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By Isabelle Banin
Steven Bachta, MD, is advancing to the semifinal round of the reality television show “American Ninja Warrior” after clearing four challenging obstacle paths. He was one of four rookies to make the cut.
Though Dr. Bachta fell during the fifth obstacle, a precarious cylinder filled with gaps known as “The Salmon Roll”, he considers the day a success.
“I was so thrilled to make it that far!” Dr. Bachta said.
Dr. Bachta had been training in Ninja gyms for nearly three years and even muscled through a few competitions, but he never imagined himself as a contestant on the show. The producers, however, picked him out of thousands of contestants to compete on the new season, airing this month.
“There aren’t a lot of physicians or people around 40 years old on the show,” said Dr. Bachta, a Pediatric Hospitalist, hinting that his backstory may have boosted his chances of appearing on the show.
Dr. Bachta discovered Ninja gyms while searching for a sport that his children, ages 4 and 7, would gravitate toward. After his family watched an episode of “American Ninja Warrior Junior” together, they decided to search for gyms in the Chicago area and eventually signed their daughters up for lessons at Ultimate Ninjas Libertyville. During open gym hours, Dr. Bachta would try to complete the obstacles himself.
After competing in a few tournaments and realizing that his Ninja skills were rapidly improving, Dr. Bachta thought to himself, “What the heck? Let’s see if I can get on the show!”
Once accepted, Dr. Bachta had about six weeks to intensely train with other contestants. While falling was part of the process during practices, the idea of competing on the actual TV course was sobering, like a sudden plunge from the “Crazy Cliffhanger” or “Salmon Ladder.”
“If I fall off an obstacle in the gym, I only fall a couple of feet and hit a mat,” he said. “In the show, you fall 10 feet and hit water.”
While all contestants are technically competing against each other, Dr. Bachta said that the Chicago Ninjas were supportive and the friendships he made on the team were a highlight of his Ninja experience.
“It’s a unique sport since you’re competing against the course and hoping that someone makes it through,” he said.
On the show’s set, Dr. Bachta was starstruck from meeting so many competitors he was fans of from previous seasons. However, he never feared the obstacles.
“Actually doing the obstacles felt great,” he said. “Once you’re on the course, there’s no time to get nervous.”
If he has the chance, Dr. Bachta would love to continue competing. He and his daughters are currently training at Ultimate Ninjas North Shore in Glenview.
Dr. Bachta said he is incredibly thankful to his NorthShore team members for making his dream of competing a reality—they let him switch around shifts to accommodate his training schedule and threw him a send-off party before the show. He’s also thankful for the Ninja community for adopting him, and for his family for cheering him on the whole way.