Battling rheumatoid arthritis – American Ninja Warrior style. #WeAreAllAbel
The TV series American Ninja Warrior (ANW) is a show where contestants compete to win the grand prize by finishing an obstacle course requiring strong, agile and determined athleticism. Contestants must have faith that they can conquer any obstacle put in front of them - the same type of faith some have when battling rheumatoid arthritis. In ANW contestant Abel Gonzalez's case, this was true in the literal sense.
Abel grew up in Chicago with a rough childhood. His parents married young and had little financial means. In an interview with EverydayHealth, he said: "My dad was abusive. He sold tires at a flea market to try to help us get by. When I was 10, my mom and dad's fighting escalated." His parents eventually split up and Abel and his brothers were forced to split up. Abel and his brother were sent to live with family members in Texas, while his two younger brothers stayed behind to live with his mother in Chicago.
"I can remember my younger brothers sitting on the steps as Matthew and I drove away for good. It devastated me to be apart from my younger brothers. I was only 10. I thought that maybe I had caused my parents to get divorced," Abel added.
Abel used sports as an outlet for his emotions: "I played sports every moment that I could, because it took me out of my life and put me in the game." He excelled as a linebacker and running back in tackle football. In order to support his younger brothers, Abel gave up sports to pursue work in building and maintaining oil refineries. In the industry, he was known as the small but strong and agile person who could get into tight spaces to tighten bolts or replace a piece of metal.
He started experiencing swelling and pain when he was 20 years old. At first, he thought it was age related. The pain was so bad that he couldn't use his hands. To alleviate the pain and continue working, he took painkillers - one in the morning and one at night - for about three years. One day, he looked at his knees and knew something was wrong. It looked foreign and weak. Finally, he visited his doctor, who ran some tests and diagnosed him with rheumatoid arthritis.
Dealing with the rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis was tough. Abel did research online and asked questions on online forums. Abel eventually decided to forgo traditional treatments and focus on nutrition, exercise, and mindset. In an interview with EverydayHealth, he said: "The most difficult part about it was how much negativity there was. I was going to try anything and everything to help me find a way. Having RA was a big test for my mentality. What was I capable of? I needed to find out." Please note that you should always consult with your doctor before changing therapy or if you have concerns about current treatment therapies.
At age 28, after seeing an advertisement on TV, Abel's new found positive mindset inspired him to quit his job and try out for American Ninja Warrior. In the show, contestants compete to finish qualifying obstacle courses in various cities around the country. Several winners from each city are then selected to go to Las Vegas to compete in the ANW finals - four stages of increasingly challenging courses that must be competed to win a grand prize of $1 million.
To prepare for his tryout, he trained with Sam Sann and Drew Drechsel, who's currently one of the best Ninja Warriors in the world. Because of his RA, all of Abel's physical training focused on keeping the body strong and moving. Abel made one of the best debuts in ANW history, completing the course in qualifiers, then completing the first two stages of the finals in Las Vegas. Because of his ability to power through the most challenging obstacles, he was always a contender for the show's grand prize.
After competing in this year's San Antonio city finals, Abel is advancing to the national finals in Las Vegas as a 3-time national finalist. He hopes to finally conquer Stages Three and Four of the competition this year. To learn more about Abel Gonzales and his personal life and ANW journey, please click here.
Abel uses his international celebrity athlete status to give back to the community. He works hard at maintaining his health and agility and encourages others to share in his passion and believes that #WeAreAllAbel. Besides being an elite American Ninja Warrior athlete, he is also a motivational speaker and owner of AXIOS Warrior Academy, a holistic Wellness Centre in South Texas.
When he first created AXIOS Warrior Academy, it was a place for him to train. The gym now trains athletes from ages 4 to 64, helping people become more confident and more athletic. He added, "But they were training their mentality as well. That mentality that you can conquer anything, that translates into life. Our motto is 'Building Warriors', and that's what we're doing. We're building warriors to compete in life."
He concluded: "I was almost 30 before I even tried out. I could have given up on my dream to be a professional athlete. Throughout the last four seasons, it’s been a huge opportunity for me to inspire other people. This is what I am supposed to be doing. This is my platform. With the hashtag #WeAreAllAbel, people are able to share their stories of overcoming the obstacles in their lives."