Working with kids was a virtual given as Patrick Drolet looked at career options following his graduation from College Notre-Dame almost a decade ago.
Merging his passion in this area with the increasing popularity of Ninja sports, however, was more of a Johnny-come-lately marriage of his interests.
Despite a life-long involvement in local athletic activities, including a relatively heavy dose of gymnastics, Drolet was still only just a couple of years into this new domain as he launched the Nickel City Ninja Club, training his troops, quite literally, right out of his own backyard.
For the active 27 year-old eldest of two children in the family (younger sister is Sophie) and father of one, the end goal seems somewhat natural.
"There wasn't a lot of kids doing boys gymnastics at the time I was doing it, but I was really into the trampoline, flipping around," he said. "I always liked flying from one bar to another bar, kind of what I do with ninja now. And I always loved working with young individuals. I knew what I wanted to do in the future."
"It's kind of interesting how it all came together."
Drolet would pull on his experience as a coach at the GymZone, embarking as a CIT (Coach in Training) at the age of 14, working with children with autism. Additionally, he would spend three summers at Camp Sudaca, teaching rock-climbing at the city-owned venue.
And while he has contemplated a possible career in firefighting, receiving certification from the Ontario Fire Academy in Orangeville and still looking to jump aboard as a volunteer firefighter in Wahnapitae, his current love of ninja sports is keeping him more than busy these days.
Beyond his own personal base in gymnastics, Drolet would lean upon some time spent on the local parkour circuit when he finally crossed over to the race setting that grew exponentially in popularity following the launch of the American Ninja Warrior television show. "Parkour is sort of gymnastics, tumbling, jumping, from one object in the other, within the community," he explained.
"A normal person just goes out and walks through Bell Park. The parkour or ninja person might jump from this railing to that railing, jump from this block to that block, climbing hills that nobody else would climb, climbing structures that nobody else would climb."
When Apex Warrior opened on Loachs Road some two years ago, Drolet felt compelled to jump aboard. The tradeoff for his ability to eventually use the site as home to his own personal training - Drolet is one of just 13 professional ninja competitors in Canada - became the opportunity to launch the Little Ninjas kids program.
Some in his class migrated to this new sport in much the same manner as their coach. "But even for kids with a gymnastics background, there is still a progression that needs to be made," said Drolet. "You can shape a kid into anything. As they get older, the obstacles get tougher - and there are new obstacles popping up all the time."
And while technical knowledge is important, it's not necessarily the key for the young man who continues to work, part-time, in a support role for youth with special needs. "The feedback that I get is that it really is about that connection that a coach can make with that individual kid," said Drolet.
"At the end of the day, it really is about the coach - I absolutely believe that to this day. I'm very proud of how far I have come since starting with the sport."
Where he has come has taken him to the point of shifting his training to his home in Wahnapitae.
Starting construction in early August and completing his first few structures roughly one month later, Drolet kicked things off with a bar structure, 10 feet wide by 20 feet long, with a salmon ladder that one can scale up to 14 feet in height. "Because of my experience with the Apex Warriors, I had a good idea about what kind of obstacles the kids needed, at what heights, what they could or could not do," he said.
"I made it fully adjustable, swinging from bars at different distances, and I can hang any number of items from the bars: rings, spikes, cones, ropes. Everything gets taken down, every single day."
And while this was fine for the past six to eight weeks, the reality of Sudbury winters means that his yard will soon include a tent, some 35 feet long by 25 feet wide, covering about a thousand square feet, such that Drolet can continue his one on one sessions with his students when the snow flies outside.
Though some may want to access the equipment for what amounts to fun training, coach Pat (as he is affectionately known) has every intention of having his team of Nickel City Ninjas accompany him into battle. By all accounts, the Canadian Ninja League will be ready to kickoff their second year of competition sometime in November.
Proudly representing the Apex Warriors in 2019-2020, Drolet and his crew travelled to Sault Ste Marie, Milton, Scarborough, even hosting a couple of events in the nickel city, as athletes young and old enjoyed their first exposure to a race format that mirrored, in many ways, the popular TV series.
"On American Ninja Warrior, if an athlete falls off the course, they might fall into a pool of water - and they're eliminated," he stated. "We don't have that in Canada. It's just mats, and if you fall, you can bypass that obstacle, continue on the course, but you have a points deduction that factors into your finish."
While certain physical attributes might prove more helpful in creating the ideal ninja racer, Drolet believes there is something in the sport for everyone. "Anyone can do ninja, which is kind of cool," he said. "You can have a heavier set person, or a smaller person, or even someone with a disability."
"The obstacles can be adapted" - and eventually conquered, with a little help from coach Pat Drolet.