Rancho Cucamonga teacher returns to ‘American Ninja Warrior’ after recovering from bicycle accident – San Bernardino Sun

It was a morning before dawn in October 2018 when Keita Kashiwagi was scratched on the sidewalk not far from his home in Rancho Cucamonga after being hit by a car while cycling to work.

After suffering a severe head trauma and recovery that stunned his doctors, the 46-year-old husband, father and science teacher had relearned to think, speak, walk and eat, returning to the Jehue Middle classroom. . School in the Rialto Unified School District in less than five months.

As unbelievable as it sounds, wait – there is more.

Keita Kashiwagi, 46, trains in the garage of his Rancho Cucamonga home on Thursday, May 13, 2021. Kashiwagi, who has since recovered from a serious brain injury from a bicycle accident, has regained physical form amazing and competed on “American Ninja Warrior.” (Photo by Will Lester, Inner Valley Daily Bulletin / SCNG)

Vying for the best ninja

He found his muse motivating after looking in the mirror, seeing a stomach, sagging muscles and a deformed body. He started walking, then running, and embarked on a daily exercise program with the goal of returning to the NBC reality show “America Ninja Warrior”, on which he had worked. published in May 2014.

Almost six years after his first appearance, Kashiwagi qualified not once, but twice to return to the show.

He qualified in March 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic called off his run through the obstacle course and the show came to a halt. So he got even stronger, recorded another application video showing his back flips, six-pack abs and prowess on hanging ropes and four-step obstacles, with his doctor and physiotherapists. speaking of one of the fastest recoveries ever. a serious injury.

The result? Kashiwagi said he couldn’t reveal too much, but his December 2020 audition tape earned him another invitation, this time to appear in the show’s 13th season. He recently taught the class in Tacoma, Wash., He said, and will find out if his story premieres at 8 p.m. on May 31.

While each course varies, the demanding obstacles challenge fit athletes who are younger than Kashiwagi. The courses require moving through suspended horizontal bars or hanging onto a series of high ropes to advance to the other side without diving into the water. Usually there is a 14 foot 6 inch “warped wall” that can only be conquered in one boundary.

Based on the Japanese TV show “Sasuke”, the producers began an American version in December 2009, with a series of regional competitions held across the United States, culminating in a final in Las Vegas. The winner receives $ 1 million.

Kashiwagi, at 5ft 4in, sporting a compact, muscular body and a ponytail, came down to 140 pounds by doing push-ups at Day Creek Park in Rancho Cucamonga, lifting weights in his garage, and running errands and yes, bike rides, six days a week.

He reached 90% recovery from his 2018 injury, with minor memory issues still an issue.

“When I was on the bridge, I had this surreal feeling,” he recalls in a recent interview. “I couldn’t believe that 2 and a half years ago, I almost died. And now I’m going to crush this thing.

His performance on the ANW course marked the start of his post-accident life, he said. The one dedicated to his family, namely his wife, Kristine Kernc, his son, Kaisei, 8, and his daughter, Kaya, 7. His children often play in monkey bars with him at the park and go surfing with him.

“He takes great pleasure in family activities,” Kernc said. “Like being with the kids, taking them to the park. And they or they really enjoy it. They climb trees and do the toughest things on the playground.

Keita Kashiwagi, 46, trains in the garage of his Rancho Cucamonga home on Thursday, May 13, 2021. Kashiwagi, who has since recovered from a serious brain injury from a bicycle accident, has regained physical form amazing and competed on “American Ninja Warrior.” (Photo by Will Lester, Inner Valley Daily Bulletin / SCNG)

Road to recovery

Kashiwagi said he was “arrogant” to cycle to work without wearing a helmet. He had done this for 11 years without incident but after the accident he now still wears a helmet to protect his head.

“My doctor told me that if you wore a helmet you could have escaped this accident,” he said. “Instead, I almost died.”

On October 9, 2018, while traveling at 22 mph on his bicycle, a car he did not see struck him at the corner of Victoria Park Lane and Kenyon Way. Fortunately, the driver stopped and called an ambulance. He spent three days at the Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton and six days in the ICU at Kaiser Hospital in Fontana. When the bleeding in his brain stopped, he was sent to Casa Colina Hospital and Pomona Health Centers for a three-week rehabilitation stay, he said.

“That’s how I got out of the trauma center; they said you were fine. You are not going to die, ”he said.

His first memory of what happened came nine days after the accident when he saw his wife while being transferred to Casa Colina. He remembers a nurse giving him food with a spoon. “She would put a spoon in my mouth. She would then say “You are using it”. I looked at her and that was it.

The first time he fully realized something had happened to him was when he was in the bathroom and noticed an attendant watching to make sure he didn’t fall. “I said to him, ‘Why are you here?’ He said, “I watch everything you do.” ”Kashiwagi asked him to move behind the shower curtain.

As he slowly recovered, his memory was still fragile. “My mom asked me how to make curry?” I didn’t remember the words for the carrots. I said it was these long orange things that you cut out, ”he said. Playing card games with her two children improved her memory. It even memorized 200 digits of pi.

After just three weeks in rehab, he was able to walk and function independently, he said. Kernc said her husband’s recovery was a combination of the “good care” he received, his stubborn determination to recover, as well as the timely support from both parents who took him on appointments at the house. doctor while she was at work.

“Truly the greatest blessing is that he’s always here with us,” she said.

“The ninja of science”

Kashiwagi returned to work after 4.5 months, although doctors said it would take six to nine months. He said students in his science classes and the wrestling team he coached played a role in his recovery. They would often see him sneaking between classes to do push-ups or pull-ups.

“I love to teach,” he says. “I love seeing students’ faces and hearing their expressions when I teach something new or show them something cool.”

He admits he was not taught the same via the computer hookup during the pandemic. But even with distance learning in the midst of the pandemic, his students will be supporting Mr. Kashiwagi, who calls himself the alter ego, “The Science Ninja.”

“Yes, my students love it,” he says. “They love that I am a ninja warrior and try again.”

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