From the ICU to American Ninja Warrior, a science teacher’s resilience

Photo Keita Kashiwagi:  Jehue Middle School 8th grade science teacher Keita Kashiwagi shown training for season 13 of American Ninja Warrior following his traumatic brain injury over two years ago. Keita had competed in season 6 of ANW in 2014, and competed once again in season 13 a month ago. He will be featured during the season opener on May 31, 2021 at 8 p.m. on NBC.

Over two years ago Jehue Middle School 8th grade science teacher Keita Kashiwagi was riding his bike from his home in Rancho Cucamonga to Rialto as he did early each morning when a car struck him causing him severe traumatic brain injury; he was not wearing a helmet. Doctors told Keita’s wife the hemorrhage in his brain would affect his mobility, memory, speech, cognitive ability, and balance; the prognosis was dire, and to hope for the best.

Five days after the accident Keita woke up for the first time; it wasn’t until 9 days later that he would have any recollection of the accident or orientation of where he was. He spent three weeks in a rehabilitative facility where he received speech and physical therapy, and grueling memorization exercises.

“It was a big deal to memorize two words. I only took four-and-a-half months off and was back at Jehue,” Keita shared. “I’m a wrestling coach and I wanted to be back for the wrestling season and for my team.”

The recommended recuperation time is six to nine months for an injury like his.

“You had an amazing recovery, I’ve never actually seen somebody recover so quickly,” Dr. John Otsuki at Kaiser Fontana told him.

Keita had trouble turning on his computer, using the copy machine, and concerned he would forget his subject matter – thankfully his knowledge of science remained intact.

“I want to stress the importance of wearing a helmet to the community,” he said.

In 2014 Keita competed in American Ninja Warrior (ANW), a sports entertainment competition based on a Japanese television series, a testament to his prior physical aptitude and dynamic energy.

“I got so weak that I thought that if I had a goal like American Ninja Warrior, during rehab I would train harder.”

Keita created an energetic 3-minute application video for ANW that showed him lifting weights during class, attempting the first backflip since the accident, training, memorizing digits of pi, the wrestling team, his students conducting science experiments, and his young children ages 7 and 8.

He was invited to compete in Season 13, which wrapped over a month ago.

“Five minutes before running the course I was standing under the stairs and I wasn’t nervous, I looked at the lights, the course, and it was completely surreal,” Keita recalled. “I couldn’t believe I was there.”

Keita reflected that after the competition he felt revitalized and a new chapter was upon him. “I feel like a new part of my life can start, I can now put an end to the post-accident and rehabbing insanity part of my life.”

Keita will be featured on American Ninja Warrior’s season opener on Monday, May 31 at 8 p.m. on NBC.