Abigail Paul, of Buchanan, was sitting around with friends one day watching “American Ninja Warrior,” when one of her friends turned to her and said, “I think you could do that.”
At first, Abigail brushed off her friends’ suggestions as the idea of appearing on the extreme sports show seemed like a far off possibility, but the more she thought about it, the more she liked the idea of participating in the competition and challenging herself by doing so. Eventually, she had a friend film an amateur video of her doing some stunts as an application.
Then Abigail sent in the video, crossed her fingers and waited to hear back from producers.
“People kept saying that I should try doing ‘American Ninja Warrior’ because I do have a lot of upper body strength,” Abigail says. “Finally, I thought, ‘eh, I’ll apply and see if it works.’”
It did work.
Abigail became a contestant on the ninth season of the hit NBC show “American Ninja Warrior.” For the show, contestants travel to “ninja competitions” across the country to compete on what Abigail described as “an adult jungle gym and obstacle course.”
In the qualifying rounds of the competition, Abigail placed as third qualifying female. During the final round, she fell earlier in the competition, and was thus not able to continue to Las Vegas, where the show takes the top two female competitors.
Even though she did not win the televised competition, Abigail is happy she took the leap and participated, calling “American Ninja Warrior” a learning experience that taught her to “never think anything is impossible.”
The late nights, long trainings and, according to her, many, many falls that came with participating on “American Ninja Warrior” reinforced Abigail’s desire to challenge herself physically.
Abigail is no stranger to physical activity. In college, she did pole vaulting, something she credits with giving her the upper body strength to compete in “American Ninja Warrior.” Currently, she is active with CrossFit, a branded fitness regime.
“I’ve been a jock my whole life,” Abigail says. “I did sports in high school and I did track and pole vaulting in college. I’ve always had that drive.”
Abigail says that her love of sports comes from a healthy sense of competition, something that her family, all of whom are very active, fostered in her.
“I have an older brother, Eric. He was always very sporty and active, and I think I was trying to keep up with him my whole life,” Abigail says. “So, I’ve always been competitive.”
Now that Abigail and her brother are older, they don’t compete with each other anymore, but that doesn’t stop Abigail from finding other ways to ease her competitive spirit.
One way she plans to do that is by applying to compete on “American Ninja Warrior” again next year.
“It’s the kind of thing that once you do it, you’ve got to have more,” she said. “I’d definitely apply again next year.”
Abigail’s adventurous spirit is not just limited to television appearances and extreme sports. As a dentist for the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, she has gone on several mission trips where she provides dental services to those in need.
Her first trip took place when she was in dental school, when she went to Ecuador.
“We got to do work in the underserved villages,” Abigail says. “It’s just such a cool experience.”
After her trip to Ecuador, Abigail’s desire to travel and do similar trips grew. Since then, she has taken trips to Kenya and Cambodia.
During these missions, she’s stayed everywhere from private islands to cramped motel rooms, all the while traveling to different villages to help those in need.
Though these trips are work that she pays for out of her own pocket, Abigail says that she finds them extremely rewarding. In fact, she had plans in dental school to go on a mission trip every year. She has fallen short of this goal in the intervening years, but it is something she would like to accomplish one day.
“[The trips are] an experience for me too,” Abigail says. “I get to provide a service through my skill and go to a place I’ve never been before.”
No matter where she travels, be it Cambodia for a mission trip or Kansas City for a ninja competition, Abigail keeps her home close to her heart.
Born and raised in Cassopolis, Abigail says that while she did not expect to permanently end up in the Michiana area, there is no place she would rather be.
“My mom, my dad, my brothers are here. It’s just home. Cassopolis is the only home I’ve ever known,” Abigail says. “You can’t beat Michigan, you know?”
Despite her love for the area, she does miss the solidarity and friendships she made while training and participating in “American Ninja Warrior.”
“The people [who do Ninja] are surprisingly awesome,” Abigail says.
As there is currently no gym in the Michiana area that can accommodate ninja training, Abigail traveled to a ninja gym in Waterloo, Indiana to train for her “American Ninja Warrior” stint. While Abigail grew to love the gym and the people there, Waterloo is more than 100 miles away from her home in Buchanan.
Because she had to travel so far, Abigail feels that a ninja gym in the Michiana area is something that is needed, and that it would do well in the area, should the right person run the business.
Though starting a ninja gym in the Michiana area is not in her immediate plans, she says that she wouldn’t count it out as something she would want to do someday.
“I’m always looking for the next adventure,” she says. “I’m always looking for the next thing.”
Photos by WES JERDON/WESTLEY LEON STUDIO