On season nine of American Ninja Warrior, Jimmy Choi took to the course during the Kansas City Qualifiers. At first glance, he appeared to be just like the other Ninjas: Strong, maybe a little nervous standing at the starting line. But when a video of Michael J. Fox played on the big screen, we learned just how special Jimmy really is.
Jimmy has Parkinson’s Disease and has dedicated himself to Team Fox, a community fundraising initiative for the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Jimmy participates in event after event, all year round, raising funds and inspiring people to join him.
One of those people is Ninja Warrior host Akbar Gbajabiamila. Akbar’s father also has Parkinson’s Disease, making Jimmy’s mission incredibly personal to him. Ever since he met Jimmy on the show, Akbar has been a huge supporter.
But Akbar isn’t the only one blown away by Jimmy’s efforts. At the recent annual Michael J. Fox Foundation Gala, Jimmy was honored for his achievements by the foundation, Michael J. Fox, and a slew of celebrities inspired by Jimmy’s work. Akbar was on hand to give a special presentation on how Jimmy is changing lives every day.
After the event, Akbar shared this statement with us:
“It is truly such an honor and inspiration to know Jimmy. His story is one of perseverance, determination and above all else, hope. I met Jimmy last spring, when he defied all odds to become a contestant on ANW. As a son of a father diagnosed with Parkinson’s nearly two decades ago, I was moved by this story of a young dad’s determination to take care of his family - all while navigating a difficult disease and competing on a national stage, a feat most people can’t even dream of!
I am proud to call Jimmy a friend, and I can’t wait to see him hit that buzzer next season!”
We also caught up with Jimmy to find out more about what this whirlwind of a few months have been like, and what’s next for him.
What has this past year of your life been like (From ANW to this honor)?
JC: ANW has provided a platform for spreading Parkinson's awareness beyond expectations. I have been working with the Michael J. Fox Foundation since 2012 and the goal has always been to raise funds for research and to encourage others living with the Parkinson's to use exercise as a form of treatment. Being on ANW helped accelerate those activities.
Overnight, we were able to reach millions of Americans and with that, tens of thousands of people affected by the disease in one shape or another. So many people are reaching out to me on social media and the fact that Akbar shared his own personal story with a connection to Parkinson's have really brought more exposure and interest to the foundation.
These activities have helped many young-onset patients realize that they are not alone and they have an opportunity to live well despite Parkinson's. ANW has provided opportunities for me to further spread awareness and the message of overcoming despite a given diagnosis. Speaking at conferences or fundraising events, hopefully, I am making an impact that will help lead us quicker to a cure.
I believe it is this impact that has given me the distinction and the recognition at the Fox Foundation. Though I will always be honored for the recognition, there is still unfinished business. There is still no cure for Parkinson's. As we are coming to an end of my "15 minutes," there is another mission and that is to help more and more "Jimmy Choi's" find their voice and together, we can bring a louder presence.
@sethrogen is yet more proof that Canada produces great comics. My favorite part about meeting him was telling him the story of how much Karina and Mason loves "Bob" from Monster vs Aliens. He proceeded to laugh and it sounded just like Bob's laugh and that brought a smile to my face. Thanks Seth for supporting @michaeljfoxorg!
What are your goals, hopes, dreams moving forward? How do you see ANW and the foundation playing a part in these?
JC: Ultimately, the hope and dream is always that we will find a cure for Parkinson's in my lifetime. These are exciting times. The Michael J. Fox Foundation is the largest private investor in research activities. They have a team of internal scientists, that look at research areas and find ways to invest in emerging ideas.
Because of their work, they have invested over $750 million in research since the foundation was founded. The momentum is good. 5 years ago, there were zero treatments in the clinical trial pipeline that is classified as "disease-modifying" or having the promise of slowing, halting, or reversing the progression of Parkinson's. Today there are at least 5 and 2 of them in Phase 2.
We need to keep this momentum going. To do that we need more funding and more awareness. ANW helped us last year by providing a platform to spread the word. The impact was great even though I was only able to get to the 3rd obstacle. Balance and Parkinson's is something that you will never put together but if given the chance, can you imagine the reach if I am able to hit at least one buzzer?
My goal is to reach a buzzer. My hope is to reach Vegas. My dream is still a cure for Parkinson's in my lifetime. I am preparing for my comeback and I am preparing hard for the chance that I could be invited back to compete. Not only do I have to fight my own body just to get out of bed each day but I have to fight physics and gravity at the same time to compete. Hopefully, we can inspire and move anyone with adversity to take that first step to living well.
Follow Jimmy on Instagram to keep up with his fundraising efforts. You can learn more about the Michael J. Fox Foundation here.