionary associate with Missionary Church Planters & Developers, has a similar perspective. He, Brittanica, and their three preschool-aged children moved to Chicago in December 2017 to plant Vive Church, a congregation specifically focused toward reaching young families. The church is set to launch in January 2019.

“If we want to reach a family, there’s no better way than to start with the kids,” says Womelsdorf. But he also walks a fine line in the gym atmosphere. He will talk about spiritual matters if it arises naturally in conversation. In the meantime, both men stay dually focused on leading their churches and gaining traction as ninja warriors. Both have done fairly well, landing in the middle of the pack, in the National Ninja League competitions. Although the organization isn’t connected with the television show, many American Ninja Warrior’s competitors are drawn from its ranks. Womelsdorf views his pursuing his newfound hobby as enhancing his faith.

“God has placed passions within us for a reason,” he says, “We need to figure out how to use them for God’s Kingdom and His glory.”

IMAGE - David Womelsdorf puts on a move.

Ginger Kolbaba

Ginger Kolbaba ( www.gingerkolbaba.com) is a speaker and author who lives in the Chicago area. She is the author of Your Best Happily Ever After and co-author of Breakthrough: The Miraculous True Story of a Mother's Faith and Her Child's Resurrection.