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American Ninja Warrior Awards $1 Million Prize to Tampa Competitor with Cerebral Palsy



American Ninja Warrior Awards $1 Million Prize to Tampa Competitor with Cerebral Palsy

As a child, Vance Walker, now 18, received a cerebral palsy diagnosis, accompanied by the grim outlook of a life with leg braces and no athletic aspirations. Fast forward to today, and this Tampa native has become only the third person to secure the top prize in 15 seasons of American Ninja Warrior.

In an interview with TODDY on Tuesday, Vance Walker and his family reflected on his journey, from the challenges posed by the neurological condition to its origins, which stemmed from his mother Stacey Walker’s hospitalization during pregnancy at the age of 49.

“For so many weeks (the doctors) would come in and say: ‘He’s not going to make it. He’s not going to make it,’” she said. “Starting at 20-something weeks, it was: ‘OK, he could make it, but he could have brain damage. He could be blinded.’”

Walker was diagnosed with cerebral palsy shortly after he turned one. He recalled facing bullying and grueling physical therapy as a child while speaking to TODAY.

“It was just a constant, constant battle,” Walker said. “I had to wear those braces until I was around 6 or 7 years old. Since then … I have to spend around 30 minutes to an hour a day stretching out my legs and making sure they’re loose enough to walk.”

Vance became captivated by the American Ninja Warrior TV show and, at the age of 13, transitioned to online schooling to concentrate on his personal training. With unwavering support from his newfound Ninja community, Walker achieved victories in the American Ninja Warrior junior division before progressing to compete against adults.

Following his performance in the finals, Walker watched as fellow contestants tried to surpass his time scaling Mt. Midoriyama. It was at that moment when he realized the fruits of his labor had paid off, and he emerged as the victorious American Ninja Warrior.

“When RJ got to around 50 feet on the robe, I realized that he wasn’t going to get to the top and I realized that I was gonna win the show,” Walker said. “And I just broke down crying. I fell over the floor. And that was just the most amazing feeling in the world. I had been training for that moment for the last eight years. And just finally being able to do it was amazing.”

Walker’s parents were by his side, celebrating with “Walker Texas Ninja,” a nickname he had earned due to his Texan heritage.

“There’s probably not a Ninja out there who has worked harder than he has to get to where is,” Vance’s dad, Kent Walker, told TODAY. “Seeing him work so hard to be able to accomplish his dream is just — you can’t describe it. It’s amazing, and we’re just so proud.”

Stacey said it can be hard to watch her son compete, even though he makes it look easy on TV.

“I know the pain that he is in, and I know what he has to do before he can go out there and even show up,” Stacey Walker said. “Right now I’m sitting here next to him, and his legs are just twitching – like there are aliens in his lower legs – and they do that constantly. There were times when his legs hurt so badly that he couldn’t sleep.”

Walker expressed his intention to make a comeback for season 16 of American Ninja Warrior. In addition to this, he has ambitious plans to attend college and pursue studies in architecture and engineering.


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