Spokane resident and Selkirk graduate Sandy Zimmerman looks to be American Ninja Warrior champion

By: 
Taylor Newquist
Sports Editor

Climbing up a vertical wall and becoming the first mother to hit the buzzer on the American Ninja Warrior course was just another obstacle that Sandy Zimmerman has had to overcome in her life.

Zimmerman, a 44-year-old Spokane PE teacher and mother of three, grew up in a military family moving from place to place with her father. She spent time on welfare and in the foster system, suffering from abuse. But she said those are the things that shaped her as a person. She ended up at Selkirk High School in Ione, where the support of a small town propped her up.

“I came from Tacoma and it was really a cultural shock when we moved up in ninth grade,” Zimmerman said. “It honestly was what saved me … as much as I was really angry to move at that age it was a blessing to have those people around and help me through those tough times.”

Zimmerman excelled in basketball and went on to play at the University of Gonzaga on a full-ride scholarship. Aside from basketball, she also was a national judo champion—physical activity was a major influence on her life and when her family discovered the show American Ninja Warrior she knew she had to give it a try.

“We just randomly saw it on tv and I looked into the application process.”

Zimmerman had a friend help her with the submission video and earned a chance to compete out of a pool of 70,000 contestants. She first tried out on season 8 of ANW—which is an athletic competition show where participants go through a number of obstacles that require intense core strength and balance. Zimmerman fell on the second obstacle in season 8, called tic-tok, which was a trapeze type swing from a 100-pound pendulum 11 feet apart. Her run was cut from the episode altogether, but was revealed in the following season when she made her first on-air appearance. In season 9, Zimmerman could not hold onto the cannonball drop, which is a 16-inch ball ride where the competitor must clinch onto the ball as it barrels down a step track.

“I was disappointed on the first run, but I’m gritty and I knew what my goal was (to be the first mom to hit the buzzer at the end of the course),” Zimmerman said. “I put in the work and on the second season I fell on the second obstacle again.”

After she competed on season 9, Zimmerman suffered a major injury which required two surgeries.

“I thought ‘Sandy what are you doing?’,” She said. “‘Why are you going for this dream?’ After all of that failure I got to come out and be the first mom to hit the buzzer.

“I think a lot of people have big dreams and goals and they just give up before [they] come true. I’m more proud of the personal growth than hitting the buzzer. As incredible as the buzzer is, I think the person you become after accomplishing those big dreams and goals is the most important part.”

Zimmerman completed the course in season 11, scaling the famed ‘Warped Wall’, which is a 14.5-foot vertical wall. At the qualifying round she placed 13th overall and second amongst woman to move onto the city finals. The most important part of stepping up to her qualifying run was quieting the voices in her head.

“What I’ve discovered is that a lot of people struggle with that,” She said. “I feel like I have two Sandy’s on each shoulder, one that is the tough badass woman that I’ve become and one that is the shy poor girl that was abused.”

Zimmerman went on to make it to the eighth obstacle at the city finals, falling on the floating monkey bars. She placed No. 14 overall and No. 3 among woman, just missing out on the national finals—something she has her eyes set on achieving this spring.

“I want to be the last woman standing,” She said. “I’m just gritty enough and crazy enough to see it happen.”

Zimmerman trains in her backyard with the over 40 training obstacles that her and her husband have built. The competition has become a family event for the Zimmerman’s as their children have gone on to compete on the ‘junior’ version of the show.

“We just all started jumping on stuff and building stuff in the back yard,” She said. “And those would be our family vacations, to go to ninja competitions.”

Zimmerman also teaches private lessons in her back yard, when the weather is nicer in the spring.

Filming for the next season of ANW will be from March to June, with it airing at the start of June on NBC. Find more about Sandy and her story on her website at sandyzimmermanninja.com.

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