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Ninja Warrior course, roller derby draw crowds at Health and Fitness Expo

UPDATED: Sun., Jan. 7, 2018

It’s no secret why the Spokane Health and Fitness Expo falls in the dead of January.

For gyms, the first few weeks of the year is hunting season.

But for Chris Cody, whose fitness brainchild has spawned into a massive warehouse full of vendors, chiropractics, exercise instructors and more at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center, it’s orientation day.

“It’s everybody,” the 37-year-old said of his expo goers. “They’re on that fitness journey, and we’re here to help.”

This year, more than ever, that sentiment rings true. That’s because for the first time since its inception in 2016, roller derby and an “American Ninja Warrior” style obstacle courses were on-scene, which both drew sizable crowds young and old.

For the children on Sunday, it was the obstacle course that proved the strongest draw. Run by Sandy Zimmerman, Eastern Washington’s prized “American Ninja Warrior” contestant, the seven-part obstacle course modeled after those in the popular TV show saw a steady stream of eager faces and unsteady feat.

Zimmerman said she jumped at the opportunity to showcase a course she’s tried for several years to master. She competed in seasons 8 and 9 of the show only to lose both times in the first round, but that hasn’t eroded her determination.

With her young son and daughter as demonstrators, the physical education teacher at Michael Anderson Elementary School on Fairchild Air Force Base meticulously explained each obstacle to children and a handful of adults. They could take a class for free, and if gutsy enough, pay $5 to run through the course and try their luck at Ninja Warrior status.

“It’s different, though,” Zimmerman said with a smile. “On the show, you hit the water and you’re done. Here, you can keep going.”

Kristie and Adam Blair were among the few adults who took classes Sunday morning. They spent a few minutes at each station getting their bearings, before taking a break and attempting a timed run later in the afternoon.

The Blairs are no strangers to obstacle courses. Both are avid runners in the Spartan Race – a 3-mile obstacle course with locations across the United States – and both are fans of “American Ninja Warrior.” In fact, it was the show that convinced Adam Blair to lose weight and get serious about fitness.

“It was one of my goals,” he said. “To get on the show.”

So getting to try obstacles similar to those on TV was a rush, the couple said. They quickly found out, however, that the difficulty curve was a little steeper than expected.

“It was fun,” Kristie Blair said. “But not as easy as it looks.”

John Guskey, a 12-year-old with fiery orange hair, was in a group of kids trying out the course. Many found the section on swinging bars the toughest, especially when it forced them to grab hold of a baseball suspended by a chain and shimmy over to a dangling group of stretchy plastic cords.

Guskey agreed it was hard. But that didn’t stop him from contemplating a timed run later that day.

“I might,” he said. “I might.”

Right next door to the course was a packed crowd of roller derby enthusiasts, there to watch games between Lilac City Roller Derby teams and other regional teams in exhibition matches.

In the morning, it was the co-ed Lilac City Abominations versus the Portland Bridgetown Brawlers. The Brawlers escaped with the win, but most in the crowd weren’t keeping track. It was the excitement of the big hits and skillful skating that kept their eyes peeled.

Jada “Pippi Headstomping” Bellrose, a skater on the Lilac City Sass women’s team, said there was a good chance the organization would make a return in the future.

“We think we should be here,” she said before her match. “It just seems like a good idea.”

Cody, the event’s organizer, agreed – both for roller derby and “American Ninja Warrior” obstacles courses.

“I think we should,” he said. “We plan to.”

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