In the summer of 2015, members of Forest Grove's Tabb family gathered weekly to watch American Ninja Warrior. Each rooted for their favorite super-athlete as they negotiated physically challenging obstacle courses in hopes of conquering Mount Madoriyama, a feat only a handful of Ninjas have achieved.
During one episode, the two oldest Tabb children, Chase and Kayleigh, ages seven and five at the time, turned to their father, Bobby, asking when he was going to be on the show. One-year-old Declan fed off of their energy. Surprised by the question, Bobby saw the encouragement in his wife Emily's eyes. His response: "I'll start training."
Little did they know their superhero dad had never completed one pull-up ... ever. His promise was going to take discipline and hard-won endurance. Although Tabb was in decent shape, most Ninjas need the fingertip strength of a free-climber, the balance of a tight-rope walker, the upper body strength of a body builder, the core control of a gymnast and vertical skills rivaling professional basketball players.
Tabb is a first-grade teacher at Banks Elementary School, a K-5 campus with almost 500 students, including his own kids. Somehow, he managed to balance workouts and Parkour classes in between classroom duties, coaching basketball and chess club — not to mention changing dirty diapers, helping with homework and engaging in church activities.
Bobby's dedication to being on American Ninja Warrior became a family affair. Emily took up CrossFit, Chase Parkour and Kayleigh basketball, while little Declan imitated them all. To see the entire family in action is to witness one large ball of energy.
Applying for Ninja status
After one rejected audition tape, Bobby Tabb sent in another video showcasing two years of impressive skills, including the ability to do pull-ups. In his audition, he proclaimed, "I may not be the most likely of candidates to win all four stages. I may not even be the strongest first grade teacher at my school or even the best Ninja in my own house ... but the important point is that hard work does pay off." That sentiment is one Bobby tries to instill in his students as well as his children.
In early February, Bobby got the call that he was one of 100 folks chosen to compete in the qualifying round in Los Angeles. An estimated 70,000 or more people apply each year to compete in six cities. With that one phone call, Bobby already felt like he had won.
"Running the course is my acceptance speech," he said.
Before heading to LA in March to tape his qualifying run, Bobby showed his students videos of himself failing at trying new physical feats. Weeks later, he returned to show thema successful completion of what he had been working on. His message to them was: "Just because you can't today, doesn't mean you can't ever."
The students and faculty at Banks Elementary gave him a grand send-off, dubbing him "The First-Grade Ninja." Donors raised funds for his entire family to travel to Universal Studios.
Bobby, 39, maintained a calm attitude until an hour before call time. He reminded himself that his training and faith would power him through. Course testers demonstrated the obstacles for the contenstants, who weren't allowed any practice on the course. His main goal? "Don't fall on the first obstacle."
Throughout the evening, Tabb was overwhelmed by the sense of community among the Ninjas, old and new. Egos were checked at the door. Ninjas who had finished their attempts shouted words of encouragement to those on the course. The crowd rooted equally for each participant. The atmosphere of pure sportsmanship could not be missed.
Chase, Kayleigh and even Emily got to meet their favorite Ninjas, including Kacy Cantazaro and Daniel Gil, who told them how amazing their dad is — something they already knew.
Katie Golden is a freelance writer, blogger and speaker. She lives in Santa Monica, Calif.