Founder of ‘Overcoming Obstacles: Adaptive Ninja & Climbing’ brings the sport to every child

Tegan Roobol

Tegan Roobol is expanding access to Ninja beyond what some imagined to be possible.

American Ninja Warrior live audiences have usually had a chance to witness a breakout star or two on the official course by this time in the early season. This year, though, is proving to be a bit different

Since those hardcore live audience members haven’t yet been able to spot any new rookie sensations, we thought we’d bring a very inspirational rookie to you!

Meet Michigan-er, Tegan Roobol.

 Tegan Roobol

Tegan’s incredible drive to succeed and accomplish impressive goals was plain to see early on. In high school, she was more than an athlete. She was also writing proposals and winning grants to build a rock wall in her school.

 Tegan Roobol
The Rock Wall is still in use at Northport Public School.

After earning her doctorate in physical therapy, Tegan found another gap to fill. Her physical therapy work is with a wide variety of students in the school setting, but the majority of her time is spent with students who have severe, multiple impairments, and are non-verbal and non-ambulatory. Tegan’s physical therapy world collided with her Ninja world in early 2019. She was training at the Ninja gym when she saw one of her student’s sisters training as well.

A lightbulb went off, and Tegan thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if my students could experience the gym too? The bright lights, the hustle and bustle of a bunch of kids running around? Maybe even participate?!”

The lightbulb quickly turned into reality. In April 2019, Tegan held her very first adaptive Ninja session, and word spread like wildfire. With the increased interest, she recruited additional coaches and volunteers to expand the program. By June 2019, Overcoming Obstacles: Adaptive Ninja & Climbing was officially a non-profit organization.

What does adaptive Ninja look like?

There are two classes. We’ll let Tegan explain:

NinjAdaptive:

“The NinjAdaptive class is for kids with more significant physical and/or cognitive impairments. Ninjas have a 1:1 coach, and we use a wide variety of equipment adapted to each child’s abilities. We have a table top peg board, a portable salmon ladder, trampolines, and a balance tank.”

 Tegan Roobol
 Tegan Roobol

“They use rings to propel themselves on a platform swing to give them the sensation of swinging from rings, or zip down a pipe slider in a cocoon swing. We use bells and various tactile objects for ninjas with visual impairments.”

 Tegan Roobol

“The activities don’t have to be what we think of as the ‘correct’ way to do something. If it’s fun for them, that’s what matters. So much of the general public is unfamiliar with this population and they question, ‘Why does it matter?’ But if you see the smiles on their faces you would see why it matters. Listen to one of them laugh and tell me there’s not quality of life. There is. It’s just different than yours or mine.”

 Tegan Roobol

Ninja Rock Stars:

“Ninja Rock Stars is for kids with less severe impairments. In a small group setting, they practice several different obstacles with minor adaptations and however much assistance they need in order to be successful. Then they link them together in an obstacle course, typically ending with the Warped Wall and hitting the buzzer.”

 Tegan Roobol
 Tegan Roobol

These classes have been a hit with kids and parents, and word continues to spread. When the local news came to check out the Adaptive Ninja classes, Curan, a participant in the Ninja Rock Star class, was interviewed. His quote choked Tegan up and gave her goosebumps. “It makes me feel heroic, more heroic than I have ever been,” he explained.

 Tegan Roobol

Knowing how special this was for her students, Tegan took things a bit further.

Tri County Ninja, the gym where the adaptive Ninja classes take place, was scheduled to host the State Games of Michigan Ninja competition in February 2020. Ed McNulty, Tri County Ninja owner, requested permission to add an adaptive category to the competition. Permission was granted! Tegan had three months to plan and prepare for this event. It was definitely a first of its kind! Tegan brainstormed the obstacles, and then her husband built them. She brought the obstacles to the weekly classes, and that’s where Tegan deemed the obstacles worthy of the competition or not.

On February 15/16th 2020, the days of the competition, there weren’t many dry eyes in the gym. According to Tegan, “It was unlike any opportunity these kids have ever had! They see their siblings on swim teams, running track and field, competing, getting medals. Now they got their chance to compete and get a medal of their own, complete with customized shirts sporting their self-selected ‘Ninja names’.”

 Tegan Roobol

A moment that sticks out for Tegan is watching Robbie on the course.

“Robbie was our first Ninja to go on Sunday. He is blind, among many other impairments (he has Lowe’s Syndrome), and is just learning to walk with a reverse walker. When he gets excited he flaps and claps his hands. He was so excited that he was having a hard time keeping his hands on his walker while walking, which is problematic because he needs to hold on to walk! His massive smile the whole time and shrieks of excitement were awesome. With how cognitively impaired many of these kids are, people ask if they understand they are participating in nNinja, or in a competition or not? Well, Robbie definitely knew it was all about him when he was on the course.”

