Kenny Niemitalo first arrived on the American Ninja Warrior scene in season six. He was a walk on in Miami that made it all the way to the buzzer on the City Finals course. Since then, Kenny and his family have gone through so much.
In 2015, Kenny and his wife, Maria, welcomed their baby girl, Hazel. They soon experienced the terrifying discovery that Hazel would need a kidney transplant and they spent the first year of her life in the hospital.
Through it all, Kenny kept up his training and returned to Ninja Warrior. During his season eight runs in Atlanta, he shared with the audience that Hazel needed a living kidney donor. One viewer, Amy, decided to find out if she was a match. In a joyous turn of events, Hazel received her new kidney in December of 2016.
Moved by the outpouring of support his family received, Kenny wanted to pay it forward in season 10. In both the Miami Qualifiers and City Finals, he wore a shirt with the photo of a child also awaiting a kidney donor in the hopes that someone out there watching can save a life.
In the Qualifiers, Kenny raced to the buzzer with the second fastest time while wearing a shirt for Liza Foster, who is 13.
During the City Finals, he was wearing a shirt for Deelard Ramirez Lawrence, who is 14 years old. Kenny was one of only three Ninjas to complete the difficult course, and he did it in the fastest time, bringing his Miami experience full circle from season six.
Learn more about how you can be a kidney donor here. You can also find more information from Donate Life America and UNOS.
Kenny gave us a little insight into how everything that’s happened in his life has shaped his Ninja Warrior career.
“Especially after the last two years with Hazel, people are always reaching out. It’s given me a whole new perspective on why we’re doing this. For me to run the course now, it’s to motivate people to give kidneys.
It just shows that there’s so much more to doing Ninja Warrior than what I originally started doing it as. It’s more valuable, it’s more rewarding than hitting buzzers.”
“It definitely takes some sacrifice. I’m the kind of person that’s never really strictly trained, because I want to enjoy the time I do have doing what I do. If I’m sacrificing family time, I’m going to enjoy my time at the gym too. It can be enjoyable to push with the right training partners, and train hard, but I don’t go there to do a regimented ‘gotta get this many sets of everything in.’ I go there and I play.”
“I used to think Ninja Warrior was all physical, which, you have to have the base. You have to have the certain points all around. But, as the years go on, for me personally, it’s 70% mental.
I prepare the most I can at the gym, be confident in what I’m doing at the gym. Put this Ninja Warrior course in perspective as to what it is in my life. It’s not the end all, be all of everything I’m doing. I enjoy doing it. It’s a hobby. But it’s not a number one focus in my life. If I keep that in perspective, it helps me relax a little bit.”
“I just have to know that everything that I’ve done already has prepared me for that moment. You just gotta attack it.
This is where I’m supposed to be (at National Finals). I’ve definitely missed out on it the last few years, but it’s good to be back. Hopefully I can keep doing me.”
“It’s good having my family here because it tells me my family is healthy. They can travel. Everything is good.
You know, I have expectations, but the more I think about it, the more pressure it puts on myself. So I try not to think about it and just going to plan on doing whatever my body does.”
We’ll get to see Kenny and his family again in a few weeks when he takes on Stage One of the National Finals!