What I Learned Training for 'American Ninja Warrior'

Yes, I have Parkinson's disease and I tried out for. Yes, I would love to be on the show for a multitude of reasons. However, what I've learned training to be a ninja has far outweighed the benefits of being on TV.
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About six months ago, I embarked on a journey. It began floating down the river, making friends with the current. "A bunch of buddies and I are going to do a mud run in November. You should do it with us!" Little did I know the impact those words would have.

As I trained for that mud run, angels began whispering in my ear that I should apply to be on American Ninja Warrior, a obstacle course TV game show.

I walked in Iron Sport gym in Houston, the night before the application was due. I felt pretty confident in my ability, until I saw my competition. I was met by mainly men in their early 20s. Normal-looking guys, until they started swinging from the rafters and scaling walls on their fingertips. I immediately felt overwhelmed and out of my league. But, I decided I was there, so I stretched.

On our first obstacle, I told the owner of Iron Sport, American Ninja Warrior Sam Sann, of my big obstacle: Parkinson's. He told me emphatically, "I can help you! I believe my exercises will help you!" I believed him.

The first obstacle was the rings. I couldn't swing from one to the next relying on my left arm to hold my body weight. Instead, I tried leading with my right arm. I was told that was harder, and they were right. But, with Parkinson's on my inferior arm, I didn't believe that was an obstacle I could overcome.

There were other apparatuses I was able to accomplish, like the ropes and peg board. After an hour and 20 minutes of balance and upper body focused challenges, it was time for conditioning. Twenty-five minutes of conditioning my body seized up and my forearms felt as if they would rip. I had tears in my eyes and I wished for them to fall, as to quench my extreme thirst. I apologized to Sam for my trembling. He said, "My workouts make anyone shake!"

After my I submitted my application, I waited another month, before going back for the torture. That is when the clouds parted and the angels sung. I completed what seemed impossible the first session, the nunchucks. Narrow aluminum pipes requiring grip strength to prevent sliding right off. I was on a dopamine high the remainder of the night.

I was getting the swing of things and began anticipating my next visit. This time, I brought a friend/witness/photographer. I tried the rings, telling my friend, I couldn't complete it yet, because of my PD. I told her I thought I had the strength, but I had to get over the hang-up with my left arm, mentally. Just in case, I had her video.

I faced my fears of trusting my left arm. I stopped fighting to control it. I no longer resisted and instead I just let go. And when I let go, I flew!

On a dopamine high from flying, I saw rings of another color. As I stood looking up at them, I thought it defied physics and would be impossible, but again I tried.

I walked out of that session feeling like I was a badass! (Sorry for cursing.) I let go of my fears, and checked my "disability" at the door, and forgot to pick it up on the way out. That day I flew and felt as though I was soaring until the following day.

Each time I've go into Iron Sport, I accomplish a little more. Each time I'm left with an enormous dopamine high. Each time, I've itched at the chance to go back.

Yes, I have Parkinson's disease and I tried out for American Ninja Warrior. Yes, I would love to be on the show for a multitude of reasons. However, what I've learned training to be a ninja has far outweighed the benefits of being on TV.

One of the big issues since my diagnosis, has been seeing my disease as a liability. The biggest outcome from training for American Ninja Warrior is that no longer the case. Maybe it's that I can do more pull-ups than most of the 20-something guys at the gym. Or maybe it's that I'm achieving success at the obstacles at Iron Sport. Or maybe it's that I'm stronger both physically and mentally, than anyone else around me. Parkinson's disease has allowed me, pushed me even, to achieve these feats. It's given me the drive to get up and try again, when tears are pooling and pain is constant. My disease is the catalyst I needed to be the very best mother and person I can be. So what if I have to take meds three times a day. Who cares that I shake a little when I wake up, get nervous or when my meds wear off. The greatest lesson I could have learned from American Ninja Warrior has been realizing PD is NOT a liability to me. And if you think it is, then YOU are the liability!

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