Howell woman set for “American Ninja Warrior” season debut Sept. 7

Howell’s Tegan Roobol will make her “American Ninja Warrior” debut — as well as have her inspiring story featured — in the 12th season of the popular NBC series, which debuts Monday at 8 p.m. (Hint: Tegan will be featured in the second half of the first show.)

Her selection as a contestant was a 150-in-75,000 odds; in real life, especially to the children she works with, Roobol’s definitely one-in-a-million.

You can read the “American Ninja Warrior” story on Roobol by clicking here.

We won’t spoil what will likely be her featured story on the “American Ninja Warrior” season opener, but we will share that Roobol, who graduated with a doctorate in physical therapy from Oakland University in 2011, works at the Livingston Educational Service Agency with children with disabilities or who have suffered traumatic injuries. She started at LESA in 2013, and works with all the students in the center-based program, as well as all of Fowlerville Schools.

Roobol’s also developed a unique adaptive ninja warrior program for children with special needs that she runs out of the Tri County Ninja gym in Fenton, and she’s founded a nonprofit organization — Overcoming Obstacles: Adaptive Ninja & Climbing — to support the work of bringing the ninja experience to kids.

You can check out this slideshow of photos from Roobol’s program at the Tri County Ninja gym in Fenton:

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Roobol’s watched “American Ninja Warrior” for years, and she thought the competition might be something she’d be good at.

“I’ve always been an athlete,” she said. “As a young girl I was a competitive gymnast, but had to quit due to injury.”

In high school, Roobol played soccer, volleyball and basketball.

“Soccer has always been a main love, and I’ve played it recreationally most of my adult life as well,” she said. “I discovered rock climbing toward the end of high school, and that has continued to be a passion as well.”

That “passion” has translated to having an actual training wall in her barn.

Tegan Roobol in St. Louis

Despite her athleticism, and despite her desire to compete, Roobol found there was nowhere nearby to train for “American Ninja Warrior.”

“When I was pregnant with my second child, Iron Grip Ninja gym opened in Howell,” she said, “And I thought that when I’m done being pregnant and recovered …, I am going to check it out.”

That was three years ago.

“I started going to Iron Grip and loved it as much as I thought I would,” she said. “I did well in competitions from the get-go, and everyone was adamant that I should apply for the show.”

At the time, Roobol didn’t feel ready, and she felt the show is just as much — or sometimes, even more — about having a good story as it is about being a good ninja.

“Then, this past year, I founded a nonprofit organization doing ninja warrior training with children who have special needs, and I finally decided that not only am I a strong ninja, but I have a good story, too,” she said. “I thought maybe I should apply.”

After completing pages of questions — including about past athletic endeavors, people who inspire her, adversities she’s overcome — and submitting a video showcasing her athletic abilities and telling her story — she got the call she had dreamed of.

And while the news that she had been selected was thrilling, the competition itself was atypical, compounded by COVID-19.

“Typically, you go somewhere for a couple days, and if you are lucky, you get to participate in city qualifiers and city finals,” Roobol said. “If you do well at finals, you got to go to Vegas a couple months later.”

But because of COVID-19, “they filmed everything over a two-week period in mid-July in St. Louis.”

Roobol said it was “anxiety-producing” to be traveling during the pandemic.

“But they took a lot of safety precautions, so that was good,” she said. “There was lots of COVID testing and social distancing, which probably made it a lot more boring than during a typical season.”

Generally the ninjas hang out in big groups, go out to dinner together, etc.

“This year, we were told to go to our hotel rooms and stay to ourselves.”

During filming, competitors spent 8-, 10-, and 12-hour days seated in chairs spaced “a good 10 feet apart,” and they were instructed to stay there except to go to the bathroom and get food.

“And if we wanted food, we didn’t touch it,” Roobol said. “We had to ask a worker, who would get it for us.”

Those two weeks were a long time to be away from her family, and without the opportunity to hang out after hours with fellow competitors, Roobol read a lot of books, and listened to a lot of podcasts.

“There was also a ‘Hunger Games’ marathon on TV, so I got to see a couple of those,” she said.

Because of COVID-19, American Ninja Warrior did something it had never done before.

“They set us up in teams of three,” Roobol said. “We had Zoom calls a couple times in the three weeks leading up to the competition. In a typical season, a newbie doesn’t have connections, and you’re walking into this tight-knit group where a lot of the people know each other.”

The Zoom calls overcame some of those challenges in the wake of COVID-19, allowing for peer connections to be made; one of her team members was an “American Ninja Warrior” veteran, who was able to share advice on what to expect from the competition, what to pack, and ways to prepare.

“I’m still communicating regularly with my teammates, so that’s fun,” Roobol said.

At home, working out is a family affair.

Her husband, Jonathan, is an avid biker who doesn’t do ninja warrior. Her oldest son, Jensen, 6, wants to be a biker, like his dad, but her youngest son, Tejay, 3, wants to be a ninja, like his mom.

“They both love going to the gym,” she said, “but it’s too soon to tell what they will actually get into.”

Until gyms can be open legally in Michigan under COVID-19 restrictions, Roobol’s been working on developing training manuals for her ninja program for children with disabilities.

“I’d like to train other gyms and expand the program beyond our geographical area,” she said.

But as soon as gyms are open, Roobol’s ready to resume the program.

For anyone aspiring to appear on “American Ninja Warrior,” Roobol offers these suggestions:

  • Start training
  • Start recording videos of training and of whatever else gives you an edge up on other competitors
  • Always film in landscape mode
  • Set your mind to something and follow through with it
  • And if you don’t get in on the first time you apply, don’t write it off. Keep applying!

For anyone struggling to maintain a fitness routine, Roobol offers this:

  • Write down goals that are small and achievable.

“Maybe you’ve got a bigger, long-term goal,” Roobol said. “Break it down into chunks. Saying, ‘I want to lose 50 pounds is daunting. Trying to lose five is a lot more achievable. When you lose those five, try for the next.

“Maybe you have a goal of doing 20 push-ups but can’t even do five. Don’t make a goal for doing 20; set a goal to do one or two. When you achieve that, progress is the goal.”

  • Have a schedule and hold yourself to it.
  • Have someone to hold you accountable.

“Enlist someone to keep you honest and check in on your progress,” Roobol said.

The 12th season of “American Ninja Warrior” debuts at 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 7, on NBC.

You can follow Overcoming Obstacles: Adaptive Ninja and Climbing on Facebook.


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