As an exercise physiologist, heath scientist, and parent, I can’t help but be a huge fan of American Ninja Warrior. Having spent much of my life researching the limits of human performance and having had the opportunity to work with world-class athletes in a variety of disciplines, I am fascinated by the inimitable combination of explosive power, strength endurance, and pure athleticism displayed by its competitors. As a parent, it is their willingness to take on seemingly insurmountable obstacles and view falling as another opportunity to learn and grow that keeps my eyes glued to the screen. It’s an insatiably entertaining way to get my own children to understand the wide spectrum of benefits associated with physical fitness, and in an hour, provides them with snippets of the life lessons I am dedicating my life to instill in them. While it is my number one priority to be a health role model to them, for the moment my example is superseded by the story of a 14-year-old they have never even met. When 8th grader Jordan Brown walked into DojoBoom in Thousand Oaks, California for the first time, little did she realize that she was about to embark on 12 weeks that would change her body and mindset, teach her some of life’s most important lessons, and transform her into a role model.
Before heading off to high school, students at Jordan’s school in Agoura, California are asked to complete one final project, one in which they are to pick a challenging goal and develop a plan to see it through. At completion, they are to present to their classmates about their experience. While her classmates were discussing the possibility of learning coding languages, Jordan decided to run (jump and flip) in a different direction: she set out to complete a local gym’s American Ninja Warrior course. Although a fan of the show and a normally physically active teen, Jordan didn’t have any formal athletic background and had never even seen an American Ninja Warrior course in person, let alone attempt to complete one. It didn’t take superhuman Spidey sense to see that her classmates, teachers, and parents weren’t sure about her chances to surmount a peak most athletic adults would have difficulty with, even with months of practice. Nevertheless, her parents agreed to drive her to the gym and do what they could to support her efforts. Jordan walked into DojoBoom for the first time, talked to the front desk attendee about her goal, and within a few minutes had the interest of the gym’s general manager.
If you aren’t among the millions of initiated American Ninja Warrior fans, there is a possibility that you’re not familiar with Kevin Bull. For the rest of us, the CircusTrix sponsored athlete and DojoBoom’s general manager is one of the American Ninja Warrior world’s most successful and recognizable competitors. Known for his Mr. Clean good looks, persistent smile, and creative ways of attacking challenging obstacles, the former collegiate decathlete has been a mainstay on the show since walking on in Los Angeles in 2014. Although splitting his time between managing a gym and the amount of dedicated training required to maintain his status as a world-class dominator of obstacles leaves little time for anything else, he’s always up for being an ambassador of his sport and sharing the benefits of physical fitness in general. Quicker than he could scale a warped wall, he offered up his time, expertise, and assurance that Jordan could become an American Ninja Warrior—if she was willing to put in the work.
The very word spells it out: I.M.POSSIBLE. My 6- and 3-year old know that that word is not allowed in our home, unless it is properly spelled out in an annoyingly slow fashion. What Kevin shared with Jordan was that overcoming obstacles of American Ninja Warrior-like proportions takes three things: a goal, a plan, and a growth mindset. Jordan had all three, and the strong bull of a mentor didn’t hurt either.
The goal: Finish the American Ninja Warrior course at DojoBoom that Kevin Bull himself had designed to mimic the show’s opening round course.
The plan: 12 weeks of training, 3 sessions a week, 1.5 hours at a time, along with endless amounts of rock climbing, pull-ups, finger push-ups, various grip strength exercises, proprioception-improving drills, and one-on-one training with Kevin on techniques to conquer specific obstacles.
The growth mindset: Developing.
The first few weeks of training resulted in dramatic improvements to Jordan’s body and to her resolve. Jordan’s skills were quickly developing, but not as fast as her confidence. Ascending a salmon ladder went from something she had only dreamed of doing to a warm-up for her more intense training sessions. Unfortunately, like taking on any formidable challenge, about halfway through the process Jordan found the progression slowing and doubt began to slowly sneak in. It was then that Kevin’s mentorship came into play, counselling Jordan to take a step back, spend some time deliberately practicing those specific skills necessary to overcome the problem, and to keep looking up and ahead. At the end of 12 weeks, looking and feeling like an American Ninja Warrior veteran, Jordan stared down the course and deftly defeated it in 7:30. When the day came to share her experience with her classmates, among the series of students discussing how they overcame their own set of obstacles, Jordan stood out like a ninja on top of Mount Midoriyama, receiving a standing ovation. A number of her classmates approached her, interested in joining her for future training sessions. She now has a dedicated group of friends who have replaced their previous sedentary hobbies with rock climbing, weightlifting, and finding new ways to challenge their increasingly strong bodies and minds.
What’s next for the teen ninja? Along with setting her sights on a future (real) Mount Midoriyama assault, anything. Jordan is actively training with the goal of trying out for the American Ninja Warrior TV show when she reaches 19 years of age. Her climbing skills are quickly outpacing what local indoor gyms can offer, she’s scheduled to take a weightlifting course in lieu of normal gym class when she begins high school next fall, and she and her friends spend as much time at DojoBoom as they can fit into their busy schedules. But the biggest life change may not be her newfound passion for dominating obstacle courses, but the realization that the true value of physical fitness goes far deeper than a pair of bulging biceps. Nothing is out of the realm of possibility when you have a goal, a plan, and the right mindset.
Jordan, you have a pair of fans in Utah that you’ve never met. We have to lock the garage door to keep my 3-year-old son from climbing the gymnastics rings we have hanging from the ceiling, and my daughter immediately scans every park we visit for the monkey bars so she can mimic the picture of you hanging on with one arm and giving the camera the bull horns with the other. We’ll see you in five years, cheering you to the top of that warped wall.
Dr. Damian Rodriguez is the health and exercise scientist for doTERRA International, LLC. He holds a doctorate in health science, a master’s degree in exercise physiology, and countless professional certifications. He has spent most of his life researching nutrition, exercise, and the lifestyle behaviors associated with optimal health. Along with his passion for health, as someone who lives with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is also involved in bringing awareness to autism spectrum disorders. There are varying opinions about many health and fitness topics. His opinions are his own and not necessarily that of doTERRA International, LLC. Consult your healthcare provider before making any changes to diet and exercise.