By Linda M. Potter
I met Dr. Noah Kaufman in the Emergency Room in Ft. Collins. It wasn’t a planned encounter. I’d been admitted to the ER with severe abdominal pain and Dr. Noah just happened to be on duty. I instantly recognized him. “I know you — you’re the Ninja Doc!” I blurted out, excited to meet my 8-year old grandson’s favorite celebrity, “the guy who competed in that glitzy gold lamé suit this year,” I added, smiling for the first time in hours.
Grinning broadly, the young doctor openly confessed to his alternate “superhero” identity and agreed to take a quick photo with me (hospital gown and all) for Aidan. Then it was back to business — serious business as it turned out. No one wants to be told they have acute appendicitis, but somehow, hearing it from the Ninja Doc softened the blow.
Shortly after that chance encounter I asked this local doctor-turned TV star if we could interview him for BellaSpark. I was curious as both a fan and a journalist how and why a dedicated doctor came to be a celebrated “ninja.”
What I learned upfront is that Noah Kaufman is having the time of his life performing on the NBC show. However, although he enjoys his role as one of American Ninja Warrior’s most charismatic competitors, he is absolutely clear that he’s a doctor first and a Prime Time “obstacle course master” second. He wasn’t seeking celebrity when he auditioned for the popular series two years ago, he says. Rather, it was at the urging of his best friend and elite Ninja competitor, Brian Arnold, that Kaufman took the leap. Even “off the couch” and without training, in his first season Kaufman made it to Stage 2 of the Las Vegas national finals; by the end of his second season, he had become one of the show’s top performers.
Now, preparing for his third year of competition, he admits that he’s hooked, and somewhere near the top of his New Year’s resolutions list for 2015 is winning American Ninja Warrior.
To this end, he’s replicated some of the show’s iconic obstacles in his basement “monkey room” and along his back deck. There he can swing, hang, jump, climb and wind his way through a variety of physical challenges no ordinary person would be crazy enough to even attempt.
A premiere rock climber, Kaufman is no stranger to high-intensity sports, but he insists he doesn’t have the natural talent of many of the professional-caliber athletes that the competition show attracts. What he does have, however, is heart, determination and a deep desire to inspire others to strive for greater levels of health and fitness. “I want to be a role model for my patients,” he says, and ultimately that’s what keeps him involved year after year.
I had the opportunity to sit down with the Ninja Doc at his home in Fort Collins, Colorado. The scrubs and stethoscope were absent this time, and the gold lamé costume that lit up Twitter after the 2014 Denver finals, was nowhere in sight. He was dressed, instead, in “workout casual.” It suited him.
LINDA POTTER: Although you’ve gained a lot of celebrity as a Ninja Warrior competitor, your day job is as an ER doctor. What came first for you, the passion for health and fitness or the desire to be a doctor?
NOAH KAUFMAN: My interest in medicine came first and then the health and fitness was a natural addition to it! I was the kid who wanted to be a doctor since he was two years old. I remember having a Fisher Price Doctor Set, and whenever anybody asked me what I wanted to be I would say physician. I grew up with two brothers, and we were always in and out of the ER getting stitched up or having broken bones repaired. It was clear to me even at that age that I wanted to specifically work in the emergency department.
Growing up, I really wasn’t a naturally gifted athlete. I know it looks like I’m doing all this crazy stuff on Ninja and I’m a decent climber, but I just don’t have that athletic gift that a lot of people have, and it wasn’t until high school when I started doing wrestling and gymnastics that I discovered athleticism and fitness.
I’m a proponent of “the body follows the mind” perspective. It’s so important for all of us to want to be a whole person. You don’t want to develop just your mind (or your artistic ability or your music, or whatever it may be). People often get focused in on one thing and health and fitness take a back seat to a busy life style. You’ve really got to go out of your way to stay in shape these days, but it’s important.
LP: How often do you work out in your basement gym?
NK: It depends on if I’m actually training for the Ninja Warrior show. When I’m training for the show (December through May) I’m working out in there three times a week. The rest of the year — three times a month. My love and passion is for climbing and for real rock in the natural environment. I’d rather be outside as much as possible, running up and down trails and mountains, hiking and climbing and spending time with my family.
LP: It’s pretty clear that you’re very focused on health and fitness. Is there a specific diet that you follow?
NK: I do. But I think that in the same way all of us look different on the outside, we look different on the inside — we have different genetics. So, you’ve got to listen to your own body to at least some degree. But, I believe we were designed to eat mostly plants, grains, fruits, nuts, berries and such. Then every once in a while we should eat meat of some sort. That’s the kind of diet I maintain. I don’t eat processed foods. I never get fast food. I eat a lot of fresh, leafy greens from our garden and a lot of tofu. Once a week I’ll have some kind of fish or chicken and maybe once a month a heavier meat — like pork or a red meat.
LP: What would a healthy lifestyle look like for the average person?
NK: That’s a great question. A healthy lifestyle starts with NOT smoking. Drinking should be in moderation — a glass of wine or beer, or one shot every other day at the most. You should limit processed foods and really focus on a healthy diet. You should also take the stairs instead of the elevator and ride your bike whenever you can. At work, you can take a break and do 20 pushups — even against-the-wall pushups if you can’t do them on the ground. Or just get out of breath going up and down stairs during your break.
But [diet and exercise] isn’t all of it. A lot of people overlook psychological and spiritual health. It’s so important to have contact with what I describe as the “magic of the universe.” For some people it’s a deep appreciation for religion and God, whatever that religion is. For others, it’s getting in tune with nature. For still others it’s meditating, listening to music, being in the hot tub, or even going on vacation. Whatever it is that gives you those warm, fuzzy feelings — you need to make that a well-balanced part of your life.
LP: I’ve read that your three-year old son likes to train with you. How early should kids be introduced to exercise?
NK: He does obstacle courses and I’m constantly having him jump off ping pong tables. He’s good at jumping and rolling. You’re wasting time [as a parent] if you’re not working with them from the very start — the moment they’re crawling. I don’t mean you should put a baby on a treadmill, but we took our son out when he was five months old and let him crawl around in the forest, maneuvering around a tree or a boulder or a little hill.
We were all meant to be “ninjas.” It’s really kind of artificial to grow up in a house with flat, planar surfaces and not be able to adapt to the natural world. All kids, no matter how young, should be encouraged to be healthy and active.
LP: On the other end of the spectrum, do you have any specific health tips for those of us over 50?
NK: Well, the biggest thing as you age is that the pluses and the minuses of having (or not having) a healthy life style becomes more salient, more obvious.
Really, it’s never too late. The most important thing is increase — increasing your focus on diet, exercise and a healthy life. It impacts your psychological view of yourself. If you’re not living, you’re dying. If you’re not taking care of yourself you’re dying. As we get older and age, we start to come to terms with I’m moving towards the end here. It can make a lot of us complacent in our attitudes about physical health and exercise and even spiritual health. There’s never a more important time to focus on diet, exercise and spirituality than when we get older.
The seventh season of American Ninja Warrior is scheduled to air this summer.
Linda M. Potter is a writer, popular speaker, spiritual counselor and the author of If Only God Would Give Me a Sign! For more information visit HYPERLINK “http://www.LindaMPotter.com” www.LindaMPotter.com. Linda is also the Editor of BellaSpark Magazine. HYPERLINK “mailto:email@example.com” firstname.lastname@example.org.