Nicole Hatcher didn’t know she’d separated her Achilles tendon.
The Southridge High School math teacher, who also graduated from the Kennewick school, was training for the TV competition show American Ninja Warrior — specifically working on scaling a wall with a running start — when it happened.
“I was hitting 10 feet,” she said, but she could tell on the last attempt that something happened to her ankle.
“I thought I got hit by something. Then I tried to take a step and said, ‘Whoa.’ ”
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And yet Hatcher, two weeks later, still traveled to California, intent on competing.
I thought I got hit by something. Then I tried to take a step and said, ‘Whoa!’
Nicole Hatcher, aspiring ninja warrior
The former college track athlete has since undergone surgery to repair the tendon. Hatcher said her doctors are cautiously optimistic she will make a nearly full recovery, albeit after months of rehabilitation.
But the fact that she was able to compete at all without the full function of one of her feet has left those she trained with in awe.
“For this particular kind of challenge, it’s almost impossible,” said trainer Pedro Torres of S.E.D. Fitness in Pasco. “The fact she got that far is amazing.”
‘What do I have to lose?’
Sports and fitness have long played a part in Hatcher’s life, dating back to when she was first challenged to do backflips on the playground with classmates.
She went on to compete in soccer, gymnastics and track through high school before joining the Washington State University track and field team. She earned a teaching degree and returned to teach math at Southridge after graduating seven years ago.
A healthy lifestyle has remained a part of Hatcher’s routine. But she said her interest in training for American Ninja Warrior was piqued this past summer after watching the show, which pits participants against an obstacle course that hearkens to the skills of ninjas. She also relishes having a goal in mind while working out.
“I just thought to myself, ‘Well, I’m 31 years old, what do I have to lose?’ ” she said.
She submitted a video of herself doing some basic strength demonstrations, such as pullups, sprints and plyometric exercises. But the whole thing had gone to the back of her mind when she heard from the show’s producers late in 2015, wanting to see more.
That led Hatcher to Eric Haan, principal of Bethlehem Lutheran School in Kennewick.
A completely different realm
Haan was similarly fascinated by American Ninja Warrior last summer, he said.
He decided to build a mini ninja course in his backyard that included some of the show’s challenges, such as the salmon ladder — a climbing obstacle — and the rolling dice, which requires users to “roll” a box across a platform while hanging from the bottom of it.
“I like stuff like this,” Haan said, though he added “the salmon ladder I thought would be fun. It’s not that fun.”
A mutual friend introduced Hatcher to Haan, and she asked to use his course to shoot another video for the show.
“Before she’d left that first time, she’d already figured out the salmon ladder,” he said.
Hatcher said she didn’t seriously begin training for the show until after she heard from the producers. She noted that it was fun to train, partly because it wasn’t as easy as some of the other athletic feats she’s pursued. But training also showed her weaknesses, particularly when it came to grip strength and flexibility.
She did not back down from the challenge.
Pedro Torres, owner S.E.D. Fitness
Torres competed on American Ninja Warrior last summer after several past attempts. He said he made it past the first two obstacles before being unable to continue. Hatcher should have started training months sooner, Torres said, noting “this was a completely different realm for her.”
She rigorously trained several times with him, Torres said, but he came away impressed. Her upper body strength was particularly astounding, with Torres noting that she could do work that he’d only seen a few others do.
“She did not back down from the challenge,” he said.
It was two weeks before Hatcher was to compete on the show’s course that she injured her ankle. She didn’t know what exactly happened. There wasn’t a lot of pain but she’d lost all ability to push off her foot by her toes, though she could still walk on her heel.
Yet she remained committed to competing. She met with Torres to troubleshoot and found other ways to move that didn’t rely so heavily on the toes of her injured foot. When she arrived to compete, she wasn’t wearing the protective boot a doctor had told her to wear during a recent cursory examination.
“I just had tape and pulled on my sweats,” Hatcher said.
She did tell a few other participants about her injury and their words of concern rattled her, but she said in the end she pushed through.
Her participation on the show prevents her from discussing details of her performance ahead of the premiere on June 1, but she and Torres indicated it was her relatively weak grip strength that did her in on the course.
What I’ve told everyone is that I’m proud of how I did. My Achilles isn’t why I messed up.
Nicole Hatcher, aspiring ninja warrior
Hatcher has since had surgery on her tendon. Her recovery will have her completely off her foot for about two months, followed by six to nine months of rehabilitation and physical therapy. But she’s already made plans to try to be a ninja warrior again.
“I’m all in, I’m ready to go again,” she said. “I’m used to training for something.”
Torres, for his part, isn’t surprised.
“I knew she wouldn’t be satisfied with just one go,” he said. “I knew she’d come back to it.”