Watching Todd Bourgeois, PT, DPT, OCS, MTC, FAAOMPT, artfully navigate the ramps, ropes, waving pods, and sliding curtain obstacles in his qualifying round on NBC TV's "American Ninja Warrior," you half expect him to shoot webs out of his wrist, Spiderman-style. He's that good.
But radioactive spider bites aren't at work here. This is pure physical therapy power—well, there may also be some incredible athleticism involved, along with strategic brains and a powerful level of focus that you get the feeling he applies to everything he does. Bottom line: dude is intense.
Bourgeois, 31, is a lot of things—instructor at the University of St Augustine, PhD doctoral student, third-world mission leader—but, most notably for now, he's in the running for title of American Ninja Warrior, a televised contest in which participants compete to make it through a series on insane obstacle courses in a series of regional competitions that lead to a national championship. Bourgeois qualified for the regionals in his last television appearance, and his regional performance is set to be broadcast on July 28.
This is Bourgeois' second attempt at the contest. Last year, he didn't make it to regionals. "I was trying to go as fast as I could," he said. This year, he approached the course differently, taking care to achieve the right balance and timing to execute the moves he needed to get through the obstacles. Bourgeois describes the shift as a tough one to make for someone who was a college pole vaulter then, later, winner of several "metro dash" events—compact, more urban-based obstacle races that are all about time. "I had to take a step back and use more skill and finesse than just muscle and brute strength," he said.
Bourgeois' performance in the qualifying round is even more impressive when you realize that he had just arrived back in Florida at 3:00 am that day after spending a week in Ecuador on a mission trip. This is the third such trip he's organized (the first 2 were to Nicaragua and Costa Rica) to bring physical therapy and occupational therapy to people in need.
The trips don't operate under a formal name. "I just put together a group of friends," he says, "mostly PTs and OTs. When we get there, everybody just starts doing their thing. We see about 250 people during the week that we're down there." The missions were featured in a short bio that accompanied his televised attempt on the "Warrior" course.
He says that his background as a physical therapist was instrumental in his success in the first round of the show. "The people on the show, a lot of them are athletes, professional stuntmen, own their own gyms," he said. "Some of them actually constructed these courses in their gyms to prepare. I had to use my knowledge of physical therapy to think about the movements involved, and I made small things to reproduce the motions I'd need to work on."
Back at the University of St Augustine, his students who got him interested in the show in the first place are cheering him on, as are his fellow faculty members. "We are very proud of Todd," said Wanda Nitsch, PT, PhD, president and chief academic officer of the university. "His focus on health and wellness, sportsmanship, service, and academics makes him a great example of our university core values and quality faculty."
The opportunity to make a statement for physical therapy is not lost on Bourgeois. "I really want to get people to join in, have fun, and engage in physical activities," he said. "It's an honor to represent physical therapy on a national television show. Hopefully it's portraying an image of a profession that I'm proud of."
Double duty: Todd Bourgeois uses his knowledge of physical therapyto teach his students and to compete in the challenging tasksof "American Ninja Warrior."
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