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Local ‘American Ninja Warrior Junior’ contestant follows in her mother’s footsteps

Local “American Ninja Warrior Junior” contestant Lindsey Zimmerman, 13, has now appeared on all three seasons of the show. Most recently, her season three appearance ended in episode 12 at the last stage of the quarterfinals. But next time around, she has her sights set on the final four.

Born into a family of athletes, Lindsey is hardly alone in her passion for “Ninja.” In 2019, her mother, Sandy Zimmerman, 45, made history as the first mother to complete an “American Ninja Warrior” course.

“Watching her really made me want the chance to compete,” Lindsey said, explaining how her father and brothers have followed suit. “We definitely push each other.”

Whether they’re training together or just chatting around the dinner table, “ANW” is always bringing the family together.

“It’s been so cool to share this as a family, to have something we can all relate to,” Sandy Zimmerman said. “It was meant to be.”

As a former national judo champion, Gonzaga basketball player and longtime physical education teacher, athletics have always been central to Zimmerman’s life. So, after stumbling across the show while channel surfing, she knew she had to try it .

“It started out really innocently,” she said, explaining how her family’s backyard gradually transformed into the elaborate “ANW” training course it is today. Starting with a “salmon ladder,” the Zimmermans’ course now features more than 40 obstacles.

“The trickiest part about doing ‘Ninja Warrior’ is that you … never know what the course is going to be,” she said. “You just try to build as much skill set as you can (and) hope that you’ve done enough different types of training that it will translate to the course that you happen to get.”

“ANW” might not immediately read as a team sport, but to Lindsey, it very much is. The athletes all understand how much work goes into training, so when it comes time to compete, they end up cheering on each other.

The real opponent, Lindsey said, is the obstacle course. When new obstacles are unveiled, Sandy Zimmerman said, you’ll see groups of athletes theorizing together. “They’ll show us an obstacle (and) we’re all just back there going, ‘How do we figure this out? How do we do this?’

“I think most people just don’t realize that it’s not like any other sport. … We are literally touching it for the first time when we get out there and learning it on the fly with cameras in our face,” she said. “We want it to be us, but we also want it to be the Ninja next to us because we know how much hard work has gone into it, how much perseverance goes into to sticking with this sport.”

Thanks to their backyard setup, luckier than most “ANW” devotees, the Zimmermans and fellow local Ninja athletes were able to continue training safely throughout the pandemic shutdown.

The larger “Ninja” community from Spokane and beyond has an uncommon bond. “We call it a family,” Sandy Zimmerman said.

Spokane’s Ultimate Ninja Athlete Association, of which Zimmermans are members, finished seventh in the nation for “points scored as a gym.”

“Which was funny because we’re not even a gym,” Zimmerman said. “We just have friends over, you know, two or three nights a week.

“So it’s really an incredible thing that it all sprouted from this backyard build.”

“It’s just such an incredible sport if you want to learn and grow,” she said, explaining how it embodies the principles she tries to model for her children.

“I want my kids to know that they can do hard things – that if they fall down, they can also pick themselves back up.”

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