Emily Benson answers the gym’s phone with an unusual energy and warmth for someone who’s managing hundreds of moving pieces (and children!). She’s quick and efficient and totally at the top of her game, and rapidly answered a pile of questions.
The next morning I also interviewed co-owner Caleb Benson, Emily's husband, during the gym's low tide (when most members are in school or at work).
(Key point: I don't ever work out! After getting to know the Bensons, what they do, I really wanted to visit their gym, work with their team – be a part of the community they’ve built. I have a feeling they'd make a happy convert out of the most unlikely of folks.)
It's a real blue-pill, red-pill opportunity here. I so want you, whoever is reading this, to push past the name “ninja park" and imagine yourself there. I can’t help but believe you would belong—no matter who you are.
Here we go:
1. Not just for kids!
275 kids per week do visit Emily and Caleb’s gym, but many people don’t know they train adults, too! This is a place where everyone can get fit – by accident!
Caleb laughs, “People come in for a class or open gym and enjoy themselves. The next day, their arms are sore; they can’t move. They didn’t notice! They keep coming back. They’re happier, healthier. That’s what happens! It’s accidental.”
“One of our homeschool kiddos, AJ, started out very timid. He didn’t like hanging from a monkey bar, balancing on stuff – kind of overwhelming for him. In a twelve week semester, he continued to push himself and trust his coaches to lead him. Having fun, he continued to overcome obstacles that had scared him, over and over again."
My eyes are watering up at this point, no joke. (Caleb assures me this is normal for Flip Side stories.)
"His mom says he went from playing video games, all day, every day, to this active kid. He hung a pull-up bar at home; he’s dragging lumber to set up his balance obstacles in the backyard. AJ's totally different kid now. It’s really cool to watch that kind of thing unlock in someone.”
3. Work out with actual. ninjas.
Melody McGill aka The Hammer and Jeff Harris, northwest Arkansas native, have competed on NBC’s American Ninja Warrior. They both train at Flip Side. Caleb supports Melody as her sideline coach – in fact, they just got back from Dallas, filming Season 10 of the show.
However! Caleb insists (in a verrry laid back, almost surfer tone) that one does not have to be an elite athlete to hang. Honestly, the opposite is true: they really do have something for everyone.
So, no shaking in your tennies if you see the words “Spartan” and “Tough Mudder” on their sched. Apparently, everyone has a blast sooo, you may not realize you’ve entered one of those races until after you’re covered in sweat (and/or mud). Good luck!
4. A+ community.
You’re always going to feel like family. You’re not a number; you’re family.
“Last night was a guy’s 25th birthday party during open gym. Tonight, we have a going away party for one of our gym members... it’s a family place; it’s an awesome community.”
5. Flip Side coaches
Salt of the earth, right here.
Two of the seven coaches hold 79 + 80th place, out of 3600, in the last race they entered. (Caleb adds, “We were messin’ around the whole time; we’re planning on doing better this year.”) Sounds like the truth, as he's heading to the Ultimate Ninja Athlete’s Association’s national finals.
This team is all kinds of certified. You’re in good hands, people.
Goals: to inspire people, be positive role models – they want to see their members get an amazing workout while having the time of their life.
6. Aerial Yoga, anyone?
The gym’s Aerial Yoga classes focus on core and upper body strength building, relaxation and stretching, and fun moves and routines. They’ll modify moves for everyone – from the most beginner to the practically professional.
All kinds of people: guys, girls, every shape and size come around for this. Don’t be shy; hang from the sky. You know you want to try. #poetryinmotion
The lights go down low, some soft spa music comes on, and you have the best time. Private lessons + group sessions, too!
7. Who doesn’t love a (circus-y) love story??
These two hit it off when Caleb was serving in the US Coast Guard. They met in Florida, through mutual friends. Awww.
Emily grew up near the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus headquarters, so naturally, she joined the Sailor Circus her senior year of high school(!!!).
“In the circus I had the chance to learn things like tumbling, aerial arts – including lyra hoops, aerial silks, and rings – and two awesome acts called shoot-through and the giant wheel. The circus was for kids from fourth grade to twelfth grade. We met three or four times a week, after school, and had two large performances a year, plus random gala performances and parades. After years of softball, soccer, and tennis, I truly found my niche in the aerial arts.”
“I was already an adrenaline junkie,” Caleb laughs, “I loved skydiving, so she got into that. After we met, I started base jumping. She never really got into that, but she supported me through it. We’ve always been outside of the traditional fitness stuff.”
He was totally intrigued by this circus girl and her non-traditional fitness. It became something they totally loved doing – together.
Obviously, they still enjoy this today, in the form of Flip Side Ninja Park. These lovebirds are the some of the best people. They make it so palpable to take one more step toward getting in shape. Who doesn’t love that in a coach?
8. “Everybody loves to swing again.”
That's one of the first things Caleb said in our interview. Wait, what? Yes. Everyone (you, me, your brother, your neighbor) loves to swing again, according to Caleb.
“You watch someone get on the rings or a rope and take a swing...everybody loves to swing again. They haven’t done it since they were ten years old!”
One of the gorgeous things about the Benson’s ethos is this deep desire to restore what many used to get from running around, playing with friends outside, climbing trees, swinging from branches, as kids. That sense of experiential exercise that, again, you didn’t mean to have, but you accidentally did. You were having so. much. fun.
This guy really wants to give that gift to people and see it improve their quality of life, their health, in the process.
9. Giving back (again).
As a 10-year Coast Guard veteran, I asked Caleb to describe the connection between his service and the work he does today:
“So, I think the biggest thing is -- I care about people. The reason I signed up to serve was to give back to the country, the community. That's the reason we do a discount. It's not just the veteran that sacrifices to give back to your country; it's the whole family. It takes a special person to go out and serve -- serve somebody else -- and I think that’s an awesome thing, and that’s why we continue to do a 10% discount for veterans, first responders, and teachers!”
He continues, “From my end, I want to continue to give back. My way to do that now is to find an outlet for both kids and adults...to get them off of their phones, TV, and computers, and have this experience that’s going to make them healthy and happy. I think that’s a huge thing that needs to happen nowadays.”
10. It’s in the very center of NWA, so everyone can access it easily.
Wasn’t that nice of them, to think of you? The culture of the gym is consistent with the friendly welcome you receive from everyone in the area.
Here’s your chance!