S.F. teenager be­comes ju­nior ninja war­rior on tele­vi­sion.

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Gwen­dolyn Wu

The fake boul­ders re­sem­ble an as­sort­ment of pe­cu­liar jelly beans, but where some might see an un­scal­able wall, Ab­bie Cheng sees a puz­zle. De­vis­ing a strat­egy on where to con­tort, leap and grab is part of the fun for the 13-year-old com­pet­i­tive rock climber set to make her na­tional TV de­but.

Ab­bie is not Spi­der­woman, but she could be the way she swings and scram­bles up and down the climb­ing walls at San Fran­cisco’s Planet Gran­ite gym.

“It is a men­tal and phys­i­cal chal­lenge,” Ab­bie said. “I can push my­self to be cre­ative while on the wall.” Dan­gling from teeny-tiny ar­ti­fi­cial rocks turned out to be per­fect prac­tice for Ab­bie’s sum­mer role on “Amer­i­can Ninja War­rior Ju­nior,” a spin-off of the pop­u­lar ob­sta­cle course-based re­al­ity tele­vi­sion show cre­ated in Ja­pan.

The show, which pre­mieres at 7 p.m. Satur­day on Uni­ver­sal Kids, NBC’s chil­dren’s ca­ble chan­nel, fea­tures smaller ver­sions of the adult course’s iconic ob­sta­cles, such as the Warped Wall, a curved wall that con­tes­tants have to run up and climb, and Tic Toc, a trapeze swingand-pen­du­lum hy­brid that forces con­tes­tants to fly off and snag a cargo net. Ab­bie’s fa­vorite chal­lenge on the show was the float­ing shelf grab, where she made big jumps as she climbed down. She can’t di­vulge any other de­tails about what hap­pened un­til the show fin­ishes air­ing. What the up­beat teen and only

San Fran­cisco con­tes­tant on the show can say is that she never dreamed she’d be com­pet­ing as an Amer­i­can Ninja War­rior.

Her stand­out re­sume, how­ever, sug­gests this was only a mat­ter of time.

In ad­di­tion to per­form­ing with the Young Woman Choral Projects of San Fran­cisco and be­ing an award-win­ning artist — a de­sign she drew sev­eral years ago gar­nered city­wide recog­ni­tion as a pub­lic li­brary card — Ab­bie also had a short stint as a gym­nast be­fore turn­ing her at­ten­tion to the moun­tain­side.

Two years ago she started trekking from the Sun­set Dis­trict to Planet Gran­ite twice a week. She got into the sport af­ter at­tend­ing her friends’ birth­day par­ties at Bay Area rock climb­ing gyms, and her mom, Tina, no­ticed she was a nat­u­ral.

“When they get to know her a lit­tle bet­ter and what she can ac­tu­ally do on a wall, it’s pretty amaz­ing,” Tina Cheng said. “She’s a hard worker and so she ac­com­plishes much be­cause of that.” It was all up­hill from there. Ab­bie joined the com­pet­i­tive climb­ing team last year, and her coach, Jesse Schouboe, no­ticed she’s not the kind of ath­lete to give up eas­ily. If any­thing, Ab­bie laughs off fail­ure and tries again.

“Her abil­ity to stay pos­i­tive is pretty unique,” Schouboe said.

Although rock climb­ing is a solo sport, he added, Ab­bie is seen as a team player and role model for many younger girls on the team.

In March, Schouboe for­warded the “Amer­i­can Ninja War­rior Ju­nior” ap­pli­ca­tion to team climbers. Ab­bie ap­plied, even though she’d never seen the show and had just torn a lig­a­ment in a fin­ger. For a few weeks, she was climb­ing with one arm.

A cou­ple of weeks later, pro­duc­ers con­tacted the Chengs and asked for more climb­ing videos and proof that Ab­bie had healed enough to tackle the course. Ab­bie once again proved she was up to the task and NBC told her film­ing would be­gin in July.

Ab­bie and her mom left their sum­mer va­ca­tion in Europe a day early to fly back to San Fran­cisco and then down to Los An­ge­les. As if the ex­pe­ri­ence wasn’t “nerve-rack­ing” enough, her grand­par­ents were there to watch the com­pe­ti­tion from the side­lines.

Go­ing head-to-head with other com­peti­tors on the course was the big­gest chal­lenge, Ab­bie said, but she didn’t let it get her down.

“Her level of emo­tional re­silience, ma­tu­rity, fo­cus and pos­i­tiv­ity are all things that are not very com­mon in kids her age as far as I’ve seen,” Schouboe said.

Rock climb­ing pro­vides a rush of adren­a­line for Ab­bie, who’s of­ten go­ing up sheer cliff faces al­most nine times her height. What drives her when she’s find­ing the next foothold isn’t ath­letic prow­ess or flex­i­bil­ity, but rather the chance to prove she can climb just about any­thing, es­pe­cially when all eyes are watch­ing.

Gwen­dolyn Wu is a San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle staff writer. Email: gwen­dolyn.wu@ sfchron­i­cle.com Twit­ter: @gwen­doly­nawu

“It is a men­tal and phys­i­cal chal­lenge. I can push my­self to be cre­ative.” Ab­bie Cheng

Pho­tos by Paul Kuroda / Spe­cial to The Chron­i­cle

Ab­bie Cheng’s rock climb­ing skills helped get her a spot on the new “Amer­i­can Ninja War­rior Ju­nior” show.

Ab­bie Cheng, 13, with fel­low rock climbers Ruby Raffo-Day, 11, and Zaihra Roux Ja­cobo, 10, at Planet Gran­ite in San Fran­cisco.

Pho­tos by Paul Kuroda / Spe­cial to The Chron­i­cle

Ab­bie Cheng tra­verses a wall at Planet Gran­ite. She got in­ter­ested in rock climb­ing two years ago af­ter at­tend­ing birth­day par­ties at the San Fran­cisco cen­ter.

Cheng joined a com­pet­i­tive climb­ing team at Planet Gran­ite, and her coach Jesse Schouboe says she doesn’t give up eas­ily, even af­ter fail­ures. “Her abil­ity to stay pos­i­tive is pretty unique.”

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