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Vance Walker Breaks Barriers for Disabled Athletes on 'American Ninja Warrior'

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Sixteen-year-old Vance Walker is breezing through his first season of “American Ninja Warrior,” which sees contestants swinging, climbing and jumping their way through a variety of physically intense obstacles.  But Walker has challenges his fellow competitors don’t — he lives with cerebral palsy, which affects movement, balance and posture.  Although most people might not associate cerebral palsy with completing highly physical Ninja courses, the Texas high school student is proving he’s a force to be reckoned with — and that people with physical disabilities do belong in athletic spaces.

Walker has opened up about his journey from being diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 18 months old to becoming a teenage Ninja Warrior superstar.  He shared that he spent years wearing leg braces and that when he began training on Ninja courses, he struggled with the physical demands of the sport.  He’s also been open about attending physical therapy and stretching every day to keep his muscles flexible enough for his Ninja training. Clearly, all of the physical work Walker has put into keeping his muscles strong has paid off — especially considering his impressive run on “American Ninja Warrior.”

After successfully completing several increasingly challenging courses, Walker — who also previously won two seasons of “American Ninja Warrior Junior” — advanced to this season’s finals.  The finals are broken up into four stages, and Walker had a perfect run on Stage One, hitting the final buzzer and making him one of a handful of competitors to advance to Stage Two of the finals.

On Stage Two of the finals, Walker fell in the middle of the course, but he was one of a few competitors with a “Safety Pass,” which allowed him one more chance to run the course and potentially advance to Stage Three.  Fortunately, Walker’s second run through the Stage Two course was flawless, and it landed him a spot in Stage Three of the finals.  If Walker succeeds in Stage Three and then has a strong enough time in the final stage of the competition finals, he’ll win the grand prize — a million dollars.

Vance Walker isn’t an incredible competitor because of the challenges he’s overcome or the ways in which cerebral palsy continues to challenge him every day — he’s a standout because he’s talented, and he proves that people with disabilities can be just as athletic as their able-bodied fellow competitors.  Walker’s presence on “American Ninja Warrior” matters because it’s not often that people with disabilities receive media representation, especially in sports.  Bringing visibility to cerebral palsy and other physical disabilities in the athletic world proves that able-bodied people shouldn’t count out people with disabilities, and it shows people with CP that no matter how many challenges they face to receive equal recognition, they can be amazing athletes.  And while not everyone with cerebral palsy has athletic aspirations, Walker is positively representing the disability community and spreading cerebral palsy awareness, which could help remediate ableism for more people with CP in the future.

We can’t wait to see if Vance Walker can conquer Stage Three of the “American Ninja Warrior” finals! Regardless of whether or not he wins the competition, Walker is reminding us that people with cerebral palsy can excel at sports, and with his impressive competition history, he’s sure to hit plenty more buzzers in the future.

Image via YouTube.

Originally published: September 13, 2021
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