 Tegan Roobol

And Tegan wasn’t the only one who loved seeing these kids out on the course. After the competition, she received this heartfelt message from a mom:

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Lots of tears of joy were shed this weekend watching our amazing ninja athletes. I managed to keep dry eyes until I got this amazing message from the parent of one of our ninjas who competed today: I wanted to hug you and tell you how grateful I truly am for you Tegan! This was really an amazing day and opportunity for Keegan (and me as his mom). He’s never been a part of any team, or adaptive anything. As a mom with no neuro-typical/typically developing kids, it’s so hard trying to fit in with other families. Families whose kids are at the age of playing sports, doing extra-curricular activities and such that your child just will never be able to do. There’s an ache, in your heart in certain conversations. The things you wish so much your kiddo had the opportunity to do. I’m sure all parents of special needs kids have this feeling! But it really stings that much more being the single mom to an only child who’s medically complex. But you’ve opened that door for our kids. For my kiddo, and he’s really starting to warm up a little and come out of his shell. It’s been so great to see. It was a huge step sitting back and letting him run with Besty today. I’m so glad everything worked out so great. You guys are amazing! Anyway, seeing these kids today, it was beyond inspiring. It was all I had to hold back the ugly tears. I’ve been crying since we got home just a little bit ago. It was just amazing what you did for those kids today. I hope and pray everyone who watched/watches understands what an opportunity that is, and how important inclusion truly matters to US! I pray they take it, and use it as a tool to build more adaptive Ninja courses and classes all over the globe! ❤️ We are beyond thankful for you and the whole crew Tegan!

A post shared by @ adaptiveninjaclimbing on

I wanted to hug you and tell you how grateful I truly am for you Tegan! This was really an amazing day and opportunity for Keegan (and me as his mom). He’s never been a part of any team, or adaptive anything. As a mom with no neuro-typical/typically developing kids, it’s so hard trying to fit in with other families. Families whose kids are at the age of playing sports, doing extra-curricular activities and such that your child just will never be able to do. There’s an ache, in your heart in certain conversations. The things you wish so much your kiddo had the opportunity to do. I’m sure all parents of special needs kids have this feeling! But it really stings that much more being the single mom to an only child who’s medically complex. But you’ve opened that door for our kids.

For my kiddo, and he’s really starting to warm up a little and come out of his shell. It’s been so great to see. It was a huge step sitting back and letting him run with Besty today. I’m so glad everything worked out so great. You guys are amazing! Anyway, seeing these kids today, it was beyond inspiring. It was all I had to hold back the ugly tears. I’ve been crying since we got home just a little bit ago. It was just amazing what you did for those kids today. I hope and pray everyone who watched/watches understands what an opportunity that is, and how important inclusion truly matters to US! I pray they take it, and use it as a tool to build more adaptive Ninja courses and classes all over the globe! ❤️ We are beyond thankful for you and the whole crew Tegan!

Creating a non-profit organization is something completely new for Tegan, so she’s learning as she goes. She has the long term dream of training other gyms and facilities, so that they can offer similar programming beyond just their geographical area. If you’d like to learn more about Overcoming Obstacles: Adaptive Ninja & Climbing, you can listen to the Ninjababes Podcast featuring Tegan, and you can also check out the Overcoming Obstacles: Adaptive Ninja and Climbing Instagram page or Facebook page.

And, of course, be on the lookout for Tegan on the American Ninja Warrior course! Tegan originally got the call for Washington D.C., but an injury pushed her back to St. Louis. Here’s where Tegan’s mind is at:

“I’m honored and thrilled to have been selected for the show… but honestly I think I’m more terrified than anything else. If I had it my way, none of my family or friends would come to watch. LOL. I just hope I can put the nerves aside and go out and run the course like I know I can. It would irritate me to make a stupid mistake and fall on something I know I can easily do… but with the lights and self-imposed pressure there’s no telling what will happen. I guess I’m also nervous about the fact that I tore my calf at NNL World Finals (partial tears of medial and lateral gastrocnemii, full rupture of plantaris), so hopefully I’m healthy come competition time.”

(The qualifying regions of American Ninja Warrior’s 12th season are currently postponed.)

Good luck, Tegan! We’re confident that you’ll crush the course!

https://www.americanninjawarriornation.com/2020/3/25/21191083/overcoming-obstacles-adaptive-ninja-climbing-brings-ninja-warrior-sport-to-every-child

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